Behind Ed Liddy's Departure from AIG

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AIG CEO Edward Liddy (C) talks with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) (L) and AIG Vice Chairman for Legal Affairs Anastasia Kelly (R) during a break in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Ed Liddy, the former head of Allstate who joined AIG (AIG) as chairman and chief executive officer in September quit today. He said he would stay on until the company found a replacement, or replacements, but his enthusiasm for an ongoing obligation to the insurance firm and the government bailout of AIG had vanished.

Liddy came to the company at a time when it was close to being scuttled by losses from credit derivatives on its balance sheet. He came to work for $1. He had only been in the job for a few months when AIG posted a loss of more than $61 billion for the last quarter of 2008. The company was well on its way to taking in $180 billion in government money. In return, taxpayers got 80% of AIG and a few promissory notes that are not worth the paper that they are written on. (See pictures of the global financial crisis.)

The press has made the point time and time again that Liddy was not the architect of the financial decisions that brought AIG down. He was not involved with a single judgment that forced the company to its knees. He was simply a volunteer who took on an impossible job and was, in return, beaten like a red headed mule by Congress.

Liddy had committed one unpardonable sin, or at least that was the story that several members of Congress wanted to believe. He had agreed to previously planned bonuses for AIG employees who worked in the part of the company that had created many of the insurance firm's losses. Liddy was clear in making the point that AIG had a legal obligation to make the payments. He would have been better off to hold his tongue. The minute he gave an explanation for his actions, no matter how rational it was, his interrogators seized on it as another act of either bad faith or stupidity on his part. (See pictures of the Top 10 scared traders.)

The members of House Financial Service subcommittee refused to let up on Liddy during the March session when he an appearance to brief Congressmen on AIG's progress. He told them the one thing that accusers cannot stand to hear. Liddy was innocent of any of the charges they made against him, and that was a plain and simple fact. As he said at the time, "Six months ago I came out of retirement to help my country. At the government's request I've had the duty and extraordinary challenge of serving as chairman and chief executive officer of American International Group, or A.I.G."

The way that Liddy has been treated is bound to undermine whatever spirit of voluntarism exists among executives in the private sector who will be called on in the future to help the federal government when it has critical and particular needs.

Liddy should have concluded his March testimony and cross examination in front of the House Financial Services subcommittee by pulling a blank sheet of paper from his brief case, writing his resignation on it, and handing it to chairman Barney Frank. Liddy is too class an act to have done that. He at least waited until AIG has reached a more stable state and left without a word of anger.

Douglas A. McIntyre

Read: "How AIG Became Too Big to Fail."

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