Executive Summaries

FATAL RISK: A Cautionary Tale of AIG’s Corporate Suicide (Wiley)
Roddy Boyd

American International Group gets its turn on the dissection table under the scalpel of Boyd, a Wall Street investigative reporter formerly of Fortune and the New York Post. In Boyd’s telling, former AIG chief executive Maurice (Hank) Greenberg is a titan, the visionary largely responsible for transforming a sleepy insurer into the global corporate juggernaut deemed too big to fail.

For a story about an insurance company, the tale of Greenberg and AIG’s rise to ubiquity makes surprisingly compelling reading. More compelling, though, are the gory details of its downfall.

As the company grows, Greenberg’s management fails to adapt; minor details get overlooked and become major problems. Greenberg is forced out after a 2005 accounting scandal, and the company, distracted by a full regulatory assault by then–New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer, allows its risk management to fail all but completely. But while AIG’s defenders have vilified Goldman Sachs for collateral calls that seemed timed to inflict maximum damage, Boyd pins the blame for the insurer’s downfall on a handful of AIG executives too fixated on securing power and maximizing their bonuses to realize that their company was lurching along on a death march.

SUITS: A Woman on Wall Street (Atlas)
Nina Godiwalla

A Wall Street outsider in every conceivable way—a public school grad, a Texan from a visible minority, a woman—Godiwalla contended with more than the usual challenges when she moved to Manhattan in the ’90s and became an analyst in Morgan Stanley’s corporate finance group. Now, some years removed from investment banking, she offers a memoir both of her attempts to adapt to Street culture and of the upbringing that led her to try in the first place.

In alternating chapters, Godiwalla tells the story of her Persian-Indian Zoroastrian family in Houston, and her experiences with the culture of blue-chip investment banks. The long hours and intensive demands she was prepared for. But she also quickly begins to suppress her accent, shed any quirks of personal style and learn how to handle “celebrity” co-workers—the junior analysts able to work less because of family money and influence. She develops the habit of memorizing sports scores off the Bloomberg ticker first thing in the morning, knowing that her bosses will ask her about them later in the day. When she shrugs off a pornographic image being passed around at work, she’s all but high-fived. “You are so awesome,” a fellow analyst enthuses. “You are totally one of the guys!”

THE EXTRA 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First (Ballantine/ESPN)
Jonah Keri

Stuart Sternberg is a self-described “buy-low” guy: “If you pay the right price for something, I don’t care what it is, you can’t go very wrong.” So when offered a chance to buy into the Tampa Bay Rays, then the worst franchise in baseball, the Wall Street veteran held his nose, thought of the upside and wrote a cheque.

Bloomberg Sports writer Keri investigates how Sternberg’s business philosophies turned the Rays from laughingstock to World Series contender. The two lieutenants Sternberg hired to run the club were outsiders even by the standards of the post-Moneyball era, when Ivy League MBAs are the norm among baseball executives. Wall Street–trained, Matthew Silverman and Andrew Friedman had never been involved with the pro game in any capacity, so they were unconstrained by the sport’s conventional wisdom when looking for advantages. No front office in the game had so fully (or ruthlessly) embraced the concept of arbitrage, been so zealous about generating and guarding original analysis and intellectual property, or taken such a sophisticated approach to structuring long-term player contracts to give a club options. Their success has made them a case study for baseball’s other 29 teams.