Ernie Patrikis on the misperceptions of Hank Greenberg.
Question: How did you get to be the head council at AIG?
Ernest Patrikis: When I was 55 years old, and I had been at the Fed for 30 years and decided that I was the number two officer of the New York Fed, First Vice President, that they weren’t going to make a lawyer the President of the New York Fed. I decided it was time to move on and I called various people I knew in the neighborhood and amongst those were Hank Greenberg. I went and met with Hank and he was the fastest. He said he’d give me a call in two weeks, which he did. Wages, hours, conditions of employment. And I had no idea what I was going to do and I don’t think at that time he had any idea what I was going to do.
I worked for Hank for a year and I called myself – and it was the role that I carried out mostly at AIG-- a “firefighter,” for him, where there was a problem dealing with that problem, going to the next problem, and it also gave me a chance to learn the company. It was huge, compound, complex, I got to meet people in the United States and abroad and get a feel for the company. And then I became General Council there. But working for Hank was a delight. Notwithstanding his reputation.
Question: What are some misperceptions about Hank Greenberg’s reputation?
Ernest Patrikis: Well one, he certainly is tough and resilient; all of those stories are true. There’s another side of the man about how concerned he is about employees. How much loyalty and how important loyalty was with him. Those stories about when a head auditor in Asia had a heart attack in Thailand, Hank stayed up all night on the phone with doctors from New York Hospital and with doctors in Thailand.
The Star Foundation – and I don’t know if he started this or carried it out, he may have started it. Every employee for AIG and agents of AIG in the United States and abroad, and these were agents who were – as in Asia, they only sold AIG products, got a scholarship if their child went to an English language college. The scholarship amount was something like $10,000 or $11,000 and there had to be financial need. If there was no financial need because the parent was making a large enough salary at AIG.
So, when one looked at the Star Foundation’s annual IRS report, name of individual after individual after individual and I really learned the scope of it one day when I was in a private dining room waiting for a guest and this gentleman waiter, who was obviously from mainland China. I asked him what he was going to be doing Labor Day. And he said he was driving to Cambridge. And I said, “Why are you driving to Cambridge?” He said he was taking his daughter, first generation American-born, to MIT, and called it Star Scholar. So, for people like him, this individual, this was rather significant.
And that is really something that he really kept up with. Of course the amounts of money that he gave and the foundations he gave to health and medical, you see that at New York Hospital. But most of all, he truly cared about employee loyalty. Loyalty was extremely important to him. And I think that came out of, perhaps, his Army experience. You know, when he enlisted under-aged in the Army. When you’re in a platoon, you develop that amongst people, and he would sometimes say something, I wouldn’t be in a fox hole with that person, which, again, goes to loyalty and trust.
He decided, I guess, the Head of the Star Foundation was going to be stepping aside. Florence Davis was the General Council and was going to become the head of the Star Foundation, and I think Florence still is, and he asked me to be General Council. And that was a unique experience in that I had reorganized the Legal Department at the New York Fed when I was there as General Council. At AIG, I had to reorganize the Legal Department and put it into some semblance, and it took a while to get a feel for people, and that really for the first I would say, nine months to a year was my major task, was organizing this gigantic Legal Department. Even when I left eight years later, I’d say it was still a work in progress.
Recorded on November 9, 2009