Coming to Broadway:The Unsinkable Hank Greenberg

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It’s nice to see that Maurice “Hank” Greenberg hasn’t overlooked the latent powers of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations. It was an SEC investigation, plus a look-see by then– New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, that prompted American International Group (AIG) to ease Greenberg out of the firm’s top slot.

And now word comes that Greenberg has lodged a Schedule 13D filing with the SEC (an indication that an individual who is acquiring or holds more than 5 percent of company holdings has the intention to change or influence control of the company) announcing a call for “strategic alternatives” in AIG’s management and operations. According to the Boston Globe, Greenberg and his allies control 13.6 percent of AIG shares.

Third-person allies or simply variations of Greenberg himself? Among the eight 13D signatories are Greenberg, his own companies C.V. Starr & Co., and the Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Family Foundation. As the Cohen Report suggested this past April in “Starr Crossed: Foundation Dollars to Further Corporate Interests,” Greenberg is not shy about using his nonprofit and philanthropic vehicles to pursue his personal and political agenda, including his steel-cage wrestling match against Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) corporate regulation, with some interesting grants from the Starr Foundation based in New York City.

The Greenberg family’s private foundation is not the only charitable entity lurking in the mix. The non-Greenberg signatory is one Edward E. Matthews, a former AIG vice chair with his own philanthropy, who joined the filing as an individual, though Princeton University is well acquainted with his charitable generosity through the Edward E. & Marie L Matthews Foundation.

Another signatory is something called the Universal Foundation. Lurking in SEC archives is this mysterious description: “Universal Foundation is a for-profit Panamanian investment holding company whose principal asset is the Common Stock held by it. Universal Foundation’s non-voting common stock is held by Starr International Charitable Trust (Bermuda) . . . Universal Foundation ‘s principal office is Mercury House, 101 Front Street, Hamilton HM 12, Bermuda.”

Bermuda-based Panamanian charitable entities are always interesting, aren’t they? What is the Starr International Charitable Trust? Apparently, it is now the Starr International Foundation based in Switzerland, the sole stockholder in Starr International AG. The Swiss charity is chaired by former Goldman Sachs Group cochairman John Whitehead and joined on the board by none other than Hank Greenberg. According to news reports, Greenberg’s new Swiss foundation could have a “possible endowment of $20 billion” which would make it nearly as large at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and larger than the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust. Whether Bermudan, Panamanian, or Swiss, by virtue of its apparent indirect inclusion in the 13D filing, the foundation is clearly Greenbergian.

With Hank Greenberg, philanthropy is big business. The Starr Foundation grants ended up in the coffers of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce affiliate that plumped for Greenberg and his campaign to undo SOX; Greenberg’s family foundation serves as a critic of the AIG management that bounced him from the corporation; and a Swiss-based foundation closely linked to Greenberg is a major shareholder in a Panamanian corporation located in Bermuda that is part of the group exploring alternatives to AIG’s strategy and operations. His foundations may make some impressive grants (the Swiss outfit awarded $4 million to Médicins Sans Frontières, for example), but they always have another mission: Hank Greenberg.