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AIG general counsel Russo set to retire and open piano bar

By Bloomberg | China Daily | Updated: 2016-05-20 07:30

Tom Russo, who helped American International Group Inc negotiate the end of its US bailout, is retiring from his post as general counsel and considering opening a piano bar, among other endeavors.

Russo, 72, will stay with the insurer until a replacement is found, Chief Executive Officer Peter Hancock said on Tuesday in a message to employees. The general counsel has been with the New York-based insurer since 2010, saying at the time that he joined "for the challenge".

Russo and a group of friends are prepared to spend about $1 million each to start the piano bar venture in midtown Manhattan, he said.

The bar would be modeled after Hotel Europe in Switzerland, where executives gathered during the World Economic Forum, according to Russo.

He said he'd spoken years ago to pianist Barry Colson about performing. Colson is a Canadian musician who has played in Davos, with a penchant for Billy Joel songs, according to the website vocativ.

"I may not be the world's greatest singer but I certainly enjoy singing, and I enjoy that kind of fun," Russo said.

"So that's been something on my mind that I think would be a good thing for New York and I just personally think I'd have a lot of laughs."

Russo was the former top attorney at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc until the securities firm's bankruptcy in 2008.

He led negotiations with the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank of New York to help then-AIG CEO Robert Benmosche repay the $182.3 billion rescue.

The lawyer also worked on asset sales and helped the insurer navigate legal clashes with shareholders, Wall Street counterparties, regulators and ex-employees.

"Although I am pleased that he is ready to write a new chapter in his exciting professional life, on a personal level I will miss my friend and adviser," Hancock said.

Russo said he may write a book about his experiences, and is involved in developing a movie script about the New York Yankees baseball team. He said he's also the CEO of a private trust company with responsibility for the estate of Henry Jarecki, who would also invest in the piano bar.

Under Russo, AIG negotiated a billion-dollar deal with investors who accused the insurer of misleading them about risks related to subprime mortgages. He won a settlement with Bank of America Corp that helped reimburse AIG more than $600 million for losses on home loans. AIG also resolved government probes into mortgage-insurance abuses, claims-paying lapses and ties to Cuba, a nation then sanctioned by the United States. AIG also resolved a case filed by Duke University over claims tied to the school's dispute with lacrosse team members falsely accused of sexually assaulting a stripper. The insurer had sold coverage to Duke.

One notable decision in his era was to avoid the courts: In 2013, Benmosche opted against joining ex-CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg in a lawsuit against the US government regarding the bailout terms.

The general counsel started at AIG the same week as Hancock, an ex-JP Morgan & Co executive who was hired to help manage risk. Hancock became CEO in 2014 and has reshaped management, naming a new chief financial officer, investing head and leader for commercial insurance.

Russo replaced Anastasia Kelly, who left AIG after a dispute about government-imposed limits on her own pay, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Between Lehman and AIG, he worked at law firm Patton Boggs LLP. He previously was at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP and was an attorney at the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The most important part of the job moving forward is "the chemistry with Peter's direct reports," Russo said. "It's not going to be the legal skills that will come to the fore, I think its going to be the psychological, sociological components to the job and the strategic nature of being part of a relatively small leadership team, and having a very strong business acumen is essential."

AIG general counsel Russo set to retire and open piano bar

The headquarters of American International Group Inc in New York. Michael Nagle/Bloomberg Via Getty Images

(China Daily 05/20/2016 page15)

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