AIG Chairman Says Breakup Ruins Value, Echoing Departing CEO

  • Steenland says directors strongly believe AIG on right path
  • Hancock says in separate letter that he has confidence

American International Group Inc.’s chairman reaffirmed support for the course charted by Peter Hancock, even after the CEO announced he was stepping down because of insufficient investor backing.

Chairman Doug Steenland, in his annual letter Monday, said that the board stands behind Hancock’s two-year goal of returning $25 billion to shareholders. And he agreed with the CEO that it would be a mistake to break up the insurer, rebuffing a plan that had been advocated by activist investors Carl Icahn and John Paulson.

“The board and management team believe strongly that we are on the right strategic path,” Steenland wrote, citing an earlier review of whether to split consumer and commercial insurance businesses into separate companies. “The analysis showed this to be value-destructive. This analysis still stands.”

Steenland is working to assure investors, customers and staff of the company’s stability as AIG seeks its seventh CEO since 2005. UBS Group AG said earlier Monday that a review of job-search website Glassdoor showed that AIG employees have lower morale than workers at rivals.

AIG has gained just 1.4 percent in New York trading since Oct. 27, 2015, the day before Icahn disclosed a stake and urged Hancock to split the company. That compares with the 22 percent rally for the S&P 500 Financials Index.

Hancock posted four losses in the past six quarters, pressured by higher-than-expected claims costs on policies written years earlier. He said March 9 that he would step down once the board finds a replacement and explained that it would be a distraction if he stayed on “without wholehearted shareholder support.”

‘Actively Engaged’

The board is “actively engaged in the process of identifying the right individual to serve as CEO,” Steenland wrote in Monday’s letter. “AIG is a world-class insurance company with its best years ahead of it.”

Hancock and others said a split would jeopardize the company’s credit ratings and squander the advantage of being able to provide multiple products to customers. The CEO instead focused on selling smaller units, such as a mortgage guarantor and a Lloyd’s of London operation while cutting jobs.

While this approach won peace for a while with Icahn, the billionaire praised the board on the day Hancock announced he would leave. The absence of a designated successor suggests that there may not be consensus on the board about the best approach for the company’s next leader, Jay Gelb, an analyst at Barclays Plc, said in a note to investors last month. Icahn’s firm named a representative to the board last year.

Barclays’s View

“We believe not having a new CEO in place probably means the strategy and financial targets could be under review,” Gelb wrote. Icahn didn’t immediately respond Monday to a message seeking comment.

Hancock said early in 2016 that he’d return $25 billion to shareholders by the end of this year through buybacks and dividends. While the company got more than halfway to that target in the first year, the company has recently been saying that meeting the two-year goal is subject to input from regulators and ratings firms.

The outgoing CEO also published a letter Monday, highlighting how the stock outperformed peers in the period that started when he joined the company in 2010. He became CEO in 2014 and worked to limit volatility by scaling back sales in casualty coverage and reshaping the investment portfolio to limit hedge fund bets.

He did acknowledge that the company was initially “slow to recognize the depth of issues within our U.S. casualty business.” Still, he said the company acted with “radical” steps in the past year. AIG agreed in January to pay about $10 billion to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. to assume risks on policies initiated by AIG.

Hancock also reshaped management by bringing in a new chief financial officer, investing head and top lawyer.

“The critical ingredients for the successful completion of our plan are stability and focus, and I am extremely proud to have brought together our talented executive leadership team,” Hancock wrote. “I have the utmost confidence that they will ensure a seamless transition for all of our critical stakeholders.”

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