(Bloomberg) — Robert Benmosche, the combative former chief
executive officer of American International Group Inc. who led
the insurer, once the world’s largest, to repay a $182.3 billion
taxpayer bailout, has died. He was 70.

He died on Friday at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York
following treatment for lung cancer, AIG said in a statement.
The insurer announced in October 2010 that Benmosche had cancer,
and the CEO said in August that he’d moved up his departure
after his prognosis worsened. Benmosche was replaced by Peter
Hancock on Sept. 1.

“Everyone in the AIG family has been greatly blessed by
Bob’s vision, his loyalty, and his friendship,” Steve Miller,
AIG chairman, said in the statement. “Bob was a brilliant man
who brought tremendous leadership, energy, passion, and tenacity
to his job.”

Benmosche came out of retirement in August 2009 to take
over a company reeling from losses on failed housing-market
bets, and led the insurer for half a decade. He put New York-based AIG on the road to repaying taxpayers and along the way,
the always-tan, silver-haired Benmosche became the most
outspoken AIG chief since Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, who was
forced out in 2005 as the insurer was investigated for
accounting irregularities.

“I create so much trouble, don’t I?,” Benmosche told
employees at a meeting shortly after he started. “That’s my
job.”

Benmosche sold major divisions and focused on U.S. life
insurance and global property-casualty coverage. He also sparred
with government overseers, rebelled against U.S.-applied pay
caps that he said limited the firm’s ability to retain staff,
threatened to quit at least twice and succeeded in ousting then-Chairman Harvey Golub with a “him-or-me” showdown.

Leadership Power

“Nobody gave AIG a chance back in 2009,” Miller, AIG’s
non-executive chairman, said in a September 2014 interview on
Bloomberg Television. From Benmosche, “I have learned, one more
time, the power of greater leadership, even in the most
disastrous of circumstances,” Miller said.

Benmosche was AIG’s fifth chief in five years, finally
bringing stability to the top job after a succession of leaders
felled by market losses and the bailout. The CEO revolving door
after Greenberg included Martin Sullivan, Robert Willumstad and
Edward Liddy.

“He’s the best they’ve had since I left the company,”
Greenberg said of Benmosche in a 2010 interview with Fox
Business Network. Greenberg, who ran AIG for about 38 years, had
succeeded Cornelius Vander Starr and took the company public in
1969.

‘No Idea’

Liddy, the former chief executive of Allstate Corp., was
installed on Sept. 18, 2008, as chairman and CEO by the U.S.
Treasury Department and voluntarily took an annual salary of $1.
He held both jobs until August 2009 when he resigned, saying in
a farewell letter to employees that he “had no idea what I was
in for” when he joined AIG. “It hasn’t been easy, and goodness
knows, it hasn’t been pretty,” Liddy wrote.

Benmosche, whose salary was $7 million in 2010, his first
full year, had his own tribulations as CEO, chafing at
government oversight of the insurer.

Investors benefited from Benmosche’s turnaround tactics,
after the stock plunged 97 percent in 2008, the year housing-market related losses pushed the firm to the brink of collapse.
The shares closed at $56.06 on Benmosche’s last day as CEO,
compared with $11.39 on the day his hiring was announced.

Robert Herman Benmosche was born in Brooklyn, New York, on
May 29, 1944. He received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics
from Alfred University in Alfred, New York, in 1966, where he
played on the football team. After college, he served as a
lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps from 1966 to 1968.

Banker, Broker

Benmosche worked in technology at Arthur D. Little Inc., a
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based management consulting firm,
before joining Chase Manhattan Bank in 1979. From 1982 to 1995,
he was at securities broker PaineWebber Inc., where he rose to
executive vice president and helped guide its acquisition of
Kidder Peabody & Co.

He moved to MetLife Inc. in 1995 as executive vice
president, becoming president and CEO about two years later.
Benmosche transformed the New York-based company into the
largest publicly traded U.S. life insurer from a mutual owned by
customers.

“Throughout his career, even after leaving MetLife, Bob
was a fighter,” MetLife CEO Steve Kandarian said Friday in a
statement. “More than anything else, that fighting spirit is
what Bob will be remembered for, and it should serve as an
inspiration to us all.”

After retiring in 2006 from MetLife, Benmosche moved to
Croatia, where he owned a villa with a 12.5-acre vineyard and
had a collection of thousands of bottles of wine. Benmosche
wanted to bring Zinfandel wine-making back to Croatia, where the
variety may have originated, he told Wine Spectator magazine in
December 2009.

Croatia’s Allure

“People say, why would you want to live in Croatia?” said
Benmosche, who said he spent half the year there during his
retirement. “Because it’s a beautiful place and it’s safe.”

He said he initially turned down the AIG job because of the
lambasting that his predecessor, Liddy, had received during
congressional hearings in March and May 2009 regarding employee
bonuses.

“I wasn’t interested in this job, I’ve got to tell you, I
said ‘no’ three times,” Benmosche told staff at an August 2009
meeting. “I said to all the key people in Washington I met over
the last two weeks, ‘Why in God’s name would you want me to be
your CEO? I’m angry about everything you did. There isn’t
anything you did right.’”

One reason he took the AIG post was to help restore
confidence in the insurance industry, Benmosche told staff.

“It affects me personally because, quite frankly, I still
got a lot of MetLife stock,” he said. “And if I can improve
everything here, I can make some money here, and I can make a
lot of money there, too. And then I can add more vineyards.”

Biggest Loss

In 2008, AIG reported the biggest quarterly loss in U.S.
corporate history and posted almost $100 billion in net losses
that year, fueled by bets on subprime-mortgage securities. AIG
was deemed by the Treasury Department a “systemically
significant failing institution” and was the only company to
receive bailout funds through a facility created for such firms.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said AIG’s
bailout, a day after the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings
Inc., had made him “more angry” than any other episode in the
financial crisis. The business was akin to a hedge fund
“attached to a large and stable insurance company,” Bernanke
said.

In his first month at AIG, Benmosche drew criticism for
vacationing in Croatia. In a town hall meeting with AIG staff
that month, Benmosche spoke of ridding AIG of government
oversight.

Bailed-out firms have to “start rebuilding themselves,
without government regulation, government control, government
decisions on how you pay people,” Benmosche said. “If we do it
the right way, I’m convinced we can restore credibility in our
industry, as well as for our country.”

Washington ‘Crazies’

Liddy’s relations with Congress and federal regulators was
testy. He was twice grilled by lawmakers over bonuses paid
during his tenure. Benmosche said he would leave working with
Congress to Golub, the former CEO of American Express Inc.,
while he focused on operations and decided which units to keep.

Golub “is going to run interference for me in Washington
because, I’ve got to tell you, I can’t be running the business
here and dealing with all those crazies down in Washington,”
Benmosche said on Aug. 11, 2009, adding, “actually, they’re
not. They’re very nice, sophisticated people. Vote for them.
Please. And give them your money.”

Benmosche also criticized then-New York Attorney General
Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 11, 2009, over Cuomo’s handling of a bonus
probe of the company, saying he “doesn’t deserve to be in
government.” AIG issued an apology on Benmosche’s behalf and
said that the executive was responding to workers’ concern about
harassment amid the bonus furor.

Welcomes Regulators

Over time, Benmosche shifted his stance toward federal
regulators. In 2012, Benmosche said AIG wouldn’t contest a
designation as a systemically important financial institution,
subjecting it to extra oversight.

“In fact, we welcome supervision by the Federal Reserve,”
he said in a letter to regulators.

Golub, who joined AIG in 2009, weeks before Benmosche
became CEO, resigned as chairman on July 14, 2010. Benmosche
often clashed with Golub and pushed for his ouster after feuding
with him over the stalled divestiture of AIA Group Ltd., AIG’s
main Asia division.

Golub was succeeded by Miller, an AIG director who became
the company’s sixth chairman since 2005. Miller oversaw the
bankruptcy of auto-parts supplier Delphi Corp. and helped
Chrysler Corp. return to profitability.

Benmosche’s strategy was to delay asset sales until higher
prices could be garnered, telling employees he was “appalled”
at pressure from U.S. regulators to liquidate the company.

Asset Sales

AIG has retrenched the derivatives unit responsible for
housing-market losses. The company has sold more than $75
billion worth of businesses and assets since 2008, including a
U.S. consumer lender, a Russian bank, an Israeli mortgage
insurer and its New York headquarters building. The sale of
plane-leasing business International Lease Finance Corp. in May
2014 was the last major divestiture, AIG said at the time.

Among the biggest deals that helped AIG repay the rescue
were the $16 billion sale of Asian insurer American Life
Insurance Co. to MetLife and the divestiture of AIA in four
public offerings that raised a total of $35 billion.

The U.S. wound down the rescue through six share sales
after owning as much as 92 percent of AIG. Following the final
sale in December 2012, the Treasury Department had recouped more
than $200 billion, giving the U.S. a profit of about $22.7
billion on the bailout.

Health Disclosure

“We are not going to stop here and take a rest,”
Benmosche wrote to employees in a memo at the time. “We are not
at the finish line.”

On Oct. 25, 2010, weeks after announcing AIG’s road map to
independence, Benmosche told staff that he had begun treatment
for cancer, without disclosing the type, and said he’d step down
in 2012. Benmosche later decided he’s stay on until the first
quarter of 2015, then moved up his departure to August 2014.

Just prior to leaving AIG, Benmosche sat for an interview
with Bloomberg TV’s Betty Liu at his Croatian villa. He told Liu
that he felt he’d completed his goals for AIG, and explained his
decision to depart by citing advice his mother once gave him.

“My mother told me, ‘Don’t wait too long,’ and I’m glad I
didn’t wait too long,” Benmosche said. “She said, ‘Live your
life when you’re healthy enough to live it.’”

Benmosche is survived by his wife, Denise; son, Ari;
daughters Nehama and Beth; six grandchildren; and companion,
Lisa, according to a statement from the family.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Hugh Son in New York at
hson1@bloomberg.net;
Zachary Tracer in New York at
ztracer1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Charles W. Stevens at
cstevens@bloomberg.net
Steven Gittelson