BARBARIANS AT THE GATE: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan & John Helyar Burrough
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BARBARIANS AT THE GATE: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A reportorial tour de force that provides a stunningly detailed recap of the events leading up to the megabuck takeover of RJR Nabisco. Wall Street Journal correspondents Burrough and Helyar covered the unseemly battle for control of a great American enterprise as a breaking story. Here, comparatively free from deadline pressures, they offer a comprehensive and coherent account of a multilateral struggle that in many respects apotheosized a decade of wretched excess in the so-called financial community. The tragicomedy began in October of 1988 when F. Ross Johnson, RJR Nabisco's high-living CEO, began to explore the possibility of a leveraged buyout, in part to enhance shareholder returns and in part to line his own pockets. News of the proposed bid triggered an immediate feeding frenzy among fee-hungry investment bankers and the fast-buck crowd. Cases in point range from the blue-chip likes of American Express (the parent of Shearson Lehman Hutton), First Boston, and Salomon Brothers through such upstarts as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, an LBO specialist whose purse-proud principals could not bear the thought of a record deal escaping them. Eventually, KKR won the RJR Nabisco auction, albeit at a price (circa $25 billion in cash and dubious securities) that promises to yield the finn precious little profit. Johnson, who wound up as the media villain of the piece, pulled the rip cord on a golden parachute that compensates him handsomely for an early retirement, While other mercenary participants in the consequential clash soldier on in pursuit of quick killings that could give them fame as well as fortune. Burrough and Helyar make a fine job of recounting the personality conflicts and value judgments that enlivened the protracted engagement. While their lengthy narrative steers cleat of assessing the contested transaction's socioeconomic implications, it affords a definitive reading on one of the less edifying chapters in capitalism's checkered history. Illustrations (not seen).

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1989
ISBN: 0061655546
Publisher: Harper & Row