TRUE GREED: What Really Happened in the Battle for RJR Nabisco by Hope Lampert

TRUE GREED: What Really Happened in the Battle for RJR Nabisco

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An oddly bloodless account of the peddling of RJR Nabisco, which an avid press not inaccurately presented as a morality play. Lampert (Behind Closed Doors, Till Death Do Us Part) provides an accessible, chronological report on the rowdy affair, which reflected precious little credit on either corporate America or Wall Street. On a bottom-line basis, though, her version lacks the depth, detail, and drama afforded by Bryan Burrough and John Helyer in Barbarians at the Gate (reviewed above). Covering much the same ground as her rivals, Lampert recounts how a poorly planned attempt by F. Ross Johnson, RJR Nabisco's fun-loving CEO, to mount a leveraged buyout put the company in play. In fact, once the initial bid was made public, a wealth of new players joined the rough-and-tumble game, escalating the stakes to unprecedented levels. Their ranks encompassed the oddly coupled likes of American Express chairman James Robinson III, Shearson's Peter Cohen, Salomon's John Gutfreund, and First Boston's James Maher, plus a host of lesser lights. Participation motives ranged from pure avarice and egotism through turf protection. RJR Nabisco was eventually auctioned off by a special board committee to LBO king Henry Kravis and his partners, who literally muscled their way into the record-breaking deal. As a practical matter, the price they paid in adverse publicity and allied headaches--as well as borrowed cash and junky securities--will almost surely prove too high. There are many lessons to be learned from a $25-billion takeover that reduced a going multinational concern to a debt-burdened bulk. Lampert, however, largely eschews value judgments in her straightforward narrative, strongly suggesting that two beads may indeed be better than one in reckoning the costs of excessively free enterprise.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1989
Publisher: New American Library