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VINE VOICEon March 16, 2003
I like business biographies and specifically those concerning investment banking. Sandy Weill's career is so diverse with so many companies turned around that this book is the best I have read in detailing a man's lifetime case study. For those who may not be familiar with Sandy Weill, he started on Wall Street with a small firm as Wall Street was struggling with sheer back-office paperwork and quickly grew that into a force challenging Merrill Lynch. After a merger with American Express, Weill was eventually forced out. He returned to corporate management buying a Baltimore finance company in trouble, Commercial Credit. After merging with Travelers Insurance, Weill eventually merges with Citicorp creating the largest financial institution in the world.
What makes this book interesting are the character flaws of Sandy Weill. While he has strengths in cost cutting efficiency, he has many management flaws. Temper management, delegation of authority, public speaking are but a few of the flaws detailed in this book. Of particular interest is his relationship with Jamie Dimon, his long-time younger protégé, who is eventually let go and now runs Bank One.
There is one complaint I have with this book. At the takeover of Commercial Credit, there are significant discussions of the changes in management philosophy that are quite interesting. But after significant work and allusion of improvement, no report of financial performance was provided to demonstrate mathematically how positive the improvement was. Obviously, it was significant given the mergers that took place after the turnaround of Commercial Credit.
I must compliment the author on a thorough research job. It was clear from the dialog that this book would have been impossible without interviews with many different people including Sandy Weill. I did not find this book tipped to Weill's favor as a "fluff" piece but rather I thought the author balanced the good with the bad.
In summary, if you like business summaries dealing with finance you will like this book.
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on July 13, 2004
'Bonfire of the Vanities' and 'Barbarians at the Gate' are great books of this genre, since they refused to cast the Wall Street characters as heroes, but display in full their naked greed, fear, and ambition. Langley tries mightily to cast Weill as a 'David' going up against the WASP 'Goliath' and winning, and omits the obvious and profound hypocrisy of Weill:
- Despite Weill's emphasis on stock options - not cash - as financial incentives for his employees, Weill himself became the highest and most overpaid CEO by getting the slavish board to grant him obscene amounts of CASH for his compensation.
- Weill and Dimon are responsible for laying off tens of thousands of people in their career, and their ruthlessness are in full display in Langley's book. As the saying goes, cruel people are equally sentimental. The depth of self-pity of Weill and Dimon when they themselves get fired are simply revolting in their hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
- Weill's monstrous capacity for decadent self-indulgence is biblical in its scale. While becoming hysterical against employee benefits that are measured in pennies, he gets equally hysterical when faced with scrutiny of his fleet of corporate jets, ironically by his right-hand man, Jamie Dimon.
Weill is a modern day equivalent of the rail road and oil robber barons of the last century, i.e. megalomanic monsters who squeeze every penny out of his employees to expand his empire, and then spends the money to re-cast himself as a pioneer, benefactor and philanthropist.
Langley had to make many compromises in order to get access to Weill's world and played right into his hand. In the last 100 pages of her book, the author appears to be increasingly star struck, focusing on the lavish lifestyle and adulation of an aging tycoon surrounded by sycophants.
If Langley had the courage, she would have pointed out the obvious: Weill is no David, but indeed the very description of the "rich man" described in Bible:
" There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day... The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hell, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame... But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. "
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on October 31, 2008
Anyone who wishes to know hwat happened on Wall Street and why it happened will find this book extremely interesting. Greed is the key word and a complete lack of loyalty to their fellow Wall Street gang or even their own families. Very good book.
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on October 25, 2006
Whether you like Sandy Weil or not is not the issue here. This is just a fascinating book and one of the best books I have read in a while. You will not regret the time that you spend reading this.
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on April 30, 2008
I read this book to get some insight into Sandy's right hand man Jammie Diamond who was about to become the CEO of Chase, the company I worked for. I must say that it was so interesting that I could not put the book down. It's a biography that reads like a novel. The world of finance and Sandy's role in it's history is spell binding. Monica Langley did an excellent job writing this book and look forward to reading anything else she's done.
If this subject is of any interest to you then you will be glad you took the time to read this book.
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on March 15, 2003
This book is great!!!!! I haven't finished it yet but I am glued to the pages..taking about the ascent of a brooklyn kid. Sandy is human and has every flaw but it talks about business and no bull..... it's not one of those sugared biographies. It talks about the strong personalities in wallstreet and also building great businesses. I thoroughly recommend it as required reading.
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on January 30, 2016
It is important that a company moves fast enough to adapt to the changes in its environment and one of the characteristics of Sany Weill is that he always led a company that was changing, usually by growing. It should also be stated, to be fair to everyone, that there are a lot of lives that are ruined in such companies of people that get tossed aside and wasted. I liked Sandy Weill as he was described, and have more than once crossed paths with him in my personal account without either one of us being aware of it at the time, probably, (Travellers, Chase) and I think that I offered a lot more of myself than I got for it. The effort away from the top is being used more than it is being valued. This is both as a customer and an employee. Don't get the wrong impression that I'm bitter or not loyal though. I was rooting for him to succeed and closely following his path as I read this account of his career. It is richly interesting and informative. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in banking and Wall Street.
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on August 21, 2010
Monica Langley's 'Tearing Down the Walls' is one the best books about Wall Street bankers. Sandy Weil's life and his rise epitomizes the life on Wall Street before the crisis. Ms.Langley's racy style keeps the reader completely engrossed. Provides great insight into the minds and egos of Wall Street CEOs. After reading the book, one has a better understanding why Wall Street firms are confronting the worst crisis on a scale never seen before. The relentless push by Sandy Weil to repeal the Glass Steagall Act, so as to make Citi Group as a financial powerhouse is one of the underlying causes for the crisis on Wall Street. It shows how driven Wall Street CEOs are to achieve goals that matter to them and their firms, unmindful of larger consequences. The grooming of Jamie Dimon as Sandy's protege at Citi and Dimon's sudden departure from Citi makes for fascinating reading.
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on May 17, 2014
After the Graham Leach Bliley fallout, I didn't understand why Weill was considered an industry titan. Having completed the book, I now see why Weill was held in high esteem. This book documents the rise of Weill and notes his contributions to the US financial industry.

Langley did a good job researching the book and put together a wonderful narrative. I would have given the book 5 stars but felt that the book began to drag towards the end.

I still find Dimon to be a more compelling figure in the industry and would consider buying a Langley book on him, Bob Lipp, John Reed or Robert Willumstad.
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on May 3, 2010
Finally, a great biography of a person who isn't in the news anymore. Extremely detailed about the person who used to be, and may be still is, Sandy Weill. His chutzpah hid his flaws balance each other, but not all the time. He grew a small company with people around him falling to the background, somewhere along the way, he fell and then he came back strong.
Frankly, the book is not at all technical on financials but is more about the manager, the specialist and the fire inside him. Reading the book is just like watching a movie about Weill. Great read. Buy it.
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