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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco Paperback – Bargain Price, June 1, 2003
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From Library Journal
The leveraged buyout of the RJR Nabisco Corporation for $25 billion is a landmark in American business history, a story of avarice on an epic scale. Two versions of the fierce competition for the largest buyout ever consummated are presented by skilled journalists with contrasting styles. Burrough and Helyar are clearly fascinated with the personalities of the players in the deal and with the trappings of corporate wealth. The restless, flamboyant personality of Ross Johnson, CEO of RJR Nabisco, is portrayed as the key to the events that were to unfold. The colorful description of all of the players and the events will likely have broad appeal. Lampert signals the complexity of her story by introducing her narrative with a three-page cast of characters. Her focus on the strategy of the players and on the fast-paced action provides a more concise description of a deal big enough to augment the wealth of many rich people. Business libraries will want both versions of this story of capitalism drawn to the extreme, but students, looking for a more comprehensive treatment, will favor Lampert's version.
- Joseph Barth, U.S. Military Acad. Lib., West Point, N.Y.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"All the suspense of a first-rate thriller - one of the finest, most compelling accounts of what happened to corporate America and Wall Street in the 1980s." * New York Times Book Review * "One of the greatest business books ever written" * New York Times * "It's hard to imagine a better story" * Chicago Tribune * "The most bizarre financial mock-epic of our age. Read it open-mouthed; wonder and shudder." * Independent * --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The easy larger than life characters are Ross Johnson, Henry Kravis, George Roberts, Peter Cohen, and maybe even Ted Forstmann, but there are so many more. There were so many times a deal could have been put together and most likely should have been, but in each instance it slipped away because one ego or another wanted to carve its initials in the bark of what was then the largest deal in history.
For those of us who are interested in how business really works, this is one of the epics in business history. It begins with the founding of the companies involved and the rather amazing story of how Ross Johnson ended up at the helm of RJR Nabisco. The book also gives plenty of evidence of Wall Streeters seeking out their own interest over their clients' needs and desires and contrary to their own promises and assurances. You will become convinced of the aptness of Ross Johnson's adage about the rules of behavior on Wall Street: "Never play by the rules, never tell the truth, and never pay in cash".
Another of the many things I enjoyed about this book is that the personalities of the major and secondary characters are given enough room to become more than just stick figures. There are times you will want to support them, when you will root for them, when you will be appalled by their behavior and ego, and other times you will laugh until your sides hurt. This isn't a simple story drawn with stick figures. If you want to understand American business, this is one of the stories you simply have to know.
While the movie made from this book is quite good and very funny, it doesn't offer you the full range of characters involved nor the detail of the actual negotiations and how the deal finally came to its strange end. The movie captures the mood and the essentials of the story and that might be enough for most. I recommend the movie for those who want the story in broad strokes. However, if you want to really gain an understanding of how this deal in particular and how business deals in general really come together and fall apart, the book is the way to go. The people involved become more three dimensional in the book and where some events and characters are left out or compressed in the movie the book has the room to let the story be told more fully. It isn't that the book is the ultimate truth (I am sure every person involved could point to things they find inadequate in the book), it is that the authors dug hard, got as much of the truth as they could get to and shared it with us in an intelligent, enlightening and often humorous way.
This is a great book I would recommend to anyone, but it is a must read for students of business.
Ross Johnson, CEO of RJR Nabisco, decided to take the company private. Officially, his reason was to improve shareholder value, since the RJR Nabisco stock was undervalued (and Johnson's attempts to boost it have failed). His other reasons may have included money and the constant urge to change things up. He teamed up with Shearson Lehman Hutton to make a bid to the board. In their shortsightedness, this "management group" did not expect anyone else to compete - due to the sheer size of the deal. However, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. made a tender offer, which started off a bidding war between the two groups (and a few third party bidders). This book describes everything in detail - starting with how Johnson got to Nabisco - and finishing off with a gripping climax of Shearson and KKR's final bid war.
It is a long narrative, over 500 pages long. The authors take a lot of side tangents to describe many personal biographies. I found those of major players (like Ross Johnson and Henry Kravis) very interesting, and those of lesser-involved people somewhat excessive. Nevertheless, I was never tempted to skip over paragraphs or pages, as I sometimes am in lengthy books with lots of characters.
The authors clearly have done a lot of research. I liked that they included footnotes when stories from different people didn't match up. I also like the photographs included in the book - they put faces on the people described so thoroughly. The "Players" section in the beginning of the book is also very helpful - it lists the names of almost everyone involved in the deal.
The narrative is great. The story is gripping, with many twists and surprises. We learn about the multiple final bids submitted by KKR and the management group, the backstabbing plots, and the emotions and broken spirits behind the closed doors. It's as if we are there amidst the board meetings - kudos to the authors for their great writing. However, as some reviewers before me mentioned, it would have been nice to see more financial details - and more on what actually transpired after the takeover (the epilogue provides some details, but not nearly enough). Check out John Helyar's article in Fortune (October 13, 2003) - it describes what happened to RJR after the LBO. KKR took 60% of the company public in 1991 and then finally got rid of it in 1995. In the end, KKR had very disappointing returns on its LBO and drove RJR into the ground with poor leadership.
In conclusion, it's a great read for anyone interested in business or history. It works as both a fun thriller and a good historical account of the events that took place. However, I am a bit skeptical of why this book is a recommended read for many MBA curriculums. Other than describing the corporate culture and Wall Street in the late '80s, it doesn't really provide the financial details from which the readers could learn something practical.
+ great narrative - gripping story with twists
+ many details on personal lives of the people involved
+ fantastic insight into the corporate world of the '80s
- not enough financial details to learn from
- for some readers, can feel lengthy with lots of tangents
I actually met Theodore Forstmann when I was a teenager and he was in his early twenties, at the Apawamis Club in Rye, NY. I remember it because he got hit with a golf ball. Weird, huh?
Watch the movie also; as with all movies there are some liberties taken but the complete absurdity of the whole event is very skillfully portrayed. It has James Garner as Ross Johnson and it's a natural role for the recently deceased actor. Fred Dalton Thompson is also great as the president of American Express. Worth the time to watch it!