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The Key To Understanding Aig's New Ceo

That would be this detail from today's Wall Street Journal write-up: "Mr. Benmosche also gained experience overseeing international insurance operations and led MetLife when it won approval for a joint venture in China, where AIG has a major presence."

AIG's extensive overseas presence is probably the single most important feature of its corporate identity (or at least it was before everyone got to know those high-rollers at AIG Financial Products). The company was actually founded in China between the world wars before being thrown out by the Communists in 1949. The proudest achievement of its famous former CEO, Hank Greenberg, was getting the company back into the country in 1992, a process that required about 15 years' worth of baroque negotiations. (Greenberg's office at 70 Pine Street looked like a shrine to Chinese culture.) Indeed, when I interviewed Greenberg about the state of the company back in March, his biggest complaint about AIG's current CEO, Ed Liddy, was that he lacked international experience:

Well, I think first of all, the three successive CEOs after me were inadequate for the job. [Current CEO Edward] Liddy is--I’ve known him for many years. He ran Allstate, a domestic automobile insurance company. [Liddy spent several years as CEO of Allstate, which mostly sells domestic auto and home insurance.] How do you expect him to know about an international company? ... He’s totally inadequate for the job.

There's nothing about the task that awaits Benmosche that could be described as easy. But his experience on the international side--particularly in leading a major insurer into the Chinese market--should give him some real credibility internally.

--Noam Scheiber