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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabiscoby Bryan Burrough
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneRoss's philosophy is, "We're going to have a party, a very sophisticated, complicated party."
-- 0.C. Adams, "consulting psychologist to RJR NabiscoRoss Johnson was being followed. A detective, he guessed, no doubt hired by that old skinflint Henry Weigl. Every day, through the streets of Manhattan, no matter where Johnson went, his shadow stayed with him. Finally he had had enough. Johnson had friends, lots of them, and one in particular who must have had contacts in the goon business. He had this annoying problem, Johnson explained to his friend. He'd like to get rid of a tail. No problem, said the friend. Sure enough, within days the detective vanished. Whatever the fellow was doing now, Johnson's friend assured him, he was probably walking a little funny.It was the spring of 1976, and at a second-tier food company named Standard Brands, things were getting ugly. Weigl, its crusty old chairman, was out to purge his number two, Johnson, the shaggy-haired young Canadian who pranced about Manhattan with glamorous friends such as Frank Gifford and "Dandy" Don Meredith. Weigl sicced a team of auditors on Johnson's notoriously bloated expense accounts and collected tales of his former proté gé 's extramarital affairs.Johnson's hard-drinking band of young renegades began plotting a counterattack, lobbying directors and documenting all the underlying rot in the company's businesses. Rumors of an imminent coup began sweeping the company's Madison Avenue headquarters.Then tensions exploded into the open: A shouting match erupted between Johnson and Weigl, a popular executive dropped dead, a board of directors was rent asunder. Everything came to a head at a mid-Mayboard meeting. Weigl went in first, ready to bare his case against Johnson. Johnson followed, his own trap ready to spring.As the hours wore on, Johnson's aides, "the Merry Men," wandered through Central Park, waiting for the victor to emerge. Things were bound to get bloody in there. But when it came to corporate politics, no one was ready to count out Ross Johnson. He seemed to have a knack for survival.Until the fall of 1988 Ross Johnson's life was a series of corporate adventures, in which he would not only gain power for himself but wage war on an old business order.Under that old order, big business was a slow and steady entity. The "Fortune 500 was managed by "company men": junior executives who worked their way up the ladder and gave one company their all and senior executives who were corporate stewards, preserving and cautiously enhancing the company.Johnson was to become the consummate "noncompany man." He shredded traditions, jettisoned divisions, and roiled management. He was one of a whole breed of noncompany men who came to maturity in the 1970S and 1980s: a deal-driven, yield-driven nomadic lot. They said their mission was to serve company investors, not company tradition. They also tended to handsomely serve themselves.But of all the noncompany men, Johnson cut the highest profile. He did the biggest deals, had the biggest mouth, and enjoyed the biggest perks. He would come to be the very symbol of the business world's "Roaring Eighties." And he would climax the decade by launching the deal of the century — scattering one of America's largest, most venerable companies to the winds.The man who would come to represent the new age of business was born in 1931 at the depthof an old one. Frederick Ross Johnson was raised in Depression-era Winnipeg, the only child of a lower-middle-class home. He was always "Ross," never Fred — Fred was his father's name. The senior Johnson was a hardware salesman by vocation, a woodworker by avocation, and a man of few words. Johnson's petite mother, Caroline, was the pepper pot of the household — a bookkeeper at a time when few married women worked, a crack bridge player in her free time. Young Ross owed an early knack for numbers and the gift of gab to her; an early entrepreneurial bent be owed to the times. The Johnsons weren't poverty-stricken, but neither did they own their own bungalow until Johnson was eight years old.Around that period young Ross began working at a variety of afterschool jobs. He used the money he earned for serious things, like buying clothes. He started with standard kid tasks, such as delivering magazines around the neighborhood and selling candy at the circus, then branched into more innovative ventures, such as renting out comic books from his collection. When he grew older, he sold certificates for baby pictures door-to-door. It was an enterprise he would turn to whenever he needed a buck during his years in college.Johnson wasn't the best student in his high school, ceding that honor to his friend Neil Wood, who would go on to head the huge Cadillac Fairview real estate firm. Johnson was the kind of teenager who could rank in the upper quarter of his class, as he did, without appearing to try very hard, which be didn't. Nor was he the best athlete in school, although he was a rangy six feet three inches by the time he graduated. He was far better at memorizing baseball statistics in "TheSporting News than hitting a fastball.Unlike his father, who hadn't completed high school, Ross Johnson wanted to be a college man, and he took the crosstown bus each day to Winnipeg's University of Manitoba. He was average inside the classroom but excellent out of it: president of his fraternity, varsity basketball, and honors as outstanding cadet in the Canadian version of ROTC. (This despite a propensity for pranks: One night Johnson and some chums ambushed a superior officer, whom they considered a superior jerk, tied him to a diving board, and left him to contemplate his sins as the sun rose.)...
“One of the finest, most compelling accounts of what happened to corporate
A #1 New York Times bestseller and arguably the best business narrative ever written, Barbarians at the Gate is the classic account of the fall of RJR Nabisco. An enduring masterpiece of investigative journalism by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, it includes a new afterword by the authors that brings this remarkable story of greed and double-dealings up to date twenty years after the famed deal. The Los Angeles Times calls Barbarians at the Gate, “Superlative.” The Chicago Tribune raves, “Its hard to imagine a better story...and its hard to imagine a better account.” And in an era of spectacular business crashes and federal bailouts, it still stands as a valuable cautionary tale that must be heeded.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Barbarians at the Gate has been called one of the most influential business books of all time — the definitive account of the largest takeover in Wall Street history. Bryan Burrough and John Helyar's gripping account of the frenzy that overtook Wall Street in October and November of 1988 is the story of deal makers and publicity flaks, of strategy meetings and society dinners, of boardrooms and bedrooms — giving us not only a detailed look at how financial operations at the highest levels are conducted but also a richly textured social history of wealth at the twilight of the Reagan era.
Barbarians at the Gate — a business narrative classic — is must reading for everyone interested in the way today's world really works.
About the Author
Bryan Burrough was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York, Pittsburgh, and Houston, and is now a special correspondent at Vanity Fair.
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