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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Okay, Okay, But Why Is The Book Great?
To start explaining this book you must understand that the book has been written by two investigative reporters, so it reads like a well written novel. In fact with some of these books you must remind yourself that it is not fiction.
The other thing is that the authors emphasize the people and what they think, their motivations, their egos and their vulnerabilities...
Published on Feb. 22 2004 by J. E. Robinson

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Board Room Antics
Its a good book from the perspective of corporate politics. Insightful as to the motivations of the different players. Disappointing from the finance side of things, as there was not enough information about the inner workings of the deals proposed to buy out RJR.
Published on April 11 2000 by Brian Christiansen


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Okay, Okay, But Why Is The Book Great?, Feb. 22 2004
By 
To start explaining this book you must understand that the book has been written by two investigative reporters, so it reads like a well written novel. In fact with some of these books you must remind yourself that it is not fiction.
The other thing is that the authors emphasize the people and what they think, their motivations, their egos and their vulnerabilities. It is not a financial book. It is more of a novel. When you combine the writing plus with the emphasis on the people you get a best seller - as we have.
Here is the situation. The CEO's of some of these corporations get greedy and decide that making millions per year and having a fleet of their own jets - is not enough. They want to borrow money and buy the whole company. That is what we had here. The CEO Ross Johnson proposes a leveraged buy out (LBO) of RJR-Nabisco, which had previously merged. His idea is to borrow money and buy all the stock. So it is really a story about Ross Johnson and whether or not he could pull of this (theft) purchase from the shareholders by borrowing enough money. He is abetted by bankers and investment people, and they all want a piece of the action and large fees. It is all quite fascinating stuff.
But he hits a snag. The prize is too big and draws other people into the fray.
Like sharks smelling blood in the water he attracts KKR runs by Henry Kravis - a New York based LBO company. It decides it wants to get involved. The book takes us like a suspense novel through various negotiations and heavy duty meetings in Manhattan until it is finally settled. It makes for a fascinating read.
Recently I read another book that I thought was quite different but just excellent. Ross Johnson in the present book RJR-Nabisco was the CEO of a large public company and he became such by working his way up through the ranks. To me a more fascinating book is Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson also at Amazon.com. Branson starts his career by himself selling a magazine as a teenager, starts Virgin Records, takes on and beats back British Airways with Virgin Airways, and does it all with a flair for the dramatic - and often he owns the companies.
Jack in Toronto
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Board Room Antics, April 11 2000
Its a good book from the perspective of corporate politics. Insightful as to the motivations of the different players. Disappointing from the finance side of things, as there was not enough information about the inner workings of the deals proposed to buy out RJR.
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5.0 out of 5 stars To learn about greed:, Aug. 16 2013
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Should you want to learn historical accounts of corporate greed here is a fine example which fluently tells the tale.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Journalism...Incredible Story, Sept. 26 2012
By 
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This was my second time through one of Wall Street's most amazing stories. It's depiction of the Leveraged Buyout craze of the 1980's is a cautionary tale of greed that remains unheeded. An LBO is a financial transaction and process by which "a small group of senior executives, usually working with a Wall Street partner, proposes to buy its company from public shareholders, using massive amounts of borrowed money". Colorful Ross Johnson from my hometown of Winnipeg headed RJR Nabisco and recklessly sought to unlock the value he believed investors were overlooking in the company. This organization was the 19th largest company at the time with 140,000 employees and a host of impressive brands: Oreos, Ritz crackers, Life Savers, and Winston and Salem cigarettes. The eventual transaction ended up being the largest LBO ever reaching $17 billion in value (and huge heights of controversy).

Johnson could be a fictional invention. His rise in corporate power was built on political manoeuvring, extensive expense accounts, fleets of corporate jets (RJR Nabsico had 36 pilots and 10 planes), hobnobbing, and other excesses that make for entertaining (and these days incomprehensible) reading. His desire to eschew corporate tradition and civility is at odds with a traditional, depression upbringing. But Ross was his own man and showed early signs of being an entrepreneur and dealmaker. He was also big on the social scene being president of his fraternity, varsity basketball player, and a Cadet in Canadian military officer training at the University of Manitoba. The book is replete with examples of Ross' love of partying and the good life. At one time he was a member of over twenty country clubs and always seemed able to hit the links no matter what was going on.

The book reintroduces us to the firms and players that would personify a time when financial black magic took precedent over business basics like valuable products and solid customer service (not much has changed). In it are: Henry Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis; Salomon Brothers; Jim and Linda Robinson; Lazard Freres & Co.; Jeffrey "Mad Dog" Beck; Morgan Stanley; Drexel Burnham Lambert; Forstmann Little; Goldman Sachs; Shearson Lehman; and more. The majority of the book covers the feeding frenzy that ensued once the company was in play. Greed, petty jealousies, tantrums, egos, arrogance and ignorance are all in great supply. I enjoyed the side stories covering Ted Forstmann who hated Kohlberg Kravis and John Greeniaus who was one executive capable of actual management.

Burrough and Helyar place the reader in the boardroom, limo, and bar. The book is so well researched, the narrative so engaging, and the pace so lively that it reads like a novel. It continues to influence financial and business reporting by placing emphasis on the very real human foibles that impact those worlds. It made me a bit of a junkie for similar works as I went on to read others of this genre and era including: Den of Thieves, Predator's Ball, Rainmaker, amongst others.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Great insight behing merger & acquisition, Sept. 6 2012
By 
C. Chen "e.mechanics" (Montreal, QC, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A great book to know what happened, but it stops there. This book is a novel with little use as a reference in investing.
Pros:
+ Great company historic events from creation to present (1987)
+ Interesting insight of the characters facing a decision making situation
+ Detail description of the function of each character in the LBO
Cons:
- Too long. Too much unnecessary scene descriptions, clothing, apartment, etc.
- Zero financial contents (how the valuation is done, etc.)
(Note: It is a 3-1/2 stars in my mind, since it doesn't deserve 4 in my mind, I can only give 3 limited by the ranking system)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough - maybe too much so, Oct. 8 2002
By 
Greg (Somewhere in CA, United States) - See all my reviews
This is an amazingly thorough account of the RJR/Nabisco LBO story of the late 80s. It does a good job of noting the influence of junk bonds, the pervasive greed in the culture of wall street, and the complex wranglings associated with a buyout. The book is exceptionally readable.
My main criticisms are (1) it is too thorough: it is easy to tire of the endless discussions-of-only-minor-substance between some of the parties; many of these conversations sound the same and it quickly becomes something one would rather skim over and (2) the book, while providing some basic education on LBOs, doesn't address some of the details as well as it could. For example, there is no detailed explanation of how junk bonds work or what rules goven the ownership of public or private companies. I had to turn elsewhere for such info and I think that the authors could easily complement what they already have with such material.
Nonetheless, if there is one book about Wall St in the mid/late 80s you should read, it should be this one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A new book about KKR, July 18 2005
By 
You may be interested in the book about the murder death of
a former KKR executive (Almost Paradise, by Kieran Crowley, 2005.) It discussed how the corporate raiders like KKR operates:
1. A group of raiders would locate a fat target,
undervalued, according to the stock price. It was best
to win the cooperation of the concern's board members
in advance, for an uncontested buyout.
2. Next the raiders would quickly secure massive
financing from one or more big banks to fund their
buyout offer to the stockholders of the corporation,
who could be expected to agree to sell their shares
for a windfall profit. The raiders inflated their
offers with controversial "junk bonds," which made the
takeovers possible.
3. Then the raiders would run the company, selling off
assets, divisions, or property, and consolidating
operations to achieve massive profits. That often
meant wholesale layoffs of loyal workers who had been
doing a good job for a profitable firm.
4. At the end of the process, everyone who owned stock
made a nice profit, the bankers made a bigger profit,
and the raiders garnered the lion's share of the
liquidated assets, sometimes obscene amounts of cash
-- all for wringing money out of someone else's
company with other people's money and shaky bonds.
Everybody was happy -- except the workers who got
fired...
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Tale of Wall Street and Greed, Jan. 14 2004
By 
James Sadler (Plano, TX United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This book became the basis for a paper I wrote in school and by the time I finished the book and the paper, I was actually surprised by my conclusions.
Leveraged Buy Outs (LBO) and Management Buy Outs (MBO) were all the rage in the eighties, and this book chronicles what is good about them as well as what is bad. In the general public's opinion, the bad far outweighs the good, but from a maangement standpoint, they can be a good idea.
The leveraged buyout of the RJR Nabisco Corporation for $25 billion, recounted in this book, is a landmark in American business history. Ross Johnson, CEO of RJR Nabisco, is is just one of the colorful cast of characters involved in the midst of this book, as he sets in motion whagt would become the basis for the events chronicled in "Barbarians."
Should be required reading for all business students and busienss leaders.
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5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating account of the 1980s merger mania, Aug. 22 2003
By 
Svetoslav Tassev (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
It reads like a thriller. Once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. It is the story of the RJR Nabisco buyout through the eyes of two journalists and it shows that a real world story can be just as dramatic as fiction. This book is one of the most important documentaries of the 1980s.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book!, Aug. 1 2003
By 
Inside the high stakes world of high finance, this book superbly portrays the happenings the events that led to the rise and eventual fall of two great American companies, RJR and Nabisco. Along the way, these companies inturn merger with other companies resulting in the cash spinning behemoth that became the prey of many corp finance predators of Wall St.
Both the authors excel at investgative journalism, wherein lies the beauty of this book. What you get from this book is a lucidly writen cases on a multitude of things. The making of the brand RJR Nabisco, from the turn of 20th to 21st century. The rise of the unstoppable buyout machine, KKR, the rise and fall of the leverage buyout (LBO) industry and the rise and fall of one man who spearheaded most of the fall of RJR Nabisco, Ross F Johnson. You end up learning more about many things that you thought were possible and the best part is, the narration style. Its like watching a good Hollywood movie, a fast paced thriller. So once you start the book you never want to put it down. And when you finish reading, you are left with a feeling of wanting more.
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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by John Helyar (Hardcover - Jan. 1990)
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