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on August 14, 2000
What an incredibly well researched book! This book gives the entire history of RJR Nabisco, including the legacy companies (which date back to the 1800's), focusing on the levarged buy-out (LBO) of the company in the late 80's. The book goes behind the scenes and details seemingly every conversation and action that took place - a credit to the incredibly thorough research which the authors did. The book is long, and at times tedious, but if you are interested in the early stages of the demise of junk bonds, leveraged buy-outs, and the technicalities of financing of corporate takeovers, this is a great book for you!
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on June 19, 2017
well made It does a good job. Nice. I am very pleased and would definitely recommend this product! I appreciate a good design. I love both its work and appearance.
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on May 22, 2017
he love it, I will recommend it to my friend. OK . the best seller. Good product and good service.
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on February 22, 2004
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 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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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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on April 14, 2002
This book is a description of the largest leveraged-buy out of the 80's. The book covers the management buy out of RJR and all the financial moves that took place to get it done. It covers the winners and losers and the tactics they used. The authors are investigative reports so they have the ability to provide the reader with a very well constructed and easy to understand story. They really bring the reader into the negotiations and all the high pressure and tension is coved to the reader. The most fun was when the authors took to describing all the financial players involved, their egos and ways of life and doing business. The excesses of some of the companies detailed are really something.
If you are interested in this topic then I would suggest you also read "Den of Thieves" and "Predator's Ball", both of which cover the 80's M&A and Junk Bond world. To get a better understanding of KKR, I would suggest "Masters of Debit" and if you are looking for more info on this particular deal I would suggest "True Greed".
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on August 1, 2003
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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on July 21, 2003
Burrough and Helyar are two former Wall Street Journal reporters who present a comprehensive telling of the battle for control of RJR Nabisco, ultimately won by KKR, led by Henry Kravis in 1988. The book was written in 1990 and provided the final chapter on the LBO excesses of the 1980's. By 1990, the stock market rally had made LBO's less attractive and some of the earlier deals were already starting to unravel and collapse under the weight of the debt payments, as predicted by long-time junk bond critic and rival RJR Nabisco bidder Ted Forstmann.
There are some criticisms of this book. The authors, despite their finanical backgrounds, seem to prefer story-telling to financial details. Hence, they have written a tale of personalities, with an especial interest in Ross Johnson and Henry Kravis, to the detriment of really explaining the financial and business details. The reader can learn intricate details about Johnson and the Wall Streeters preferences in cars, apartments, drinks, wives, schoos, etc. The authors seem to think we need a biographic account of all minor players, starting with their grade-school years, and the end result is 528 pages and still minimal financial explanation.
The other main criticism here, reading this now, is how dated the material has become. The authors would do well to provide some new material on how the deal has worked out. From other sources, I learned that KKR renegotiated the deal in the early 1990's (the resets were nearly toxic after all) and sold out their position entirely in 1995, more or less breaking even, depending on whose numbers you use.
The story of the final bids and the final final bids is truly riveting and meticulously researched here. The Johnson group ultimately presents a bid that is slightly higher than the KKR bid, but the board discounts the Johnson bid since it does not guarantee the bond pricing, and calls the whole thing a tie, much like the 2000 election. At that point, the Board accepts the KKR bid, for non-economic reasons, mostly bad publicity related to Johnson's greed. Ironically, Johnson had already given up much of his payout in order to boost the total value of the bid to the shareholders.
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on December 6, 2000
If you want to understand Wall Street of the 1980's read this book, "Den of Thieves" by Stewart and "Predator's Ball" by Bruck. This book is an all encompassing depiction of the events that led to the first leveraged-buy out (meaning they used debt, in the form of massive loans, and not just equity or stock), the debut of KKR as a major financial power, and the emergence of "shareholder value" as a buzzword that no CEO will fail to keep in mind.
The authors were both Wall Street Journal reporters who wrote the book in much the same way as they would report- direct to the point, clearly explained, and with little detectable bias as to the fate of the major characters. I very much enjoy this style of writing, if every WSJ reporter were to write a book, I would be there to support them.
The book does a great job of explaining in detail the egregious excess of Nabisco during CEO Johnson's stint at the helm. In this day of clipped expense accounts and flying coach for business, the presence of a "Nabisco Air-Force" of jets and professional athletes and celebrities on the pay-roll is difficult to imagine. The authors do a good job of transitioning from these descriptions into the dirty details of how the deal was put together. The scenes where the transaction is coming together at the final hour, through all of the negotiations and threats, are well-told, I could actually feel the tension and angst in the room.
Read this book. When you're done with it go pick up "Den of Thieves" and "Predator's Ball."
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I am a management consultant who works with companies that are interested in improving stock price, and I know many of the more humble people portrayed in BARBARIANS AT THE GATE.
I would like to put this book into perspective for you. 20 years ago our firm did a survey of CEOs and found that 99 percent felt that trying to improve stock price was unethical and immoral, and involved doing manipulative things.
After the takeover wars of the 1980s, most CEOs believed that improving stock price was an important task and could be done in an ethical way. There is nothing more disruptive to a company than to go through a hostile takeover, whether the bid succeeds or not. Raw greed and lust for power hold sway at such times, and many people will pay the price for having attracted the sharks into their swimming pool.
Prior to the RJR Nabisco purchase by KKR, many large companies felt safe because of their size. They were suffering from "stalled" thinking, because it was widely believed that a deal of this sort could not be financed with debt at the time the takeover occurred. That was wrong: For a price, the money is always there.
For those who have not been in these bruising ego battles, what you will not realize is that these contests are a lot like those you will remember from grade school on the playground when the teachers were not around. Bullying, threats, and naked power carry the day in a lot of situations. But because this is about ego, a lot of mistakes are made. RJR Nabisco continued to strain under mountains of debt for years, even after lots of refinancings because of the LBO.
KKR's track record looks a lot different now than it did before buying RJR Nabisco. A lot of the fever behind the LBO's is gone, for now. Bring back a bear market for a few years, and this whole phenomena will recur. Some smart lawyer will find a way around the defenses that so many rely on for now. The only ultimate defense against the circling sharks is to have a high-priced multiple stock. That is the only timeless lesson for companies.
If you are wondering how accurate this book is, it is more right than wrong. The authors did, however, miss some of the most intriguing ironies of the situation. Perhaps someday, someone with inside knowledge will write the sequel or unveil the whole, delicious irony. That should be a great story that will outsell GONE WITH THE WIND.
With the benefit of this context, I do recommend you read the book. You'll find it stranger than fiction in many ways, and very exciting to watch. The authors have captured the emotion of the moment very well. It's a whale of a story.
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