Many executives take pride in quickly making judgment calls. But what Paula Rosput Reynolds learned in an arduous year as vice chairman and chief restructuring officer at the embattled AIG was the value of a carefully formed opinion.
"People are so eager to take high-profile situations and summarize them and put them in a box. You just can't label AIG," says Reynolds, who left the post in September. "I'll be a better leader in the future by not being so quick to embrace labels."
Reynolds, formerly the CEO at Safeco, was recruited to join AIG after she had successfully engineered the $6.2 billion sale of Safeco to Boston's Liberty Mutual Group, at a 51 percent premium. Her mission was to dismantle up to two-thirds of what had been the world's largest insurance company and, in turn, help the federal government recoup some of the $182.5 billion it shelled out to prevent AIG's collapse.
But the more the economy deteriorated, the more difficult Reynolds' job became.
"The very same global forces that we face have greatly diminished the ability of qualified buyers to raise the capital necessary to buy AIG's businesses right now," Reynolds said in a March statement announcing AIG's move away from its asset-sale mandate.
By August, AIG's CEO, Edward M. Liddy, had resigned, and Reynolds, 52, had decided she needed to take a break as well. She has no immediate plans, except to take a vacation at her Hawaii home, study Mandarin Chinese and research genealogy.
Reynolds still seems awed by the sheer scale, and complexity, of the AIG crisis.
"AIG has five or six companies the size of Enron or WorldCom," she says referring to what, up to now, had been the largest restructurings of U.S. corporations. "This will be one of the quintessential case studies in business schools for decades."