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Barbarians at the Gate

Barbarians at the Gate

Written by Bryan Burrough

Narrated by John Helyar


Barbarians at the Gate

Written by Bryan Burrough

Narrated by John Helyar

ratings:
4.5/5 (124 ratings)
Length:
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 3, 2007
ISBN:
9780061127472
Format:
Audiobook

Description

“One of the finest, most compelling accounts of what happened to corporate America and Wall Street in the 1980’s.”
New York Times Book Review

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, “It’s hard to imagine a better story...and it’s 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.

Publisher:
Released:
Apr 3, 2007
ISBN:
9780061127472
Format:
Audiobook


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Reviews

What people think about Barbarians at the Gate

4.3
124 ratings / 15 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    This is a book about money and boardroom diplomacy. When the two mix, it ends up drawing greedy, needy men into something like a gold-plated bar-room brawl. It is a fascinating, readable and highly believable account of one of the largest LBO's of the 1980s.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    A really interesting and detailed account of some the biggest players and biggest companies in their time. Highly recommended for anyone interested in big business or corporate finance maneuvering.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)
    OK, first - this is a truly ripping yarn. There's enough corporate intrigue, maniacal boardroom posturing, gulfstream abuse and small men with big egos in these riveting 600 pages to knock even the Ewing family of Dallas into a cocked hat. From the beginning Burrough draws you into the preposterousness of what is happening, setting out well drawn characterisations of each of the main players, flipping between them in that totally enchanting "meanwhile, in Gotham city" fashion. Before long the threads are pulling together into a whirling tarantella of greed assaulting you from every side. It's difficult to work out who's meant to be the villain, mostly because I think everyone was. Full grown men startle for their utter failure in self-reflexion as much as for the appalling lengths to which they will go in the name of self-interest. The climax is as good as any thriller (I completely missed my stop on the tube, finally snapping out of a daze thinking, "hey I haven't been this excited since Jodi Foster went head to head with Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs!"). Secondly, and maybe not intentionally, Barbarians at the Gate is a piercing social/historical commentary - just by "telling it like it was" the narrative skewers the eighties, Wall street and the Reagan years so brutally it might as well be a spit roast. On this level it is leagues ahead of the celebrated fictional works which purport to do the same thing. In particular, Brett Ellis' "American Psycho", and Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full", fare badly against Burrough's genuine article. I would be amazed of either Ellis or Wolfe hadn't read this book, but the novels of both are anemic and implausible in comparison. Barbarians at the Gate is more deadly accurate, it doesn't exagerrate or caricature the wall street banker like American Psycho does (and what value is there in caricaturing something which is so patently ridiculous in itself?), and the plot - needless to say - has a ring of credibility which is singularly lacking from A Man In Full.Oddly, the one area where the book falls down a little bit is in its aspiration (if it has one) to present a sensible, clear, commercial analysis of what was going on. But that's a trade off - had the Burroughs taken that route, then surely some of the dramatic impact would have been lost. As it is, he's produced a cracker.
  • (5/5)
    I reread this book a lot just to get a sense of how out of control our money managers can be. Compelling story, particularly if you enjoy reading about both sleazy and upright managers and mismanagement.
  • (3/5)
    One of the classic business stories, about the huge and controversial Leveraged buy-out of RJR Nabisco that came to symbolise the eighties. A little disappointing that this later edition doesn't have any analysis looking back on the deal from two decades later, but it's still a good book on a great story. Hubris doesn't come more expensive than this!
  • (4/5)
    After Liars Poker, the second-most likely book to be read by wannabe investment-banker undergraduates.
  • (3/5)
    I’m not sure if I really was listening to a finance book or a soap opera from the late ‘80s. What an exhilarating book with so many cliffhangers
  • (4/5)
    This book make me feel like I was there, intriguing story corporation and players that shape it's future
  • (5/5)
    Very interesting subject matter. Never read a book about LBOs in action. This was actually quite informative and exciting.
  • (1/5)
    The Áudio book os not the original book. Its a shorter version.
  • (5/5)
    I can’t put it any better than the New York Times did: “One of the greatest business books ever written.”
  • (4/5)
    The fascinating story of the leveraged buy-out of RJR Nabisco in 1989. The authors do a great job of building up the backgrounds of the various players. There are lots of people involved and lots of details but the authors keep things straight so the story is not too hard to follow. Mostly I could keep the names straight though a few times I just gave up but in those cases it didn't make much difference anyway.These are Wall Street Journal reporters. They outline the financial intricacies well enough so the story hangs together. What we never really get is any kind of reflection on the significance of the wild story. The extravagance, the waste... this is a much earlier phase of the kind of crazy financial engineering and concentration of wealth, the trend that has continued and grown over the twenty five years since this story unfolded. The book came out quite soon after the events so that already limits what kind of historical reflection would have been possible. Definitely worthwhile snapshot of corporate craziness!
  • (5/5)
    One of my favorite financial reads. The sheer audacity on display by the prime players in this real world tale defies belief. It's men at their greediest and it's impossible to pull away from the story the whole way through. The book is largely accessible, but does require an understanding of arbitrage and other financial constructs at times. Still, these are not reasons to avoid reading this book, especially if you have any interest in finance or wicked deeds done regularly in the financial world. Bottom line: read this.
  • (5/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    I just finished reading the iBooks version of “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco,” at 763 pages in my edition. Written in 1989 by two Wall Street Journal reporters - Bryan Burrough and John Helyar - the book recounts the 1988 leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco by KKR & Co. L. P. This event represents the pinnacle of business culture in the Roaring Eighties.

    The book begins with the history of the two sides of the company. I’ll review their early history here, as it’s particularly interesting.

    Nabisco

    Nabisco [the National Biscuit Company] was founded in 1898 by the Chicago lawyer Adolphus Green through the merger of East and West Coast competitors. Nabisco’s created the first widely-adopted processed food in the US - crackers - and was known as the biscuit trust. It ran an an “associate proprietor” system that allowed employees to buy into the company.

    RJ Reynolds

    Reynolds was founded in 1875 by RJ Reynolds in Winston-Salem, NC. It’s employees there were primarily members of the Moravian Church. Reynolds was known to keep busy; “At an 1890 meeting of the Reynolds board, directors authorized spending $240 a year for Reynold’s horse team, the equivalent of today’s corporate jet” [69]. Wachovia Bank was one of their early allies.

    In 1899, Buck Duke, a NYC guy, bought two thirds of Reynolds. They used the firepower to become the biggest employer in North Carolina.

    F. Ross Johnson

    Johnson is the protagonist of the book. A Canadian, the story follows him through his various positions in the corporate world, eventually landing him as the CEO of RJR Nabisco. Johnson was known as a noncompany man, and had a “personal crusade against specialization” [47]. He would tell his management, "you don’t have a job, you have an assignment" [48]. He also knew the rules of duopoly; "you know, it just doesn’t make sense to have anything that’s not number one or number two in its industry" [61]. His motto was, "a few million dollars are lost in the sands of time," and he was know for his "RJR Air Force" of corporate jets. By the end of the buyout, he’d learned the Three rules of Wall Street: “Never play by the ruse. Never pay in cash. And never tell the truth” [675].

    Leveraged Buyouts

    The leveraged buyout [LBO]- buying an undervalued conglomerate to be reorganized and sold at a profit while using the company as collateral and creating massive amounts of debt - is the key concept in the book.

    Although KKR pioneered LBOs, the first famous one that got everybody on the bandwagon was in 1982 - Gibson Greetings. KKR was the king of LBOs, so let’s review their history.

    KKR

    KKR was founded in 1976 by Jerry Kohlberg, Henry Kravis, and George Roberts. The three got kicked out of Bear Sterns, a trader, for getting into LBOs into the seventies. So they started their own firm. Kohlberg was twenty years senior of Kravis and Roberts, and served as a mentor to them in their early years. By the mid eighties, things in their partnership were shifting. Kohlberg had some heath issues that took him out for a while, and he was traditional, when Kravis and Roberts were aggressive. Kohlberg was known as “Dr. No,” as he’d always be the brakes on the operation.

    By the time of RJR Nabisco, Kohlberg had left and started his own thing, although he still had significant financial ties to KKR.

    Key Terms
    * Bridge loan - a short-term loan used for capital while longer-term loans are worked out
    * Merchant banking - providing capital through shares rather than loans
    * Tender offer - a public form of takeover bid
    * Toehold investment - when a firm acquires a significant stake in a company that they’re about to attempt to buyout
    * PIK - Pay-in-kind loans use other forms of securities than cash

    Reflections

    Right before Johnson started things rolling with an LBO, his son went into a coma [due to a car accident]. It’s worth noting that Johnson didn’t have the psychological support or skill set to deal with this trauma in any other way than diving into his work - in this case, laying the groundwork for the biggest LBO in history.

    I didn’t see any points in this event associated with outlandish greed. What can be found in this story is a description of the concentration of power. So although these people weren’t unusually greedy for the average American, they were dealing with some pretty big numbers that had immediate impact on many peoples lives.

    Another shortcoming in the development of many of the core characters in the story is a lack of initiation into adulthood. There is some spirit of competition. It’s clear that there wasn’t an interest in the leaders in this book making decisions that are particularly in the “best” interests of themselves or their communities. They just wanted to “win.” This is an adolescent attribute. It’s both sad and irresponsible that our society places people of such deficient maturity in these roles of power.

    There’s also a disconnect between the personal and professional lives of many people in the story. On the one hand, many people in the book care deeply for quality in their personal life. They might have hand-made Italian loafers, fine art on their walls, and eat at delicious restaurants almost every night of the week. I associate these things with the values of attention to detail, presence, and beauty.

    On the other hand, their professional lives are a mess. Things are flying all over the place all the times. Deals are thrown together in haphazard jumbles that often require significant restructuring down the road. I’m not sure what the values are here, but they’re not associated with quality.

    That being said, their lifestyles are pretty genuine. It’s all about relationships. Their schedule looks nothing like the nine-to-five. They spend a lot of their time socializing, and hanging out in cool places. Most Wall Street deals seem to take place over drinks at somebody’s penthouse apartment at 3:00am, or on the golf course, or at a ski resort.

    There’s an undercurrent of warfare. Whenever somebody in the book served in the military, which many of them did, their history was reviewed, and how it informed their behavior.

    LBOs definitely operate in a very special ecosystem. Although there were just a handful of people calling the shots, they drew on vast arrays of specialized resources [accountants, lawyers, pension funds, junk bonds, et cetera].

    In summary, I found the book extremely interesting.

    2 people found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    An exhausistively researched and immensely entertaining of the RJR Nabisco leveraged buyout. At about five hundred pages, its attention to detail is truly breath-taking. Burroughs and Helyar provide insightful, detailed biographies of every major player involved in this deal, histories of each of the companies involved, and seem to have cross-examined their sources about the smallest details of how the takeover bids were put together. "Barbarians" serves as a straight-faced condemnation of eighties-era takeover mania and also illustrates a broader cultural shift that saw quiet, respectable businessmen pushed aside in favor of flashy, self-aggrandizing showmen obsessed with their perks, their bonuses, and their public image. In F. Ross Johnson, RJR Nabisco's shallow, incompetent, buffoonish CEO, Burrough gives us a villain for the ages. The fact that this embodiment of Reagan-era greed walked away from this fiasco fifty million dollars richer, received something called the "United States Silver Medal of Patriotism," and sits on Duke University's Board of Trustees is more proof, as if anybody needed any, that life just isn't fair.Burroughs, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, knows this territory intimately and seems much more comfortable relating this story than he was talking about John Dillinger's escapades in "Public Enemies." It helps that he knows that he's got a terrific yarn on his hands and he works to keep the book's tempo on "high" from start to finish. This isn't to say that this story's always easy to keep track of. The financial transactions that Burrough describes are complex, and some of the financial slight-of-hand employed by this book's protagonists is positively Byzantine. I often found myself turning to the much-needed "Cast of Characters" that's included in the book's first few pages. Still, Burrough is careful to explain the basics of LBOs and other esoteric financial transactions in language that the average reader can understand, and he's not afraid to let his readers know when the details of a certain deal are best left to the real experts. His privileging of plot over financial nuance pays off handsomely: "Barbarians" is as addictive a book as I've ever had the pleasure to read. Burrough and Helyar's book is a fantastic piece of journalism and is highly recommended.

    2 people found this helpful