Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough, John Helyar |, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

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by Bryan Burrough, John Helyar
     
 

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“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

Overview

“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.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A superlative book...steadily builds suspense until the very end.”
Chicago Tribune
“It’s hard to imagine a better story...and it’s hard to imagine a better account”
Today Show
“The fascinating inside story of the largest corporate takeover in American history… It reads like a novel.”
Boston Globe
“The most piercing and compelling narrative of a deal to date.”
Ken Auletta
“Impressive qualities... delicious scenes... a cinematic yet extraordinarily careful book.”
New York Times Book Review
One of the finest, most compelling accounts of what happened to corporate America and Wall Street in the 1980s.
Booknews
On the exercise of careless greed by Johnson and his gang of adolescents. The barbarians were at the gates of a city of vulgarians. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061655555
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
12/01/2009
Edition description:
20th Anniversary Edition
Pages:
563
Sales rank:
50,992
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Barbarians at the Gate
The Fall of RJR Nabisco

Chapter One

Ross's philosophy is, "We're going to have a party, a very sophisticated, complicated party."
-- 0.C. Adams, consulting psychologist to RJR Nabisco

Ross 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 protégé'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-May board 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 depth of 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 The Sporting 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.)...

Barbarians at the Gate
The Fall of RJR Nabisco
. Copyright &#copy; by Bryan Burrough. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Ken Auletta
“Impressive qualities... delicious scenes... a cinematic yet extraordinarily careful book.”

Meet the Author

Bryan Burrough is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and the author of five books.

John Helyar is a columnist for Bloomberg News. He previously wrote for the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and ESPN, and is the author of Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball.

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