Monday, March 16, 2009


Dear President Obama,

My name is Mr. Herbert F. Lessmann. I am a Senior Fund President in American International Group’s (AIG) financial products department. Although AIG is primarily an insurance company, in recent years we built a solid reputation consolidating loans and other financial products for industries worldwide. Unfortunately, last year we discovered that our collateral was not as robust as we would have liked and our entire business almost collapsed. Thankfully, the Federal government intervened to keep our company afloat. With the Federal money, we once again have resumed issuing credit-default swaps and other financial products intended to stimulate capital growth in a new economy.

Federal money also helped award me a $9,500,000 bonus for 2008. True, my fund caused millions of private owners to lose their homes in the subprime mortgage debacle, but I am a skilled financial manager. AIG’s Board of Directors knows top performers when they see them, and I am no exception. Under company contracts I signed in early 2008, the Board promised to pay me a bonus if my fund sold at least 120,000 financial products in Fiscal 2008. My fund sold 121,107 financial products in Fiscal 2008. For that reason, the Board was obligated to pay my bonus. At one point late last year, it appeared that the company would fold and I would not get my bonus. But then the Federal money came in, and now I will get the bonus I deserve. I worked hard for that bonus. Mr. President, thank you so much for allocating the funds needed to reward me for my hard work on behalf of American families.

I am so glad that I received my bonus. For a while, I was genuinely nervous that I would only receive my annual salary of $4,000,000 in 2008. My wife was especially concerned because she is redecorating our kitchen, and she was counting on my bonus to bring in the best marble cutters from Italy to get the job done. Additionally, my son has been bothering me about buying him a new Lamborghini. His friends at Whipporwhill Academy have been teasing him about it, and it’s only fair that he gets what he wants. After all, he got a C+ in biology, and I promised I would buy him any car he wanted if he got at least a C in that class. Promises are promises, and contracts are contracts. How could I go back on my word? How could I not honor my obligation to my son? Mr. President, thank you very much for allowing AIG to honor its obligation to me, and for allowing me to honor my obligations to my son and wife. We will put that money to good use.

Your administration is doing a great job. You understand that America’s companies need great managers, and great managers do not stay at their jobs without great bonuses. Although I disagree in principle with government bailouts, I have no objections when government bailouts are necessary to pay my bonus. I voted against you in the November election, Mr. President. But since then I have come to see my error. You said that you wanted to treat “Main Street” as well as “Wall Street.” However, I know now that you are not some closet communist. You knew that taking care of Wall Street actually takes care of Main Street, too. When you took care of me, you ensured that I would keep doing my job for American homeowners everywhere. I need a $9,500,000 bonus because I am worth it. I sell mortgage-backed securities and credit-default swaps to banks all over the world. I enable people to get rich and live in dream homes. True, the economy collapsed last year, but that was not my fault. I am no Bernie Madoff. I never stole from anyone. I just tried to help people make more money than they already had.

My bonus money will go to good use. Because you helped me get my bonus, I think it’s only fair that I tell you what I plan to do with it. First, I will put about $2,000,000 in my personal medium-yield money market. Then I will put another $1,500,000 in my kids’ special trust fund so they can buy things they want while I am at work. Third, I will take $1,000,000 and go on a nice month-long vacation with my wife in Maui. That will be very nice; I need to relax after all the anxiety about my bonus. Not only that, vacations help me stay focused. American homeowners need me to be productive in order to help them make money. Next, I will take $2,000,000 as a down payment for my daughter’s new home in Manhattan. She can’t live just anywhere; I need to find her a place on Park Avenue on the Upper East Side. I can’t worry about my daughter. With the remaining $3,000,000, I will buy my son’s Lamborghini and pay for my wife’s kitchen renovation. That will leave some cash for jewelry, new suits, antiques, maybe an armchair and a sofa. It all depends on what my wife wants to do.

You know what you’re doing, Mr. President. Money spent on executive bonuses is always money well spent. After all, our economy depends on men like me. We know the ups and downs. We don’t get frazzled every time the DJI drops a few hundred points. We stay in there and sell our products, come hell or high water. We are financial experts and we have hard lives. It is not easy to manage the fortunes of millions of Americans. We are more important to the average American than religion or mental health. We make money for people, and money creates jobs. To that extent, we deserve every penny we make. If we do not receive bonuses, we will not be able to rescue our economy. In these dark times, our economy needs bold business leaders, not defeatists. And bold business leaders do not work for small-time pay. It would be unfair to us and to the American people if we do not receive the bonuses we deserve. Well-paid executives do what is right for America. By paying us well, you guarantee a better future for America. That is what the President is supposed to do, isn’t it?

In sum, I was wrong about you, Mr. President. You are not some bleeding heart socialist who wants to provide top-notch medical care to beggars and criminals. No, you spend money where it should be spent: On executive compensation. Against all opposition, you earmarked funds intended to save AIG from destruction. In the process, you paid the executives who make this country run. That is a bailout in the word’s truest sense, because when we get our bonuses, everyone survives. I can promise you that our economy will recover. I can also promise you that I will really enjoy the money you gave me. Have you ever received a $9,500,000 check for talking on the phone, sitting in conference rooms and looking at computer screens for a year straight? Let me tell you, it feels good. Really good. I know you probably like your job, but you don’t get $9,500,000 every year in addition to a $4,000,000 salary. Well, to each his own.

I know that people will give you a hard time when they hear that I received my bonus. Don’t listen to them. You know that fixing the economy begins with paying the important guys. People will say that it’s wrong to reward men who got us into this pickle in the first place. All lies. We did no such thing; there is no way we could have predicted that the economy would fall apart last year. Risk comes with our trade. The market rises and falls. Does that mean we should not get paid for putting our necks on the block every day? Of course not. We drive the economy because we take risks. If we did not take risks, no one would succeed. No one wins when everyone plays it safe. People want winners, not wet noodles. Sure, we invested in some risky mortgages, but our clients wanted big returns. And you can’t get big returns without taking some chances. We get paid because we take the risks that everyone wants us to take. You understand that. You understand that we need bonuses to feel good about our work, whether we win or lose. We are risk-takers. We deserve high pay for that. Consider it hazard pay. Put simply, Americans don’t want wimps controlling their financial lives. They want brazen, sword-swinging, throat-cutting financial swashbucklers who go for the treasure chest, not the penny pouch.

That is what we do. We go for the treasure chest. When we get the booty, everybody gets some. And no one complains when the market is good. When we receive bonuses, we stay hungry. When we’re hungry, we swashbuckle for America. You know that, Mr. President. That is why you guaranteed that we received our bonuses this year. Swashbucklers don’t swashbuckle for free. America needs us. You need us.

Thank you very much for paying our bonuses. Good luck during the rest of your term.


Herbert F. Lessmann

Senior Fund President, American International Group
Financial Products Department
The Billion Bunch® Honorary Key Holder 2007

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