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4.7 out of 5 stars80
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 7 September 1998
Excellent inside look into corporate America and Wall Street takeovers frenzy in the 80s. Book is written in a very readable manner that does not require any deep knowledge of economics or financial theories. Reader is led to astonishing discovery of how the power of networking and personal egos control the world of business and finances. It reveals the tremendous power and opportunities that the CEO of the big corporation is given, and leads to understanding of who the real "players" are.
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on 24 May 2004
One of the best books I've read. It appeals on several levels. It's a thriller, a business book, an expose of the greed at the highest corporate levels and a guide to investment banking. Most of the characters in the book (including Henry Kravis who remains a major influence in global business) emerge with no credit whatsover - greedy, manipulative and with their focus purely on the fees that huge mergers and acquisitions generate for the investment banking community. The pigs at the trough nature of the bankers coupled with the vanity and profligacy of the RJR top management are quite breathtaking. Throw in some hugely ambitious, upwardly mobile spouses and you have a riveting read. Highly recommend
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on 28 November 1999
It is rare for a TV movie to be better than the book upon which it is based. In this case, the movie of the same name (starring James Garner) is very good. But the book is brilliant. To this day I have no idea why I bought a book that took the purchase of a company as its subject matter - some vague memory of having enjoyed the film "Wall Street", I suppose. From the very beginning, you are entranced by the story of F. Ross Johnson and his rise to the top of the corporate tree to become CEO of RJR Nabisco, manufacturers of household name brands like Oreo cookies and Marlboro cigarettes. His insistence on doing things his way leads him to take the gamble of raising the 'money' to buy out the company. But his decision is the catalyst for a feeding frenzy about which the likes of Gordon Gekko could only have dreamed. The almost shambolic series of events that follows - the lies, the backstabbing, the manoevering, not to mention the utter incompetence - are a classic time capsule from late 80's corporate America. The fact that you almost feel (oops - nearly gave the end of the story away there). This book would be a fabulous work of fiction. The fact that it is true almost beggars belief. I am reluctant to award top marks to any book I read for the simple reason that, in doing so, I would be saying that this book is as good as it can be. However, in this case and when compared with other books of similar genre, it really is, in my humble opinion, without equal.
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on 1 June 2000
This is an excellent book, well written, easy to follow (even though the first time I read it I wasn't working in finance)and best of all - true. It gives a great insight into the human factors that go into a deal, the section dealing with arguments over which bank gets its name written at the top on the tombstone for the deal is marvellous and not the sort of thing you learn as a student. I agree with the reviewer below who says that this book should be read in addition to the standard corporate finance texts. Great stuff.
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on 11 February 1997
Why read fiction when all that you have to do is open the Wall St. Journal? Barbarians at the Gate gives the reader insight into the behind the scenes details that go into a major corporate transaction. Laymen, don't be swayed!!! This work of non-fiction reads like a Grisham or Turow novel. Deals are cut, backs are stabbed, and a lot a money changes hands. Just another day at the office for players in this arena.
Having become a mergers & acquisitions advisor subsequent to reading this book, I have come to realize how true to life it actually is. Heylar and Burroughs do an excellent job of explaining the complexities of a buyout without inundating the reader with boring (trust me...boring) details. This book is a must read for people interested in a good story, as well as people interested in life on the Street.
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on 26 June 2011
In 1989, KKR paid $25bn for RJR Nabisco in the biggest leveraged buyout deal in history. A leveraged buyout is a transaction where a private equity fund uses a little bit of its own money and prodigious amounts of borrowed money to buy up a company. In theory (at least) the private equity firm then proceeds to sweat the company - firing staff, squeezing savings from operations, selling any thing that moves in order to improve cashflow and profitability. In time the de-hulled company is resold at a huge profit. The lenders get their money back plus a bit of loose change for interest. The private equity firm makes a bundle. And as for the employees of the newly improved and dismembered company? God help them.

The battle for RJR is retold here with effervescence and dazzle. Barbarians is a telling story of hubris and greed and one out of which a lot can be learned the most important being: one ought to lose all automatic respect for financial titans. From the teflon-coated aggrandizing CEO of RJR (Ross Johnson) to the I-gotta-be-in-this-deal-even-if-it-makes-no-sense Mr Kravis of KKR to the banks who creamed off hundreds of millions you gotta hand it to these guys, they really knew how to shake down a great American company.
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on 15 August 1997
Barbarians at the Gate is an excellent accounting of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco in the late 1980s. It also serves as a primer on how Wall Street conducts business, as the reader can easily see ego clouding judgement and pride dictating the fate of one of history's biggest business deals. The only thing possibly missing from ths book is an epilogue detailing RJR Nabisco's fate at the hands of KKR, although this doesn't detract from the story itself.

Barbarians is fairly light reading, considering the topic; one doesn't have to be an expert at Mergers & Aquisitions, Leveraged Buyouts, or Corporate Finance in order to see the story unfold and understand it; Burrough and Helyar have done an excellent job of taking a complex and, in some cases, downright boring topic, and making it fairly digestible.
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on 16 April 1999
It's hard enough to grow your business, keep employees and customers happy, and fend off the competition. A public company also has to be wary of circling sharks. Beware! I was struck that the biggest problem that the RJR Nabisco management had was complacency. I can understand why they felt that way, because the company lived such a rich life style for its executives. Private companies also have to worry about complacency. It eats away at you slowly, more like rust (when you are private, as we are). By the time you notice the damage from the rust, all your metal is ruined. I recently read The 2,000 Percent Solution, and found that to be a good resource for helping me ask myself the questions I need to answer to be a more effective CEO. RJR Nabisco could have used both of these books.
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on 21 November 2011
To understand how business works in today's global economy, this is an essential text to read. The influence of KKR and the legacy of the RJR Nabisco deal continues. The authors pay remarkable attention to the ebb and flow of the transaction itself, having already set the scene in a thorough, yet fluid, way by sketching the key personalities and tracing the origins of RJ Reynolds and Nabisco. The chapters dealing with the latter could stand on their own merits as a way of understanding how corporate USA grew to maturity, and the enterprise culture underpinning it.

Once I had been through the various skirmishes that eventually delivered RJR Nabisco to KKR, I had a better understanding of the importance of bold thinking, integrity, and long-term vision, supported by awareness of the facts, others' motives and their possible strategies, that the leaders of the various parties drew on, even if their abilities to do so did not take them ultimately in the right direction. Some of the 'characters' in the book measured up to these standards, while others withered. Ted Forstmann and Steve Goldstein in particular shine through for their stamina and integrity, at least as described in this account's epilogue. But I think it's Henry Kravis who is worthy of a book devoted to him alone to examine what makes him tick.
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on 8 June 2011
This is an excellent narration of the attempt for what is now known as a leveraged buyout in the 1980's. In itself it is a fascinating tale. As an illustration of how greedy bankers are and how little value they add to society it is superb. As ever, senior management chase their own rewards and the rest of the workforce can but sit and watch. Rarely has so much been earned for so little value.
The book now has the benefit of a an afterword that tracks the main characters over the subsequent 20 years. Truly fascinating!
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