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4.6 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 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 26 December 2002
I didn't realise this when I bought it, though the price should have told me, but this is a ruthlessly abridged version which leaves out everything of interest and misses out any hint of detailed explanation. The result is like a children's fairy tale only less imaginative. I'm sure the original is fine because of the subject matter, but here the subject matter has been castrated. Buy a more expensive version.
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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 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 17 September 2011
the leveraged buy out of rjr nabisco was, as far as i am aware, the largest of it's kind in the 1980's. this book details exactly what happened. what makes this book a great read is that it tells the reader exactly what happened. what i really like about this book is that it that it indirectly gives you an indepth study of the ceo of rjr nabisco at that time - ross johnson. if anyone wants career advice then this should be the guy you get advice from - the book explains how he rose to get to the top job in one of the largest brands in america at the time - and how he got the best from people... a good book, but in all fairness, incredibly heavy - could have been a hundred pages shorter...
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VINE VOICEon 16 April 2016
Who would have thought that, 30 years later, this book would still be relevant? The story inside is still repeated today. The financial services industry is still playing the same game, fees over client interests. The CEO's are still taking ever larger pay checks for little, or no, real return. Shareholders are still as powerless they've always been.

This is a rollicking read, fast paced and absorbing. The characters are intriguing, fascinating and downright ugly. Yet the story, especially for a supposedly dull subject, grips you and pulls you in.

You will entertained, disgusted, angry and ride a rollercoaster of emotions but you will not be bored.
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I am a management consultant who works with companies that are interested in improving stock price, and I know many of the more humble people portrayed in BARBARIANS AT THE GATE.
I would like to put this book into perspective for you. 25 years ago our firm did a survey of CEOs and found that 99 percent felt that trying to improve stock price was unethical and immoral, and necessarily involved doing manipulative things.
After the takeover wars of the 1980s, most CEOs believed that improving stock price was an important task and could be done in an ethical way. There is nothing more disruptive to a company than to go through a hostile takeover, whether the bid succeeds or not. Raw greed and lust for power hold sway at such times, and many people will pay the price for having attracted the sharks into their swimming pool.
Prior to the RJR Nabisco purchase by KKR, many large companies felt safe because of their size. They were suffering from "stalled" thinking, because it was widely believed that a deal of this sort could not be financed with debt at the time the takeover occurred. That was wrong: For a price, the money is always there.
For those who have not been in these bruising ego battles, what you will not realize is that these contests are a lot like those you will remember from grade school on the playground when the teachers were not around. Bullying, threats, and naked power carry the day in a lot of situations. But because this is about ego, a lot of mistakes are made. RJR Nabisco continued to strain under mountains of debt for years, even after lots of refinancings because of the LBO.
KKR's track record looks a lot different now than it did before buying RJR Nabisco. A lot of the fever behind the LBO's is gone, for now. Bring back a bear market for a few years, and this whole phenomena will recur. Some smart lawyer will find a way around the defenses that so many rely on for now. The only ultimate defense against the circling sharks is to have a high-priced multiple stock. That is the only timeless lesson for companies.
If you are wondering how accurate this book is, it is more right than wrong. The authors did, however, miss some of the most intriguing ironies of the situation. Perhaps someday, someone with inside knowledge will write the sequel or unveil the whole, delicious irony. That should be a great story that will outsell GONE WITH THE WIND.
With the benefit of this context, I do recommend you read the book. You'll find it stranger than fiction in many ways, and very exciting to watch. The authors have captured the emotion of the moment very well. It's a whale of a story.
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