DUBROVNIK, Croatia (Reuters) - Robert Benmosche, who has revived the fortunes of bailed-out insurer American International Group (AIG.N), said on Tuesday he might consider staying at the helm past 2012 if his health permitted.
“I will stay into 2012 and then the board and I will discuss how I am feeling, and then we will discuss what their needs are and what they feel they would like me to do,” Benmosche, who learned last year that he had cancer, said in an interview.
“If my health is strong enough, then the board has more options than if it isn‘t,” he said.
Before joining AIG, Benmosche had been retired for three years and had planned to spend his days building a wine business in Croatia and relaxing at a luxury seafront villa he had restored outside the medieval walled core of Dubrovnik.
He emerged from retirement in 2008 to join the AIG board after the world financial crisis crippled what was once the world’s biggest insurer, requiring the U.S. government to step in with a $182 billion bailout package.
The Treasury now owns 92.1 percent of AIG.
With the company experiencing some stormy times, Benmosche threatened to quit during his first year on the job. Now, he said, he can envision staying perhaps into 2013.
“I‘m pretty happy doing what I am doing,” he said in Dubrovnik, where he was attending a U.S.-sponsored conference on investment in Croatia. “I feel that you’ve got to do what you love and love what you do, and to see this company and the people of this company respond the way they are, it helps psychologically and it helps me get energy.”
The veteran insurance executive, known for his outspoken style, spoke candidly about cancer and dying.
“I have medications that seem to be controlling the cancer for now. We don’t know how long it will be controlling the cancer,” he said. “I still run 15, 20 miles a week. I’ll be 67 in another month, so just running that for a person without cancer is not bad.”
Benmosche declined to say what kind of cancer he has.
“I don’t say what it is because I don’t want to give you or other press the opportunity to decide when I am going to die,” he said.
“I prefer to let my doctors worry about my cancer. I let my family worry about my cancer, and as long as I am able to continue to function, the board is comfortable. I am tracked not only by my own doctors but we have an outside third party tracking me,” he said.
“If there is any question about my ability to do my job, then I would step down. The doctors are pretty confident I will stay the way I am at least for another a year.”
Benmosche appeared robust as he moved around the conference venue and later at his multi-layer villa overlooking the Adriatic Sea. He has grown a beard as his medication causes severe body rashes and acne that made it hard to shave, he said.
Dressed in a jacket and tie, he said he planned to host an evening cocktail party later on Tuesday.
“Right now I‘m doing okay. I‘m going to continue to live my life until I can‘t,” he said.
Looking back, Benmosche said he had suggested in August 2009 that he not take the job he had just agreed to fill after a spat about pay. He said he also threatened to leave in July 2010 in a disagreement with the board over AIG’s direction.
Benmosche said there had also been tension about compensation of top AIG executives in November 2009, during which he questioned the wisdom of staying at his post longer. All of these past problems have been resolved, he said.
He also prompted public protest after taking the job in August 2009 and proceeding to take a long-planned holiday in Croatia. Posing in flip flops and shorts for an interview at the time, he projected an image of a man not in a hurry to sell off assets quickly as some had demanded to repay the government.
His slower strategy has been credited with helping to revive AIG’s fortunes.
“I don’t think ‘vindicated’ is the right word, but I think what the board and I are saying is that we chose a path, and this path is turning out to work well,” he said.
“I think that after August, and some of the publicity that occurred in August of ‘09, things quieted down dramatically and people said ‘let’s just give these people a chance,'” he said.
“In spite of some of the speed bumps that have been put in front of us that are inappropriate, I think we’re still able to get there.”
Editing by Ted Kerr