AIG’s greatest strength has always been its people. And in AIG’s earliest days, the company sought individuals with a rare mixture of ability, outlook and inner fire. One such person was George Moszkowski, one of AIG’s founding fathers, and an inspiration for those who worked with him.
Born in Poland in 1893, Moszkowski attended the University of Liege in Belgium and then the Electrical Engineering Institute in Petrograd. He also served as an officer in the Russian military. The Communist Revolution prompted him to flee to Persia (now Iran), where he joined the British Army, but he was ordered to relocate to the eastern Russian port city of Vladivostok. He went instead to Shanghai in 1919. With the aid of the French Consul, he found a job as a mechanical engineer.
In January 1920, Moszkowski was the first European to join AIG, just one month after the company was formed. Moszkowski spoke several languages, but English was not one of them, so for his interview with founder C.V. Starr, Moszkowski feigned a toothache and wrapped a bandage around his face. When Starr discovered the truth about his new hire’s poor English, he was impressed with Moszkowski’s entrepreneurial spunk. That tale has since become company legend, but more importantly, it highlights the lengths Moszkowski would go to get things done.
Before long, Moszkowski was selling insurance to Russian expatriates living in China. He rose through the ranks and left Shanghai in 1929 to take a position as a company vice president in New York. He brought in numerous major clients, served as company chairman from 1933 to 1936, and as president from 1936 to 1941.
It was Moszkowski whom Starr chose to lead the company’s expansion into Latin America. “Sometimes I find a man who has an inner fire,” Starr later recalled, “a man who is perfectly in his metier, his orbit. And when I do, I back him.”
In 1942, Starr sent Moszkowski to head the regional office in Havana, Cuba. From there, Moszkowski aggressively pursued business in Latin America during World War II, a critical juncture in AIG’s history when income from Asia was evaporating and the New York operation was just slowly gearing up.
Moszkowski’s enterprising enthusiasm earned him a reputation as “a magician in the insurance business,” a spirit that still reverberates throughout AIG today.