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NEW YORK -- Strategic and practical leadership are the traits that distinguish Maurice R. Greenberg, according to some of his admirers.

In his more than 30 years as a senior executive of American International Group Inc., Mr. Greenberg has been a leader in global expansion, encouragement of risk management and coverage innovation.

And in the nitty gritty of running a company, Mr. Greenberg, who is chairman and chief executive officer of AIG, has made his mark as an executive who leads from the front and demands, and usually gets, the best performance out of his workers.

His tough but visionary leadership has manifested itself in the extraordinary results and profitable expansion of AIG, which has become one of the pre-eminent commercial insurers in the United States.

The indelible stamp he has made on his company and the insurance industry have earned Mr. Greenberg the 1998 Insurance Leader of the Year award from The College of Insurance in New York.

"If he had not existed, the picture we have today of the risk management movement and the global insurance market would be very different," said Richard E. Stewart, chairman of Stewart Economics in Chapel Hill, N.C., who was on the College's selection committee for the award.

One of Mr. Greenberg's most notable contributions to the insurance industry was his encouragement of the risk management movement in the 1960s, Mr. Stewart said.

When other insurers and brokers were trying to deter policyholders from keeping large retentions, for fear of losing premium income, Mr. Greenberg encouraged the trend.

"He realized that keeping predictable levels of risk was an economically sensible thing to do," Mr. Stewart said.

Another area where AIG has led the way was in global expansion, according to Mr. Stewart.

"He saw the potential of having truly global facilities, so wherever big corporations were going, you would be able to serve them and be with them from the ground up," Mr. Stewart said.

Mr. Greenberg's leadership has led to consistent profits at AIG, noted Dan Anderson, professor of risk management and insurance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was also on the selection committee.

"AIG is, almost by any measure, one of the most successful insurance organizations in history," he said.

The company has a history of producing creative coverages, high profits and low expenses, Mr. Anderson said.

And it is the leadership of Mr. Greenberg that is in large part responsible for that success, he said.

"He's a very strong leader, and he leaves his imprint on the company," Mr. Anderson said.

The AIG chairman has a reputation for being demanding, but his success and the strong management team he has seem to justify that approach, Mr. Anderson observed.

"I think he's demanding, but he has been so successful that it is difficult to argue about it," he said.

Managers of large organizations often need to be forthright, said Mr. Stewart.

"As a leader you had better be there jumping up and down in front of the troops, especially in a large organization, because they are not always the most amenable to change," he said.

Mr. Greenberg does have his detractors. For several years, some risk managers have complained that AIG is more likely to turn down claims than some other large insurers.

But that is just a case of AIG playing by the book, said another selection committee member who did not want to be named.

While other insurers may be more lenient when it comes to "borderline" claims to keep the business, AIG will make its determination strictly on the coverage specified in the contract, the committee member said.

Mr. Greenberg joined AIG in 1960. He was made president and chief executive officer in 1967 and became chairman in 1989.

Mr. Greenberg is the fourth winner of the award. The previous winners were: Edward Muhl, the former insurance commissioner of New York; Sir David Rowland, the former chairman of Lloyd's of London; and Patrick Ryan, chairman and chief executive officer of Aon Corp.

Mr. Greenberg will receive the award at a dinner in New York on Jan. 28, 1999.

For more information, contact The College of Insurance, 212-962-4111.