Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco (ISBN 0-060-16172-8) is a 1990 book about the leveraged buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco, written by investigative journalists Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. The book is based upon a series of articles written by the authors for The Wall Street Journal. The book was later made into a made-for-TV movie by HBO, also called Barbarians at the Gate. The book centers on F. Ross Johnson, the CEO of RJR Nabisco, who planned to buy out the rest of the Nabisco shareholders.
The opposition to Johnson's bid for the company is one of the pioneers of the leveraged buyout, Henry Kravis and his cousin George R. Roberts. Kravis was the first person Johnson talked to about doing the LBO, and feels betrayed after learning that Johnson wants to do the deal with another firm, American Express's former Shearson Lehman Hutton division. Ted Forstmann and his Forstmann Little buyout firm also played a prominent role.
After Kravis and Johnson are unable to reconcile their differences, a bidding war takes place which Johnson will eventually lose. The unfortunate side effect of the augmented buyout price to the shareholders is the creation of a worrying level of debt for the company.
In 2008, Harper Collins re-released "Barbarians" to mark the two-decade anniversary of the RJR deal. Media columnist Jon Friedman at MarketWatch opined on the occasion that it was "the best business book ever." Friedman spoke with the authors about the two-decade history of the book and of their ensuing careers (the two undertook no further joint projects). Business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin at New York Times, said in his book Too Big to Fail that this is his favourite business book of all time.
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“Men seem anxious to accomplish an orderly retreat through the centuries, earnestly rebuilding the works behind them, as they are battered down by the encroachments of time; but while they loiter, they and their works both fall prey to the arch enemy.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)