Thomas Russo remembers the events of September 2008 better than most. On Sept. 15, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., where Russo had worked as general counsel for nearly 16 years, filed for bankruptcy protection. The next day American International Group Inc. received the largest government bailout in U.S. history (eventually growing to $180 billion). Russo couldn’t have guessed at the time that 17 months later, he would step from the rubble of Lehman to take over the top legal job at AIG.

From weekly meetings with Federal Reserve officials to the company’s first post-bailout stock offering in May — which lowered Uncle Sam’s share of the company from 92 percent to 77 percent — Russo has been intricately involved in helping AIG pay down its debt to taxpayers. He also found time to co-author, along with AIG lawyer Aaron Katzel, a Kindle e-book, “The 2008 Financial Crisis and Its Aftermath: Addressing the Next Debt Challenge,” which was published by the Group of Thirty and distributed to its consortium of bankers and wonks. He recently spoke with reporter Catherine Dunn, reflecting on why he got back in the game. An edited version of their conversation follows.

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