Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lazard Book Causing a Stir

The WSJ had an interesting article on a book covering the mystique at Lazard called "The Last Tycoons" that is set to hit the market soon, but is already causing a stir in the offices of the storied boutique bank. See below.

Lazard Mystique Uncloaked

'The Last Tycoons,'
In Bookstores April 17,
Jolts Firm, Wall Street

March 7, 2007; Page C2

The most popular book around investment bank Lazard Ltd. hasn't even been published yet.

"The Last Tycoons," which hits bookstores April 17, bills itself as a "secret history" of the storied investment house. Executives there have begun passing around photocopied galleys of the 700-plus-page tome, which was written by William D. Cohan, a former banker at J.P. Morgan and Lazard.

Mr. Cohan's work has sent a jolt through Lazard and the rest of Wall Street. "Last Tycoons" delves considerably into the peccadilloes of the bank's senior executives, both past and present. It also moves to uncloak some of the business mystique of the bank, once a deeply secretive private partnership and now a publicly held company with a $2.4 billion market value.

One person close to Lazard who has read an early copy described Mr. Cohan as having learned more than anyone -- dead or alive -- about the firm. He wondered, however, whether the average reader would want to spend more than 700 pages on the topic.

[Bruce Wasserstein]The book's publisher, Bertelsmann AG's Doubleday, is making a big push behind "Last Tycoons," having committed to a first run of 75,000 copies, a sizable run for a topic that is obscure to many readers. By comparison, the much-publicized Enron retelling by Kurt Eichenwald, "Conspiracy of Fools," got a first printing of 100,000. Yesterday, "Last Tycoons" ranked at 110,599 on Amazon's best-seller list, though publication is still six weeks away.

Mr. Cohan aggressively pursues the story of Bruce Wasserstein, Lazard's current chairman and chief executive. He relates how Mr. Wasserstein wrested control of the bank from its then-presiding leader, Michel David-Weill, with only a $30 million investment in the firm, rather than a $200 million injection that was widely reported

While lingering on Mr. Wasserstein's private life -- including an interview with his first wife -- Mr. Cohan also spends plenty of space critiquing Mr. Wasserstein's impeccable sense of market timing. "Bruce has made more money from investment banking than any single man in the last 10 years," Mr. Cohan said in an interview. "Not because he's a great banker, but because he's a smart, opportunistic principal investor."

Mr. Wasserstein, "is an incredible opportunist and took advantage of Michel," Mr. Cohan added. "He took Lazard public, and his stake is now worth $600 million."

Mr. Wasserstein declined to comment, and didn't participate in the writing of the book. A number of other top Lazard figures did, including current executives Ken Jacobs, Steve Golub and Mike Biondi, as well as past Lazard figures Felix Rohatyn, Mr. David-Weill and Steve Rattner.

Since Lazard's founding in 1848, infighting has been a part of the culture, with various factions of the bank warring over profits and territory. Mr. Cohan devotes a number of pages to the firm's history during World War II, when the firm's New York head, Frank Altschul saved Pierre David-Weill (father of Michel David-Weill) and Andre Meyer from Nazi persecution.

It wasn't long thereafter, however, when the two staged a coup and forced Mr. Altschul from the company.

That kind of behavior was still on exhibit for 47-year-old Mr. Cohan when he worked as a junior banker there between 1989 and 1995. The sense of history at Lazard was "palpable," he said. "You could really feel that you were surrounded by Renaissance men who believed the myth they created about the firm. But it was incredibly ruthless."

Write to Dennis K. Berman at


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