The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.

The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.

William D. Cohan

Language: English

Pages: 756

ISBN: 0767919793

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A grand and revelatory portrait of Wall Street’s most storied investment bank

Wall Street investment banks move trillions of dollars a year, make billions in fees, pay their executives in the tens of millions of dollars. But even among the most powerful firms, Lazard Frères & Co. stood apart. Discretion, secrecy, and subtle strategy were its weapons of choice. For more than a century, the mystique and reputation of the "Great Men" who worked there allowed the firm to garner unimaginable profits, social cachet, and outsized influence in the halls of power. But in the mid-1980s, their titanic egos started getting in the way, and the Great Men of Lazard jeopardized all they had built.

William D. Cohan, himself a former high-level Wall Street banker, takes the reader into the mysterious and secretive world of Lazard and presents a compelling portrait of Wall Street through the tumultuous history of this exalted and fascinating company.  Cohan deconstructs the explosive feuds between Felix Rohatyn and Steve Rattner, superstar investment bankers and pillars of New York society, and between the man who controlled Lazard, the inscrutable French billionaire Michel David-Weill, and his chosen successor, Bruce Wasserstein.

Cohan follows Felix, the consummate adviser, as he reshapes corporate America in the 1970s and 1980s, saves New York City from bankruptcy, and positions himself in New York society and in Washington. Felix’s dreams are dashed after the arrival of Steve, a formidable and ambitious former newspaper reporter. By the mid-1990s, as Lazard neared its 150th anniversary, Steve and Felix were feuding openly.
The internal strife caused by their arguments could not be solved by the imperious Michel, whose manipulative tendencies served only to exacerbate the trouble within the firm. Increasingly desperate, Michel took the unprecedented step of relinquishing operational control of Lazard to one of the few Great Men still around, Bruce Wasserstein, then fresh from selling his own M&A boutique, for $1.4 billion.  Bruce’s take: more than $600 million. But it turned out Great Man Bruce had snookered Great Man Michel when the Frenchman was at his most vulnerable. 

The LastTycoons is a tale of vaulting ambitions, whispered advice, worldly mistresses, fabulous art collections, and enormous wealth—a story of high drama in the world of high finance. 

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then force another seven (including André, at his request) to become limited partners sent a powerful message. “It was a Napoleonic first act, if you will,” one partner remembered. “I am sure it was all calculated to instill fear and trembling in the troops.” Many said Michel took a page from Voltaire, in Candide, where the great French writer explained how the British executed one of their own admirals who lost an important battle “pour encourager les autres” (to encourage the others). Michel

would participate in the meetings with Michel where individual partners received their annual profit percentage—a role Loomis had desperately wanted but Michel never before permitted. A new executive committee was set up, for which Steve both set the agenda and chaired. Steve also ran the weekly partners’ meetings even if Michel attended. He decided to move into Felix’s office. “The kinds of things that would cause people to say, ‘Well, this guy probably does have some responsibility,’” Steve

required him to have his name first, to have his logo design [a cypress tree], to have his color [cranberry] be the color of the tree and on and on.” At first, everything clicked. The firm advised Philip Morris on its $13 billion acquisition of Kraft, and Time Inc. on its famous $15 billion acquisition of Warner, which Felix represented. The LBO mogul Henry Kravis hired the firm to sell Tropicana. Then Kravis hired Bruce for advice on KKR’s legendary $25 billion LBO of RJR Nabisco. The firm

of retail stores ever assembled under one roof. And as far as could be determined, Campeau had put up virtually none of the money himself but still had control. But it was too clever by half, as they say. When all was said and done, the consensus seemed to be that if Campeau had only bought and run Allied, the deal could possibly have worked with enough time. While Campeau paid a full price for Allied, he did not overpay. He also received full prices in return for both Brooks Brothers and Ann

Felix achieved his lifelong dream—to that point anyway—of becoming a U.S. citizen. His first act of citizenship was to be drafted, in the winter of 1951, and he was sent overseas to Göppingen, Germany, near Stuttgart. The good news was that on the weekends, he was able to take the Orient Express from Stuttgart to Paris to spend time with his father. He served his two years in the military, without incident, and when he got out in 1953, he worked for Cantrade, a new private bank in Zurich. While

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