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.
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 as it turned out, Great Man Bruce snookered Great Man Michel when the Frenchman was at his most vulnerable.
©2007 William D. Cohan; (P)2007 Random House, Inc.
"A competent history of Lazard, a well-written biography of Rohatyn, and an exciting insider's account of Wall Street infighting." (Publishers Weekly)
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"Gossipy, shallow; but with limited virtue"
I was dismayed. I liked other works by this author. Here was an opportunity to map out a structure of these talented people networking, climbing, digging into the lattices of this massive corporate economy and culture at top levels, yet oddly, in the manner of old fashioned merchant bankers. Instead, we hear plenty of these haughty continental type fellows as if suddenly vaulted to some high in-group club which is itself only sketchily portrayed. Then the mutual sniping and titillating parts start. This cries out for more substantive detail. We hear plenty about every superficial aspect of the culture, such as the backward (or merely continental?) barbaric approach to many of the women working there. (Grotesque, making me happy I'm not there, even now.) OK, this is a valid part of the sociological descriptive approach, but hey, this is a book on banks, a finance work, not a brothel or a work of titillation. Or is it? A little is okay, but it this level of stuff can't carry the story at all. Ditto for the media wars surroundilng the infighting. There is mild utility to learning this, as it is a feature of NYC finance and power games, OK. It did feature into the story. Again, I differ with the author's weighting of these aspects as a driver of the book. If this kind of snipy muck (some might see Shakespearean tragedy, but I would say, without the pacing and soaring language; more conducive to needing an air sickness bag) satisfies the target audience, well, congrats to the author and publishers. I am a big finance book consumer, but apparently not this target audience. (I compare "High Financier" by N. Ferguson which had some similar features but gave me a better feel for the core of the matter: the deals being done, the challenges bested. Maybe it is too slow for some contemporary listeners' tastes.) There is some useful history here, some observations of our recent times, and it's not a total waste of time. Hence two stars, not one.
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