A Private Equity Boardroom Coup

Jean-Charles Decaux, Eurazeo's chairman.
Jean-Charles Decaux, Eurazeo's chairman. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images
William D. Cohan
February 8, 2023

Shortly after September 11, 2001, the late investment banker Michel David-Weill finally concluded a deal to bring Bruce Wasserstein to Lazard, then still a private partnership under Michel’s control. The courtship between David-Weill, the patrician fourth-generation scion of the firm’s founding family, which dates to New Orleans in 1848, and the grand investment banker Wasserstein, a Brooklyn ribbon manufacturer’s son who later bought New York magazine, was some 15 years in the making. One former Lazard partner told me that the deal Michel cut with Bruce was one “of desperation.” 

By that time, Michel was deeply concerned about the future of Lazard. He had tried unsuccessfully, and somewhat half-heartedly, to sell the firm to Lehman (that would have been a disaster), and to Credit Agricole, and to Merrill Lynch (another disaster in the making). He had tried a series of successive leaders for the firm, including Steve Rattner, Bill Loomis, and even his own son-in-law Éduoard Stern, who was later murdered by his mistress in Geneva. None of them had worked out to Michel’s satisfaction, mostly because Michel wouldn’t fully share day-to-day management of the firm to them.