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The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Freres and Co.by William D. Cohan
Synopses & Reviews
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 and 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 out-sized 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 Last Tycoons 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.
"This astute if not entirely cohesive debut account from investigative journalist and former banker Cohan chronicles the long metamorphosis of Lazard Frères. Converted from a private partnership to a diversified, publicly traded company in 2005, it was the last great American investment bank to do so. That story intertwines with the career of Felix Rohatyn, Lazard's most famous and influential banker. Readers expecting a comprehensive financial history in the style of Ron Chernow (The House of Morgan) will find the firm's history from its founding as a New Orleans dry goods retailer in 1848 to the early 1960s covered in only two of the 21 chapters. Cohan discusses the following quarter century in more detail, but concentrates almost exclusively on Rohatyn and draws on the general business press. The chapters on the last 20 years contain fascinating and novel information, and rely extensively on the author's personal recollections (he worked at Lazard for six years) and interviews with associates, many of whom remain undisclosed. The result is three incompletely integrated works: a competent history of Lazard, a well-written biography of Rohatyn and an exciting insider's account of Wall Street infighting." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mostly a hodgepodge of ancient Lazard history previously chronicled elsewhere....Ultimately, the great weakness of The Last Tycoons is its insularity. The book is so Lazard-centric that it rarely veers into a broader discussion of contemporary currents in the financial industry or the culture generally." Wall Street Journal
Among the storied Wall Street banks, Lazard Frères & Co. stood apart until egos started to take over. This is a story of vaulting ambitions, whispered advice, ferocious power struggles, and enormous wealth — and, ultimately, the undoing of a powerful organization.
About the Author
William D Cohan, a former award-winning investigative newspaper reporter in Raleigh, North Carolina, worked on Wall Street for seventeen years. He spent six years at Lazard Frères in New York and later became a managing director at JP Morgan Chase. He lives in New York City and Columbia County, New York.
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