Lazard chief executive Bruce Wasserstein dies at 61

The chief of Lazard investment bank, Bruce Wasserstein, died on Wednesday at the age 61. He had played a key role in some of Wall Street's biggest deals over the past 30 years.


AFP - The chief of Lazard investment bank, Bruce Wasserstein, who played a key role in some of Wall Street's biggest deals over the past 30 years, died Wednesday, a spokesman for the company told AFP.

Wasserstein, 61, who had been hospitalized on Sunday in a serious condition with an irregular heart beat, had become a legendary figure steering the bank in recent years including orchestrating its flotation on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005.

"We are shocked and greatly saddened by the passing of Bruce Wasserstein. He was a visionary leader, a devoted father to his children and a good friend," the Lazard board of directors said in a statement.

"At Lazard, he has put into place a long-term strategy as well as a broad and deep leadership team, in whom we have confidence and who will sustain his vision. His commitment to his clients was legendary."

Recently Wasserstein had been closely working on a plan by US giant Kraft Foods to lodge a formal takeover bid for British confectionery maker Cadbury.

Amid the global financial turmoil, Lazard saw its profits tumble 98 percent in 2008, but the second quarter of 2009 saw them bounce back.

Lazard said on its website that in recent years it has "advised on nearly 1,000 completed mergers and acquisitions, having a cumulative value in excess of one trillion dollars."

The Board of Directors said it had named vice chairman Steven Golub as interim chief executive officer. Golub, 63, has been with the firm since 1984.

It added of Wasserstein that "Lazard’s Board of Directors, and the many people he worked with and mentored over the years, mourn his loss. We extend our sympathies to his family, particularly his wife and children, who meant the world to him."

The bank was recently involved with overseeing a potential takeover bid by mining giant BHP Billiton of Rio Tinto, as well as the merger of Swiss mining company Xstrata with South Africa's Anglo American, and the sale by the British bank Barclays of its subsidary BGI to the US company BlackRock.

A Harvard graduate, Wasserstein made a name for himself during the wave of mergers and acquisitions in the 1980s.

In 1988 he founded Wasserstein Perella with another Wall Street heavyweight, Joseph Perella, which he sold to the German bank Dresdner in 2005.

Trading in Lazard was briefly suspended before the stock exchange closed Wednesday following the announcement of Wasserstein's death. Its shares ended at 42.70 dollars up 4.32 percent.

"Too much of a reputation tied to a single person is a danger," admitted Jefferies analyst Art Hogan. "If you think of him over the past thirty years, he is relatively legendary."

But he did not think that in the long term Wasserstein's death would pose a problem to Lazard.

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