Bruce Wasserstein, greatest banker of his generation, dead at 61

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Bruce Wasserstein, CEO of Lazard Ltd. (LAZ), died Wednesday afternoon in New York after being hospitalized Sunday night with an irregular heartbeat. Wasserstein's 30-year career in banking made him one of the wealthiest bankers in the world, with a net worth of $2.3 billion. And his reputation as the greatest of solitary strategists drove business leaders to seek him out to help him do their merger deals.

Wasserstein was born on Christmas Day, 1947, and his mother said he had Messiah potential. He entered the University of Michigan at 16, and then went to Harvard, where he earned a JD cum laude and and MBA with high distinction.


As an investment banker with First Boston in the 1980s, he became famous for bidding up the price of big deals for his clients. Bid-em-up Bruce guided Philip Morris Cos.' $13 billion bid for Kraft Inc. in 1988, KKR's $31.4 billion offer for RJR Nabisco in 1989, and the $15.7 billion merger of Time Inc. and Warner Bros. in 1990 -- which formed what ultimately became AOL Time Warner, parent company of this web site. He started a bank, Wasserstein Perella, and sold it in 2001 for $1.56 billion.

After the sale of Wasserstein Perella, Michel David-Weill hired Wasserstein to run Lazard, which Wasserstein took public in 2005. Regrettably for Lazard shareholders, hushed reports surfaced in 2006 that Wasserstein had serious health problems -- potentially related to a heart condition -- which the company did not disclose publicly. News of his hospitalization this weekend was saddening, though not surprising.

Wasserstein, thrice-divorced, was married this year to Angela Chao. He had three children with his second wife, Chris, and two with his third wife, Claude.

Wall Street has lost a giant -- and Lazard should have let the world know in 2006 how tenuous that giant's health was.

Editor's note: Peter Cohan has long worried about Wasserstein's health and wondered if Lazard should disclose more information to shareholders. He first reported on rumors that Wasserstein was ill in July, 2006 on BloggingStocks. You can read more about Wasserstein's accomplishments from M&A expert Tom Taulli at BloggingStocks.

Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor, and author of eight books includingYou Can't Order Change. Follow him on Twitter. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.


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Shiho Fukada, AP
Shiho Fukada, AP
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