At age 61, Lazard CEO Bruce Wasserstein is dead, WSJ reports.
Earlier this week the company confirmed that its boss had been hospitalized with a an irregular heartbeat that was at the time described as “serious.”
Shares of Lazard (LAZ) are halted, having last traded up over 4%.
Wasserstein was a Wall Street legend. He was the driving force behind many of America’s largest takeovers in the 1980s and 1990s. He was known for giving rousing boardroom speeches, urging executives and directors not to give up their pursuit of acquisition targets in the face of adverse bids or management resistance. He was nicknamed “Bid ’em Bruce” for urging his clients to increase their bids for acquisition.
Wasserstein graduated from the University of Michigan at age 19, and went on to get law and business degrees from Harvard. He began his career on Wall Street as a lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. After working on a deal with First Boston’s star M&A adviser Joseph Perella, Wassterstein left the legal practice for investment banking. He joined First Boston for a starting salary of $100,000, twice what he was making at Cravath. He rose to become the co-head of investment banking at the firm. Together they materminded some of Wall Street’s biggest and most exciting M&A deals, including Du Pont’s purchase of Conoco, Capital Cities’ buying ABC, and Philip Morris’s purchase of General Foods.
In 1988, he and Joseph Perella left to found the boutique investment bank Wasserstein Perella. Their reasons for leaving First Boston over 20 years ago would surely strike a chord today. He worried that equities underwriting and trading exposed the firm to too much risk and too much competition from its largest Wall Street rivals. He wanted the First Boston to focus on advising clients. When First Boston declined to change directions, Wasserstein and Perella headed for the exit.
In 2000, they sold Wassestein Perella to Dresdner Bank 2000 for $1.4 billion. Two years later he was back on the Street as the head of Lazard, which he took public in 2005.