Wall St in shock at sudden death of Lazard chief

Bruce Wasserstein, king of the takeover, dies aged 61 after a short illness
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The Independent Online

Bruce Wasserstein, the legendary deal-maker whose aggressive tactics ushered in a new era of merger and acquisition battles, has died at the age of 61.

His death robs Lazard, the historic investment bank, of its chairman and chief executive. Mr Wasserstein was working on some of the most high-profile current takeover fights until being hospitalised last weekend.

Kraft, the food manufacturer, which is being advised by Lazard in its attempt to win control of Cadbury in the UK, was among those to extend its sympathies to Mr Wasserstein's family last night. His death was unexpected – Lazard said on Sunday that, although its chairman had suffered an irregular heartbeat and was in a serious condition, he was "stable and recovering". The cause of his death was not immediately announced.

With his tactics immortalised in the book Barbarians at the Gate, which charts the bitter battle for control of RJR Nabisco in the late 1980s, Mr Wasserstein has long been one of the titans of Wall Street, famed and feared in equal measure for his tenacious pursuit of the deal, and his uncanny ability to pull some new tactic out of the hat in order to secure victory.

His particular brand of deal-making earned him the sobriquet "Bid 'em up Bruce" from rivals who said he drove clients to pursue their takeover prey at all costs. His ruthlessness extended to his own career, and Michel David-Weill, who brought him to Lazard only to be pushed out in a fight for the soul of the company, described him "a man of solitary power".

Despite his fearsome reputation there were warm tributes paid from across Wall Street and beyond. Bryan Burrough, co-author of Barbarians at the Gate, said Mr Wasserstein was "the biggest and the best – and he probably would have told you so. He was a titan from a legendary age... when investment bankers during the 1980s seemed to be able to guide the fates – and seemed to control the lives and deaths – of many large American corporations."

Activist investor Carl Icahn – who was advised by Mr Wasserstein in his long campaign to break up media giant Time Warner – called him "one of the few really smart guys on Wall Street".

Bruce Piedmont Wasserstein was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1947 and earned business and law degrees from Harvard before becoming a corporate lawyer and then switching to investment banking. With fellow deal-maker Joseph Perella, he turned First Boston into the foremost player in mergers and acquisitions advice before the pair set up on their own. At Lazard since 2002, he orchestrated its flotation on the New York Stock Exchange. Lazard shares fell almost 4 per cent in after-hours trading last night. The firm named Steve Golub, vice-chairman and a Lazard veteran of 25 years, as interim chief executive.