Wasserstein claims massive support for Lazards IPO

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The Independent Online

Bruce Wasserstein, the chief executive of Lazard, is on the brink of reaching an agreement with partners in the investment bank to push ahead with a flotation after months of internal wranglings about the terms of the initial public offering.

Mr Wasserstein has won "near-unanimous support" from the working partners, according to a memo sent by Lazard's management committee on Wednesday. The committee is close to Mr Wasserstein.

The memo was sent after meetings between senior employees, including a gathering in New York on Tuesday of working partners and a board meeting in Paris on Wednesday. Another board meeting may be held on Monday.

Mr Wasserstein wants to increase the momentum behind the planned IPO after most partners at the two meetings signalled they were broadly behind the plan. It is now up to the partners who no longer work at the investment bank to consider the details.

Mr Wasserstein still faces opposition from several long-serving partners close to Lazard's chairman, Michel David- Weill, who believe the proposed division spoils is unfairly weighted towards the recent appointees of Mr Wasserstein.

Mr Wasserstein joined Lazard in 2001 with a five-year mandate to revitalise the 150-year-old bank. But his strategy of hiring high-profile bankers on generous salary packages caused tensions with M. David-Weill and other partners.

M. David-Weill, Lazard's largest shareholder, has agreed in principle to a flotation of the business, which his family has been involved with for 150 years. He would be bought out at a premium to the IPO price, which would probably value Lazard at $3bn (£1.7bn).

Mr Wasserstein attempted to get Lazard's partners to sign a document on Monday outlining details of the IPO. A number of partners refused to commit, saying they needed more details about the way the IPO windfall would be distributed and about the control structure after the flotation.

Eurazeo, the French investment company which is chaired by M. David-Weill, holds two seats on the Lazard board and a 15.8 per cent stake. Mr Wasserstein has one board seat and four other Lazard working partners have the others. M. David-Weill is unlikely to veto the IPO but has made it clear to Mr Wasserstein that he had to win the support of a majority of Lazard's partners.