The Last Tycoons | William D. Cohan

Summary of: The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.
By: William D. Cohan


Dive into the captivating world of Lazard Frères & Company, a prestigious Wall Street firm that has influenced the financial world for over 157 years. In ‘The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.’, author William D. Cohan takes us on a gripping journey through the firm’s rich history, delving deeply into the lives and achievements of its founding members, the Great Men. This summary unveils fascinating accounts of the family’s dynamics, succession wars, mighty powerplays, and unparalleled deal-making finesse that have defined Lazard’s evolution. Discover this financial powerhouse’s rise, fall, and triumphant resurgence, and uncover the secrets that drove it to become an unstoppable force in the world of finance.

Lazard Frères & Co.: The Great Men of Finance

Lazard Frères & Co. is a legendary Wall Street firm founded by four brothers who started as a store outfitting miners in San Francisco. After the firm joined the New York Stock Exchange in 1888, it became a financial services house that bought and sold gold and currencies. The firm’s strategy was to offer clients the wisdom of the greatest and most experienced collection of investment bankers the world had ever known. Lazard traditionally earned its fees with its brains rather than financial capital and has provided advice, connections, and business methods worth billions to clients who paid bountiful millions. Although the firm was smaller than Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, or Merrill Lynch, it built tremendous prestige and power, explicitly priding itself on being superior. Frank Altschul, one of the first nonfamily partners, managed Lazard’s U.S. operations, becoming wealthy and influential. Lazard played a significant role in San Francisco’s post-earthquake recovery. Despite Altschul being sidelined when family member André Meyer took charge under a new partnership structure set up to separate the U.S. firm from its office in Nazi-occupied France, he remained loyal, feeling betrayed by his partners.

The Legendary “Zeus” of Wall Street

André Meyer, also known as “Zeus,” was a micromanager who had a passion for art. He adorned his suite with priceless works but celebrated Lazard’s 100th anniversary with little ceremony. Despite being a Wall Street elite, he had many high-society friends and was behind Lazard’s “Matador Ranch” deal. Meyer’s partners called him “Zeus” due to his absolute power at the firm. Meyer’s protégé, Felix Rohatyn, gave an emotional eulogy at his funeral.

The Rise and Fall of Rohatyn

Meyer’s protégé, Rohatyn, became a successful investment banker, helping Lazard buy Avis for $5.5 million and turning it into a profitable business. However, his ambition and unwillingness to share credit made him difficult to work with. Rohatyn became active in politics and helped New York restructure its debt. He aspired to a high public office but was unsuccessful due to his political affiliations. Despite his achievements, Rohatyn’s career at Lehman Brothers ended in disaster when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

The Rise and Fall of Michel David-Weill at Lazard Frères

Michel David-Weill was a Frenchman who joined Lazard Frères at age 24 and quickly rose through the ranks to become the all-powerful chair. Despite his success, his management style, which relied heavily on playing favorites and consolidating power, made strong disagreements inevitable. He managed to balance internal factions and recruit new talent, but this led to his own downfall when he gave management control to Bruce Wasserstein and lost control of his family firm. Despite making a fortune from being bought out, David-Weill resented losing control of the company he had worked so hard to build.

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