Lazard CEO Bruce Wasserstein Dead at 61

Wasserstein took over as head of Lazard in 2002

Wednesday, Oct 14, 2009  |  Updated 5:46 PM EDT
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Lazard CEO Bruce Wasserstein Dead at 61

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Bruce Wasserstein

Bruce Wasserstein,  a pioneer of the Wall Street takeover and one of the pre-eminent deal makers of his time, has died, a Lazard spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday .
     
Wasserstein, 61,  the CEO of Lazard Ltd. and chairman of New York magazine, was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat on Sunday.
    
A Brooklyn native, Wasserstein took over as head of Lazard in 2002, brought the company public in May 2005 and was named its CEO. 

“We’re shocked and saddened by the loss of Bruce Wasserstein," said New York Media editor-in-chief Adam Moss and publisher Larry Burstein said in a statement: "We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends and share in their grief.”

Wasserstein, who began his career as a lawyer, was one of Wall Street’s pioneers of corporate mergers and acquisitions. He leaves behind a storied legacy, including helping to execute some of the biggest Wall Street takeovers of the 1980s.

Most recently, he has led the team advising Kraft in its potential takeover of Cadbury.

Among his career triumphs was Kohlberg Kravis Roberts Co.'s acquisition of RJR Nabisco and the merger of Time Inc. with Warner Communications.

Perhaps more importantly, he transformed deal-making from a business built on relationships, as practiced by forebears like Andre Meyer and Felix Rohatyn of Lazard, into one built on high-priced free agency, the New York Times reported.

He graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Harvard Law School and the Harvard Business School. There he served --somewhat improbably -- as one of Ralph Nader’s “Nader’s Raiders.”

After working for a time as an attorney he soon left to join the mergers and acquisitions department at First Boston.

In 1988 he and partner Joseph Perella set up Wasserstein Perella & Company. It was there that Mr. Wasserstein advised on K.K.R.’s takeover of Nabisco, recaptured in the book “Barbarians at the Gate.”

Wasserstein had interests beyond the boardroom, the Times said.

In 2004, he made a surprise bid for New York magazine, defeating some of the city’s richest businessmen in the process. He has also purchased trade publications, including The Deal, aimed at deal-makers, and American Lawyer, a key player in the legal field. He sold the magazine group to Incisive Media, a British publisher, in 2007 for $630 million.

Wasserstein's sister, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, died of lymphoma in 2006.

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