Michel David-Weil, who died Thursday night in New York at the age of 89, marked the history of Lazarus and the business world as few French actors. “Michelle led Lazard with unmistakable steadfastness,” the investment bank, which he headed from 1975 to 2001, said on Friday. His inspiration, his leadership and his vision define Lazard today. He is to be buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris with the families of the bank’s main partners.
A direct descendant of Alexander Weil, who left for the United States in 1856 to join Lazarus Frere, Michel David Wei managed to unite branches in New York, Paris and London under one roof, making the family investment bank an important pillar of the French language. capitalism, but also transatlantic. The influence of this patron and art collector, who was born into a Jewish family before his baptism and raised in the Catholic faith, went far beyond the financial world, as evidenced by the numerous tributes caused by his death. “The President of the Republic congratulates a far-sighted player in the economic world who has spent his talents and gifts on our French companies, our heritage and our art,” the Elysee District Center said in a press release. Looking back at six key moments of an extraordinary life and career.
His first bright touches
It is difficult to summarize the trajectory of this successor, sometimes portrayed as the “Sun King” of finance, who shared his life between Paris, New York, London and his estate, including his Villa Villa on the Cap d’Antibes, where he received cream in the summer. business, politics and the arts. Born on November 23, 1932, the son of Pierre David-Weil and Bertie Gaardt studied at the French Lyceum in New York, then at Sciences Po Paris, before joining the bank in 1956. He is Andre Meyer, one of the brightest bankers of his generation, nicknamed “Picasso Finance”, who introduced him to American affairs.
His baptism of fire? The hostile takeover of Lazard Frères in 1964 by Franco Wyoming, a company with oil assets spanning France and the United States. The daring operation shocks New York, but its success will inspire Michel David Weil. Returning to Paris four years later, he was advising a small Lyon glassmaker, Boussois-Souchon-Neuvesel (BSN), when he launched a hostile bid to take over Saint-Gobain, five times his size.
The operation that divides the Parisian elite between the ancient and the modern ends in failure. But it has spawned a business relationship and unwavering friendship between Michel David-Weil and BSN President and future Danone founder Antoine Reeb. It will also strengthen the authority of the heir in the person of like-minded people with recognized personalities such as Antoine Bernheim, Felix Rogatin or Bruno Roger.
Beginning of the reign
After the death of his father Pierre David-Weil in 1975, Michel took over as President of Lazarus Paris, and two years later – chairman of the bank in New York. Andre Meyer died in September 1979. In a scene worthy of the film described by Martin Orange in her book These Gentlemen of Lazard (Albin Michel, 2006), Michelle David-Vail uses the burial of her mentor in Montparnasse Cemetery to approach Sir Ian Fraser, President of Lazard London, the rapprochement of three chamber.
In the process, bank members do not believe their eyes, says the journalist. Michel David-Weil comes to power without wasting a second … “behind the tomb of Andre Meyer.” “I’m the boss because I’m not afraid,” the man said later in an interview, saying he was fascinated by Louis XIV’s seizure of power.
The heir to the Lazard House is not an exceptional banker, but he knows how to use his address book and his political sense to continue to develop the bank, which became one of the world’s leading mergers in the 1980s. and business consulting. Michelle David-Weil inherited at this time his nickname “The Last Emperor of Wall Street.”
“Ministry of Industry”
Living together opened a new era in 1986 for Lazard and its CEO. Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and his Minister of Economy and Finance, Edouard Balladur, are embarking on a major wave of privatization. And the prestigious investment bank, which, unlike its rivals Parib and Rothschild, has managed to avoid a nationalization movement, knows how to take advantage of it.
Investment banking is the management of individuals. All of Lazard’s associates were exceptional. To choose meant to kill. That would be to give up the merits of everyone else.
Michelle David Weil
Linked to all major privatization operations, including the first and most symbolic, the Saint-Gobain operation, it even became the “second ministry of industry,” as Martin Orange writes in his book. “No deal, no capital increase, no movement” does not do without Lazar, who will also pilot the capital opening of Renault and the IPO of France Telecom. Between 1986 and 1988, the bank’s profits in France tripled.
Also in the 1980s, Lazarus, under the leadership of Michel David-Weil, participated in the construction of the industrial empires of Bernard Arnault, Francois Pino and Vincent Bollore and their state. Thanks to Antoine Bernheim’s financial ingenuity, the bank is developing a cascading holding system that allows a leading shareholder to control an empire with less investment. Financial innovation, which will be one of the hallmarks of the house.
Leak of talents
But Michel David-Weil’s autocratic management also has its limits. However, he is able to recognize talents, often highly qualified (X, ENA, Inspection des finances, etc.) and passed through national palaces, such as Mathieu Pigass or Anne Loverjon. But instead of ruling, he dominates, supporting rivalry.
“We would like to show favoritism,” said the man, who receives partners in turn at his office each year to solemnly announce their generous bonuses. I always refused. Investment banking is the management of individuals. All of Lazard’s associates were exceptional. To choose meant to kill. That would be to give up the merits of everyone else. »
But in the 1990s, Michelle David-Weil went through serious waste. In quick succession, several bank stars jump off the ship, giving up huge influence and payment. This is the case of Jean-Marie Messier, who joined another legend of French capitalism, Guy Dejuani, in the Générale des eaux. Or Felix Rohatyn, a pillar of the New York structure.
This includes the rise to power of Edward Stern, the heir to the banking family of the same name and married to his daughter Beatrice. The brilliant but controversial banker was considered the successor to Michel David-Weil. He left the bank in 1997 and was killed eight years later. But the damage is done. The hemorrhage of talent puts pressure on business, and Rothschild’s eternal rival is gaining market share.
Battle of Imperial Street
Apparently, the operation is purely technical. In April 2001, Michel David-Weil completed the final restructuring of Lazard’s control structure. It brings together Eurafrance and Azeo to bring together three houses in Paris, New York and London. This is the birth of Eurazeo, an investment company that owns 17% of Lazard, as well as shares in Generali, Mediobanca and Danone.
But this operation is, first of all, an epilogue to the showdowns that the “emperor” almost lost. Fight against Vincent Bollore, who, with the help of Antoine Bernheim, noticed a shortcoming in the management structure. For months, the businessman, with the tacit support of several investment funds and the Swiss banking giant UBS, bought shares in Rue Impériale de Lyon, the main holding company of the Lazard Galaxy. As a result, he has 31% and is in a position of strength. It was Crédit Agricole who would come to free the patriarch by buying his shares from Vincent Bollore for almost 4 billion francs, which is about twice his initial investment.
No matter what happens next, I can never get rid of the thought that this house is mine.
He will not consider leaving Eurazeo before the financial crisis. The complete withdrawal of Crédit Agricole from Eurasia in 2017 will lead to a new raid, an attack by a competitor Tikehau. A new long-term investor comes to power, the Deco family, which buys shares in the Green Bank.
Entrance to Wall Street, the last battle
“They are going to kill Lazard. Michael is crazy. He allows them. In the fall of 2004, Antoine Bernheim, a former leader of European capitalism and a former ally of Lazard, did not want to believe that Michelle David-Weil allowed Wall Street icon Bruce Wasserstein to entrust the fate of a powerful family investment bank. in the hands of the stock exchange.
This is the red line that has always been set by the monarch of finance: “The bank does not exist and will not exist,” he said in 2000. But this dolphin, who had just sold his Wasserstein Perella boutique at Germany’s Dresdner Bank, Michel David-Vale, gave up everything to persuade him to write the rest of the investment bank’s history and put him on the throne. Until the first wants to finally displace the second.
Thanks to luxurious bonuses and expensive hiring of stars, Bruce Wasserstein Lazard finds himself behind the throat and records the first losses in its history. You need to raise capital, insists the new owner of Lazard, who knows that listing is also a way to erase the DNA of the bank’s family. “To quote a house is to involve it in trivialization,” says Michel David Weil. Weapons transfers in the house are becoming more violent.
“I will make you rich,” Bruce Wasserstein promises his partners, contrasting the bank’s “employees” with the “capitalists” who own them and receive generous dividends each year. The Investment Bank became public on May 5, 2005. The family is diluted, and the American banker becomes the sole owner of the board for only a short time. Four years later, he died suddenly of a heart attack.
It was time for Michel David-Weil to leave Lazarus. He then returned to Eurazeo, where he chaired the supervisory board until April last year, helping to make it a thriving investment company. But, in his opinion, the connection with the bank, which he helped to raise to the top, will never be broken, as he confided in 2005: “Whatever happens next, I will never be able to get rid of the idea that this is my house. »