William Cohan’s portrait of Bruce Wasserstein in the latest Vanity Fair sheds a bit of light on the events surrounding the Lazard chairman’s mysterious death last October.
But one thing is clear: Most of the deceased dealmaker’s colleagues thought he was a selfish asshole who took home a giant paycheck without doing much to deserve it. Several Lazard partners even tried to stage a coup to oust Bruce and approached the board about his enormous pay package in 2008, Cohan reports. But the board eventually feared shareholder lawsuits if Bruce left and the stock dropped.
Here’s one Lazard banker’s take:
“The difference between his perception of his value and everybody else’s was a wide chasm. If you want to look at him in the best light, you would say he just had an incredible view of himself. If you want to look at him in the worst light, you would say he didn’t give a damn. He just could take the money. He could convince the board, and he took it.”
According to another former partner:
“[Bruce] was just given over to complete narcissism. He had lost his relevance. Nobody in corporate America particularly cared about what he had to say, and he wasn’t particularly good about saying it. Nine out of 10 things that came out of his mouth were crazy, or unfounded, or reflected a lack of attention to his audience and what their issues were. One out of 10 was smart, scary smart. But you’d take him to client meetings and most of the time you’d be exchanging looks with the C.E.O. of the company that you were taking him to see.” The message the clients delivered time and time again was a simple one: Don’t bring him back.
And another Lazard MD:
“If he generated $30 or $40 million worth of fees in the nine years he was at Lazard, he generated a lot. I mean, he was just useless.”
On the mystery surrounding Bruce’s sudden death, which has never been fully explained, Howard Rubenstein and Judi Mackey, Lazard’s public-relations head, told Vanity Fair:
“While in a car on his way to a lunch downtown with his daughter Pamela, Mr. Wasserstein experienced a sudden and unexpected cardiac arrhythmia. The arrhythmia caused him to lose consciousness. The driver called 911. Mr. Wasserstein was rushed in an ambulance to a hospital in Manhattan. His condition was initially stabilized in the hospital. Despite efforts at supportive care and indications of recovery, he ultimately died of heart failure secondary to the arrhythmia.”