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Michel David-Weill: death of the “last emperor of Wall Street”

IHe had just left his position as Chairman of the Board of the investment company Eurazeo. It was last March 22, the last general assembly had been imbued with emotion, that of seeing this great French figure in finance, give up, at 89, his last mandate. Michel David-Weill died on the night of Thursday June 16 to Friday June 17 in New York, only a few weeks after his departure from the scene. His life reads like a novel. He was the direct heir of the co-founder of Lazard, a legendary Franco-American investment bank. This father of four daughters arrived at the helm of the family bank in 1977 and left it twenty-five years later, in 2001. Under his reign, the prestigious Lazard bank established itself as one of the world leaders in the field of Mergers and Acquisitions. He earned the nickname “the last emperor of Wall Street”.

“Endowed with a very great intelligence, he posed an unfailing judgment on cases, but he was even more gifted in judging people, their strengths and their weaknesses. His charm, his even-temperedness, his calm and precise diction, gave no indication of his clear judgments. He was a smiling killer,” recalls a former Lazard associate. Michel David-Weill is the king at home, at the bank, and divides his time between the offices in Paris and those in New York. He governs with mayors from the palace. In France, it was for a long time the charismatic and powerful Bruno Roger.

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Only Michel had the right to close the door of his huge office.A friend

In the premises on Boulevard Haussmann, the partners never close the door to their individual office. It’s strange and contradictory, as discretion is a cardinal virtue in this house, but it’s the sponsorship system that requires it… In theory, the partners have no secrets from each other. “Only Michel had the right to close the door to his huge office,” continues a friend. The managing partners know how to recognize the small step of “Michel”, when he wanders in the corridors. Always smiling, the boss brings little business to the bank but acts like a lord in his kingdom. He never raises his voice. But he is feared and feared, because he is the one who decides on the allocation of the “percentages of the company” to the partners, which determines their annual profits.

While the company was founded in 1844, he will remain as the one who managed to merge the three “houses” of the bank: the British, the French and the American. A successful merger in 2000. Until that date, the three entities functioned at best independently of each other, at worst by engaging in merciless competition.

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tragic death by Édouard Stern and the flight of talent

Michel David-Weill has managed many crises. The hardest will be that caused by the arrival as managing partner in 1992 of Édouard Stern, husband of his eldest daughter Béatrice. Many brilliant associates – including Jean-Marie Messier – deserted the bank, thinking that Stern, with his brutal and excessive temperament, would undoubtedly be the designated successor to Michel David-Weill.

The story does not end like this, however, and Stern leaves Lazard in turn after a few years, then dies assassinated by his mistress in 2005. Of his ex-son-in-law, Michel David-Weill had told Release in 2007: “That Edouard died violently is not surprising to me. He was an extremely intelligent and seductive but quite destructive man. He had, anchored in him, this taste for risk which led him to put himself in very great danger. »

Michel David-Weill is struggling to let go and retain the best. In the United States, Felix Rohatyn, a close friend of the Kennedys, a very influential personality, leaves Lazard. Moreover, it is from across the Atlantic that the fall will come… The American partners insist that Lazard be listed on the stock market, they want to wipe out this system of sponsorship which locks all the capital of the bank. “This causes an incredible number of meetings, a fight between Paris and New York that lasts for months, remembers a former employee of the house. Lazard is listed on the Stock Exchange, and David-Weill brings in Bruce Wasserstein, a big name on Wall Street and a real fox… who manages to get Michel to sign a contract which “allows” him to oust him from the presidency… is a shame anyway, isn’t it? Michel signed his own death warrant without knowing it. In 2005, it’s over, Michel David-Weill loses the bank that his grandfather and his father had managed before him. He takes refuge with Eurazeo, the historic investment holding company of the Lazard galaxy. Since then, the company has invested and taken stakes in a myriad of major global groups: Danone, Rexel, the Accor groups, Foncia, Europcar and even Eutelsat.

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Collector of Ingres and Corot

Michel David-Weill embodies the figure of the esthete, cultured, old-fashioned billionaire. He distinguished himself by supporting institutions on numerous occasions. Thus, the Palace of Versailles, the Museum of Decorative Arts or the Louvre Museum were able to count on the patronage of the businessman to renovate or buy new works. The one who said laughingly that he was probably “the best housed man in the world” has spent his life rubbing shoulders with beautiful things. In Paris, he resides in a magnificent mansion of the 7e arrondissement, near Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a dream house with a garden with perfect grass, adorned with three large clumps of boxwood. In his living room, we come across a canvas by Ingres and a large bucolic scene signed Corot. There is also an apartment in New York, very close to Central Park, a castle in the Périgord and then, the jewel: an extraordinary property in Cap d’Antibes called “the villa under the wind”, equipped with a magnificent seawater swimming pool.

In summer, the David-Weill couple take up residence there, the rich and powerful parade through the house. His daughter Cécile recounted these exceptional summers in a book The pretenders, published in 2010 by Grasset. In this world, everything is old-fashioned and not ostentatious luxury. She recounts the habits and customs of this wealthy elite who meet to the song of the cicadas around breakfast, the shadow army of servants and butlers who orchestrate the day’s activities, the tablecloths in orange linen covered with white orchids, the plates decorated by César adorned with golden grooves figuring the imprints of his fingers, the art of social conversation, whose mantra is: “We must speak lightly of serious things and serious things light. »

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