Lazard Ltd Chief Executive Bruce Wasserstein, a legendary dealmaker for more than 30 years, has died, ending an era at one of Wall Street's best-known investment banks.
The company had announced on Sunday that Wasserstein, 61, had been hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. It called his condition serious, but said he was stable and recovering.
Wasserstein, a star investment banker since the 1970s, was credited with brokering more than 1,000 transactions worth more than $250 billion, including Time's merger with Warner Brothers and the Dean Witter, Discover & Co combination with Morgan Stanley.
Bruce Wasserstein was a true giant in the M&A world. He was a central figures of so many takeover battles in the 70s, 80s, 90s and even today with Kraft's bid for Cadbury, said Francis Aquila, an M&A Attorney with Sullivan & Cromwell.
Wasserstein, known as Bid 'em up Bruce -- a nickname he despised -- had been involved in one of the year's biggest potential deals in recent weeks, advising Kraft Foods in its proposed takeover of UK candy maker Cadbury.
He's been such a fixture in the M&A market that it's really hard to think of him not being there anymore, Aquila said.
Steven Golub, vice chairman of the company, has been appointed interim chief executive, Lazard said on Wednesday.
Lazard's shares were suspended before the close, ahead of the confirmation of his death.
Wasserstein's death comes nearly four years after that of his playwright sister, Wendy, whose fame in the entertainment world could be said to equal his in finance. A Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner, she died of cancer in 2006 at age 55.
The Wall Street veteran achieved fame as an adviser to buyout house KKR on its unprecedented acquisition of RJR Nabisco in 1989, which was recorded for posterity in the book, Barbarians at the Gate, by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar.
Until a few years ago, the RJR takeover was the largest leveraged buyout in history.
Over the years, Wasserstein earned a reputation as a brilliant but hard-nosed banker who always found a way to get deals done.
Among other techniques, Wasserstein invented the Pac-Man defense where a takeover target turns and buys its would-be acquirer.
Others learned from his techniques.
Whatever small success I've had, I owe in part to Bruce, who was an extraordinary banker and teacher, said Stefan Selig, executive vice chairman of global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America Corp.
In 2000, Wasserstein sold his mergers boutique Wasserstein Perella & Co to Germany's Dresdner Bank for $1.5 billion.
When plans for an investment banking unit spin-off failed a year later, he quit and left the firm bearing his name. In time, some of the people he recruited to Dresdner also left.
Brooklyn-born Wasserstein had always excelled, earning a degree from the University of Michigan and then enrolling in Harvard Law at age 19. In 1970, he graduated from Harvard Law and a year later, received his Harvard MBA.
He also attended the London School of Economics and went to Cambridge University as a Knox Traveling Fellow.
He worked briefly as a volunteer for consumer advocate Ralph Nader while he was in law school.
After graduation, Wasserstein joined elite law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore. But he soon traded life at the white-shoe law firm for the faster pace of Wall Street.
He then joined investment bank First Boston Corp, where he and Joseph Perella, another top Wall Street banker, built an M&A practice before forming Wasserstein Perella & Co in 1988.
Outside Wall Street, Wasserstein's favorite pursuit was journalism. The one-time college newspaper editor and summer staffer at Forbes magazine acquired New York magazine through his $2 billion private investment firm, Wasserstein & Co.
He also wrote business-related books.
Wasserstein's private equity fund also owns The Deal LLC, a media company focused on the mergers & acquisitions market.
(Reporting by Steve Eder and Paritosh Bansal in New York and Jessica Hall in Philadelphia. Editing by Ted Kerr)