Michel David-Weill, Influential Lazard Banker, Dies at 89

A member of his firm’s family dynasty, he built Lazard into an elite player on Wall Street while keeping it a smaller operation than most of its competitors.

Michel David-Weill, an investment banker and scion of the Lazard banking dynasty who helped shape Lazard into a powerful global banking institution before he was bought out in 2005, died on June 16 at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.

His wife, Hélène David-Weill, confirmed the death.

Mr. David-Weill is widely credited with keeping Lazard smaller and more focused than its competitors; he built the firm into an elite player while keeping it a tight boutique operation in an era when that was not the norm.

He was named a partner in Lazard in 1961. He became a senior partner in the firm’s New York and Paris branches in the 1970s and later formally united them with the London office, and he led the bank through healthy decades with a focus on mergers and acquisitions.

“Without Michel, there isn’t a Lazard, I don’t think,” said Ken Jacobs, the firm’s current chairman and chief executive.

As other banks on Wall Street grew and went public, Mr. Jacobs said, Mr. David-Weill’s approach was to remain private with a closely-knit group of partners, which was “the opposite of what everyone else did.”

Michel David-Weill was born on Nov. 23, 1932, in Paris, to Pierre and Berthe (Haardt) David-Weill. His father was a partner in the family firm, Lazard Frères & Company, part of what later became Lazard Ltd.

When Michel was 8, at the start of the World War II, he left Paris with his mother and sister to escape the Nazis. The family went into hiding in the South of France and converted from Judaism to Catholicism.

“I think that shaped him,” Mrs. David-Weill said in an interview, adding that his family’s later move to Manhattan was also formative — and a shock.

“He had spent years totally isolated in the country,” she said. “Suddenly in New York, he discovered an explosion of lights in Times Square.”

He attended the Lycée Français de New York and then returned to Paris, where he studied at the Instituts d’Études Politiques. He went on to serve in the French military. He married Hélène Lehideux in 1956.

During his military service, he enjoyed meeting people from a range of backgrounds different from his own privileged upbringing, Mrs. David-Weill said. “That, I think, gave him a very wide eye on everybody.”

William Loomis, who joined Lazard in 1978 and later served as chief executive, said that Mr. David-Weill “revived” the firm. “He viewed Lazard as his responsibility in life,” Mr. Loomis said.

In the 1990s, challenges arose as Mr. David-Weill tried to find a successor. A widely publicized falling-out with his son-in-law, Édouard Stern, who had been viewed by many as an heir apparent, led Mr. Stern to leave the firm in 1997.

Fred R. ConradThe New York Times

Then, in 2005, Bruce Wasserstein, the chief executive at the time, took the company public after a battle with Mr. David-Weill, who continued to feel strongly that the bank should stay private. Mr. David-Weill, then the chairman, and the founding families were bought out for $1.6 billion.

“I was associated with Lazard for 45 years, and was its head, and very honored to be, for 25 years, so it’s a major turning point,” Mr. David-Weill said at the time.

Mr. David-Weill was sometimes referred to as the “Sun King.” “Everything revolved around Michel at Lazard,” William D. Cohan, the author of “The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.” (2007), said in an interview.

Mr. Cohan worked at Lazard for six years. “To me it seemed like the most interesting and mysterious place on Wall Street. Private partnership, punching above its weight, small, elite, prestigious,” he said. “It was like a Florentine guild.”

Ali Wambold, who joined Lazard as a vice president in 1985 and became a general partner in 1987, said that Mr. David-Weill “saw himself as a gardener” and “was not especially ruthless or sharp-elbowed.” And Mr. Jacobs said, “I can’t ever remember him being imperious.” Rather, he said, he remembered a calm, polite man who thrived in one-on-one settings.

After Lazard, Mr. David-Weill dedicated himself to Eurazeo, the global investment company he formed in Paris in 2001.

“He fought a lot of battles,” said Virginie Morgon, the chief executive of Eurazeo, adding: “The battle that he fought against Bruce Wasserstein was probably the toughest one, because that was his legacy, and he had to leave the bank. But this is someone who never looked back.”

Beyond the office, Mr. David-Weill was a philanthropist and a passionate art patron with a celebrated collection. He was involved with numerous cultural institutions, including as a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In addition to his wife, Mr. David-Weill is survived by four daughters, Béatrice, Natalie, Cécile and Agathe, and 11 grandchildren.

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