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Stories Lazard: An incredible family saga Return to the foundation of the myth of Lazard, one of the most powerful historic French banks, who has reshaped the global landscape business for almost a century. Over the years, the bank became an unavoidable actor in world affairs. Combining blows and sometimes mistakes, it has conquered the world through hard work and because of the vision of managing partners who succeeded at its head.
It will certainly remain in the pantheon of banks that have had the greatest influence on business life and global capitalism. The chronicle of a saga. Everything really started with Alexandre Lazard. Grandson of Abraham Lazard, immigrated to Lorraine, in the s Alexandre took the road to the United States, thus following the largest wave of Jewish emigration to America at this time. Arriving in New Orleans, he started in small business.
Cotton fabrics, tissue, then coffee, sugar, he was into everything. His businesses took off and he was soon joined by his three brothers: Lazare, Elie and Simon, then by their cousin Alexandre Weill, who lent a hand. In , the business is formalized and the Lazard Brothers is born. After several successful years, two of the Lazard Brothers, Alexandre and Lazare, returned to Paris while the other two, Elie and Simon as well as their cousin Alexandre Weill, opened offices in San Francisco.
Indeed, the gold exchange business allowed the Lazard Brothers and their cousin to get rich quickly through arbitration on the differences between the gold dollar and the paper dollar. He quickly realized the profits that their business could make from the civil war and from the resulting changes in the price of gold.
In Alexandre Weil took the keys to the business for good and decided to end the small businesses: from now on the principle business of Lazard is gold, money and banking. This would be the beginning of an ascent that nothing could stop. In , he opened an office on Wall Street and became the first transporter of gold between Europe and the United States and the biggest trader of commercial paper within the United States.
The bank quickly won its place on Wall Street. In , Alexandre Weil decided to return to Paris. He bided his time. In , David Weil, the son of Alexandre Weil, joined the bank. Meanwhile Elijah Alexandre and Simon Lazard, the pioneers, had passed away, and David took the reins of the business a few years later, appointed by his father as the natural successor.
It was this battle won by Lazard in on international markets that forged lasting relationships between the bank and the public administration. Unfortunately, a few years later, in , losses hidden and accumulated over the years of the Belgian subsidiary exploded into open air, spelling bankruptcy for Lazard. With the Great Depression two years before, the family business was largely compromised in France as in the United States.
But fortunately, one man showed up into the banks fold. This man was a certain Andrew Meyer. Discovered in by David Weil during the time Lazard was maneurvering to save the franc, Meyer was a skilled broker: he was already taking advantage of arbitrage opportunities on the fluctuation of the franc between Paris and London.
Michel David-Weil, the son of Peter, and Bruno Roger joined them in the group in while Antoine Bernheim arrived in , just when the bank was reasserting its influence and power on the French ground. They were at the base of many changes in the business world: the creation of large empires like LVMH, Danone and Cap Gemini, the rearrangement of Finance in New York City and many other issues of particular sensitivity.
After long years of waiting, Michel David-Weil took control of the bank in upon the death of Andre Meyer. He continued the work begun by this predecessor. Thus, between and , Lazard ranked first among French banks for mergers and acquisitions and Michel David Weil exerted his influence in business circles and political networks. He also realized his life-long dream: to merge three family businesses, the ones in London, Paris, and New York in January , at the same time thinking he could resolve the systemic problems growing within the group.
A choice that sounded the death toll of the omnipotence of Lazard, some might say looking back. Because the world of business is what it is: booms often leave room for large lulls and even terrible recessions.
And that is what happened: conflicts of interest continued to lower the morale of the family business, the concentration of big profits centered around only a few major shareholders, file sharing remained almost nonexistent, the sharing of information and clients were particularly difficult.
All the problems that had justified the merger remained intact. It would be a failure. Meanwhile, market activities had taken precedence over the consulting business and mergers and acquisitions in all banks including Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Salomon Brothers, became superpowers. It could never adapt in the new landscape. After years of internal wars, Bruce Wasserstein, who took the head of the bank to give it more momentum, finally got the better of Michael David Weil.
On May 5, on Wall Street, he signed the opening of Lazard onto the open market. The Lazard story is dead. And Michael Weil Davil has nothing more than tears to cry.
Make way for the new Lazard!
Ces Messieurs de Lazard (ESSAIS DOC.)