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

IHe has just stepped down as chairman of the investment company Eurazeo. It was on March 22, the last general meeting was full of emotion, when this great French figure in the field of finance resigned at the age of 89 from his last mandate. Michel David-Weil died on the night of Thursday June 16 to Friday June 17 in New York City., just a few weeks after his departure from the scene. His life reads like a novel. He was the direct heir to the co-founder of the legendary Franco-American investment bank Lazard. This father of four daughters took over the family bank in 1977 and left it twenty-five years later in 2001. Under his leadership, the prestigious Lazard Bank has established itself as one of the world leaders in M&A. . He was nicknamed “The Last Emperor of Wall Street”.

“Endowed with a very great mind, he made an unerring judgment about affairs, but he was even more gifted in judging people, their strengths and weaknesses. His charm, his poise, his calm and precise diction did not testify to his clear judgments. He was a smiling killer,” recalls a former employee of Lazard. Michel David-Weil is the king of the house, at the bank, and he divides his time between offices in Paris and offices in New York. He governs the mayors from the palace. In France for a long time there was a charismatic and influential Bruno Roger.

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

In the premises on Haussmann Boulevard, partners never close the door to their individual office. This is strange and contradictory, since prudence in this house is the main virtue, but this is required by the sponsorship system … In theory, partners have no secrets from each other. “Only Michel had the right to close the door to his huge office,” the friend continues. The managing partners know how to recognize “Michel’s” small steps as he roams the corridors. Always smiling, the boss brings small business to the bank, but behaves like a lord in his kingdom. He never raises his voice. But he is feared and feared, because it is he who decides on the distribution of the “percentage of the company” between partners, which determines their annual profit.

Although the company was founded in 1844, he will remain the one who managed to unite the three “houses” of the bank: British, French and American. Successful merger in 2000. Up to this point, the three companies have operated, at best, independently of each other, and at worst, in fierce competition.

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tragic death Eduard Stern and the flight of talent

Michel David-Weil managed to cope with many crises. The hardest will be what will be caused by the arrival as managing partner in 1992 of Edward Stern, the husband of his eldest daughter Beatrice. Many brilliant partners, including Jean-Marie Messier, left the bank thinking that Stern, with his violent and over-the-top temperament, would undoubtedly be Michel David-Weill’s designated successor.

However, the story does not end like this, and a few years later, Stern in turn leaves Lazar and then dies, murdered by his mistress in 2005. About his former son-in-law Michel David-Weill told Release in 2007: “The fact that Eduard died a violent death does not surprise me. He was extremely intelligent and seductive, but quite a destructive person. An inclination to risk was anchored in him, because of which he put himself in very great danger. »

Michel David-Weil does her best to let go and keep the best. Felix Rogatin, a close friend of Kennedy and a very influential person, leaves Lazar in the USA. Moreover, autumn will come from across the Atlantic… The American partners insist that Lazard be registered on the stock market, they want to destroy this sponsorship system, which locks up the entire capital of the bank. “This causes an incredible number of meetings, a quarrel between Paris and New York that lasts for months,” recalls a former employee of the house. Lazar 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 that “allows” him to remove him from the presidency… a shame anyway, isn’t it ? Michel signed his own death warrant without knowing it. In 2005, it’s all over, Michel David-Weil loses the bank that his grandfather and father ran before him. He takes refuge in Eurazeo, the historical investment holding company of the Lazard galaxy. Since then, the company has invested in and acquired stakes in many large global groups: Danone, Rexel, the Accor Group, Foncia, Europcar and even Eutelsat.

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Collector Ingres and Corot

Michel David-Weil embodies the image of an aesthete, cultured, old-fashioned billionaire. He distinguished himself by repeatedly supporting institutions. So, the Palace of Versailles, the Museum of Decorative Arts or the Louvre could count on the patronage of a businessman in the repair or purchase of new works. The one who said with a laugh that he was probably “the best living person in the world” has spent his life dealing with beautiful things. In Paris, he lives in a magnificent mansion 7e arrondissement, near Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a dream house with a garden of perfect grass, adorned with three large stands of boxwood. In his living room we find a painting by Ingres and a large pastoral scene signed by Corot. There is also an apartment in New York, very close to Central Park, a castle in Perigord, and finally a gem: an extraordinary property on Cape d’Antibes, called “villa in the wind”, with a magnificent saltwater pool.

In the summer, the David-Weill couple settles here, rich and influential people parade through the house. His daughter Cecile recounts this exceptional summer in a book. Applicants, published in 2010 by Grasset. In this world, everything is old-fashioned and not ostentatious luxury. She talks about the habits and customs of this wealthy elite meeting around breakfast to the singing of cicadas, about the shadowy army of servants and butlers organizing daily activities, about the orange linen tablecloths covered with white orchids, about the plates decorated by Cesar. with golden grooves depicting his fingerprints, the art of small talk, whose mantra is: “We should talk lightly about serious things, and serious things lightly. »

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