Bruce Wasserstein, the investment banker and CEO of Lazard who died Wednesday at 61, is being remembered in the business press as one of the pre-eminent deal makers of this era. As a player and adviser in dozens of transactions, including the iconic RJR-Nabisco deal, he earned the moniker "Bid 'Em Up Bruce." After running his own firm for years, Wasserstein became involved with—and ultimately took control of—the storied investment bank Lazard. Wasserstein occupied a unique place in the financial and money culture. But he was also the rare Wall Street figure who understood journalists.
Writers, editors, authors, and media types often find themselves on the same panels or in the same restaurants as Wall Street titans, but they live in different worlds. There's a huge differential in power, status, quality of suits, and, above all, wealth. Most billionaires and writers share little in common—from their educational backgrounds (MBAs vs. MFAs), to their places of residence (Upper East Side vs. Brooklyn), to their attitudes toward life (earnest, practical get-at-it, Type A's vs. professional ironists). While they may occasionally feign interest, most of the people who make financial news aren't really curious about the schlumps in the media trade.
But there have always been a few investment bankers who want to be regarded as having done something more than made money, and an even smaller number who want to be intellectuals. Many of those have been associated with Lazard. Felix Rohatyn, the former éminence grise at Lazard, has written frequently in the New York Review of Books. Steve Rattner, the former New York Times reporter turned dealmaker and Democratic adviser, cut his teeth at Lazard. Pete Peterson, co-founder of the Blackstone Group, has written a half-dozen books. Real estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman has spent a chunk of his fortune running the Daily News and U.S. News & World Report.