Last updated: November 18, 2009 2:03 am

Lazard names Kenneth Jacobs as Wasserstein successor

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Lazard picked veteran banker Kenneth Jacobs as its new chairman and successor to Bruce Wasserstein, whose unexpected death last month left a void atop the storied investment bank.

Mr Jacobs, that former head of Lazard’s North American business praised by colleagues and peers alike for his low-key leadership style, had been an early favourite to succeed Mr Wasserstein, the dealmaker who wrested control of the company earlier this decade and launched its initial public offering.

The new chief executive, who joined Lazard in 1988 and was named vice-chairman seven years ago, aims to stick with a strategy he helped Mr Wasserstein to execute. His credentials as a skilled merger adviser and as a lieutenant to Mr Wasserstein will help ease his transition to the top post, one senior Lazard banker said. “I can’t imagine there will be people whose noses are seriously out of joint,” the banker said.

Nevertheless, Mr Jacobs faces the challenge of replacing an icon during a period of unprecedented changes on Wall Street.

“Lazard has straddled itself between two business models – the large integrated investment bank, and the small, flexible boutique firm,” said Roy Smith, a former Goldman Sachs partner and a finance professor at New York University’s business school. “The real question for Wasserstein’s successor is whether to try to continue this delicate business strategy or to sell the firm.”

Mr Jacobs is up to the task, according to one his former supervisors. “He’s an extremely talented, capable banker, a smart guy and a good strategic and long-term thinker,” said Steven Rattner, a Lazard partner before co-founding the Quadrangle Group.

Mr Jacobs was chosen unanimously by Lazard’s board.

Steven Golub has been interim chief executive at Lazard since Mr Wasserstein’s death. Mr Golub will continue as Lazard’s vice-chairman and head of its financial advisory group.

Lazard also announced on Tuesday that Ashish Bhutani, head of its asset management division, would join the board of directors along with Gary Parr, a deputy chairman.

The bank said Stephen Heyer, who has been on the board since 2005, would become “lead director”, which is a new position. Antonio Weiss was named global head of investment banking.

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