The Last Tycoons by William D. Cohan • financial advisory • asset management • company story • Lazard

Book cover of The Last Tycoons by William D. Cohan - Lazard

The Last Tycoons, won the Business Book of the Year by Goldman Sachs in 2007. The book tells a story of Lazard, a financial advisory and asset management firm. It is especially the history of the incredible people who worked there, at an obscure French investment bank, once so mysterious and so poorly understood until 1995 when the three Lazard Freres partnerships have banded together in order to form a new partnership, Lazard Capital Markets, to improve their financing and trading activities in Europe and in emerging markets.

This is really an incredible story of ego, of aggression and ambition as people in charge of the company who, frankly speaking, were unelected to anything, put themselves at the centre of three very interesting worlds – the world of finance, the world of government and the world of the media. To reach the success they, basically speaking, had to master each of these worlds.

Lazard is a hundred and seventy-year-old company based in Paris, London and in New York. It is known as an aristocratic and secretive business that serves financial advice to corporations, governments and the ultra-wealthy.

The book is written by William Cohan a former a mergers and acquisitions banker who worked at the company for several years. He is also a former journalist and has skill and qualifications to tell this story. He knows all the gossip about, at least, the last hundred years and tells the story about the frightening struggle between the aristocratic French family that used to own the company and the Wall Street investors that, first, took control over the better parts of Lazard, then took it public and kicked off the aristocrats. The author focuses on the Lazard’s leaders and shows their personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

Anyway, three Lazard brothers left France in the 1840s and reached New Orleans where shortly they made a fortune on trading gold, silver and currency. Eventually, they established themselves as transatlantic bankers for the European elite. Nevertheless, by the 1930s and 40s, the principles in the firm had to flee from Nazi Germany and settled in New York. It took them around 20 years, until the 60s and 70s to become established as one of the Wall Street’s most powerful advisory companies specialising in corporate mergers and acquisitions. 

They had a major role in building up AT&T is an early American conglomerate. The book is full of some great stories about political influence and astronomical fees collected by the 1970s. This story is full of dubious deals that Lazard did under years over years. For instance, there in one case they had to pay a hundred million dollars in fines to settle a municipal bond kickback scandal. There are juicy details about the conspicuous consumption, the betrayals amongst employees and clients, the vanity, the fancy mansions, the private art collections and so on. The whole story resembles the Enron breaking news combined all together. but done in a much more inconspicuous way.

So, if you are interested in the inner workings of Wall Street, how the aristocrats were snookered from the company, You’d like to know a bit more about the art of making big deals (IPOs, mergers) the book might be worth your time.

The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.
by William D. Cohan

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

Book details:

Size: 752 pages
Published: 2007


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
Cohan’s website:
William D. Cohan on Wikipedia:
Lazard’s homepage:
Other book telling story about banks: The Spider Network by David Enrich

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