Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Last Tycoons (2007)

Consider this just a book notice, not a proper review.

The Last Tycoons is an unauthorized history of Lazard Freres & Co., the international banking consultancy that lasted as a privately-held concern for more than 150 years, until finally it was taken public in 2005, transforming itself into Lazard LLC.

The passing of the old ways represented by the public offering inspired this book, by William D. Cohan.

Lazard Freres dates to the 1840s, when brothers (unsurprisingly) named Lazard opened a dry goods store together in New Orleans. Soon thereafter, the discovery of gold in Califdornia lured the brothers out west, and they became engaged in the export of the bullion. From there the gradual move into banking services was natural.

Lazard was involved in many of the highest-profile deals, and public controversies, of the second half of the 20th century. The purchase of The Hartford insurance company by ITT in the early 1970s falls under both of those headings.

Cohan's interest is the period of 35 years roughly beginning with the whole ITT/Dita-Beard controversy, and extending until the IPO of 2005.

I learned a good deal from Cohan about Wall Street during that period, and was struck by new perspectives even on matters I had known.

Perhaps I'll have something more to say about the materials here, and its relevance to the headlines of recent days, when we meet again this coming Sunday.

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