Welch’s Juice Man: How Brash Barbarian Banker Geoffrey Boisi Thrills Neutron Jack

Jack Welch has an investment banker of choice, and his name is Geoffrey T. Boisi. It is not a fact you would tend to know, nor would the discrete Mr. Boisi ever say as much. But when the General Electric Company chairman recapped the details of his audacious winning bid for Honeywell International Inc. at a press conference held at NBC studios on Oct. 23, he referred to Mr. Boisi as the “star of our team,” raising a few eyebrows.

As a rule, Mr. Welch has a fairly low tolerance for the Wall Street set. He figures that he, along with his in-house mergers and acquisitions team, is more than capable of getting deals done. But the $45 billion Honeywell deal would be Mr. Welch’s biggest deal ever, not to mention the fact that it would be pulled together in just a matter of days. This time, he would need no ordinary imprimatur. So he called on Mr. Boisi.

For the veteran mergers and acquisitions banker, it was the culmination of a whirlwind six months. In May, his boutique advisory firm, the Beacon Group, was bought by the Chase Manhattan Corporation. He was then named to head the bank’s investment-banking division, reporting to chairman and chief executive William Harrison, and in the process displacing the notorious Jimmy Lee -Chase’s brash, suspender-clad (for the 53-year-old Mr. Boisi, think Brooks Brothers and belts) master of the syndicated loan markets.

Shortly thereafter, Chase and J.P. Morgan and Company Inc. announced a merger-a deal arranged and put together by Mr. Boisi. That added J.P. Morgan’s investment-banking business to Mr. Boisi’s expanding portfolio. His new title: co-head of J.P. Morgan investment banking.

Favored bankers with new, challenging jobs are a dime a dozen on Wall Street these days. Few, however, have had a career arc like Mr. Boisi’s. He started at Goldman Sachs in the sleepy 70’s, peaked in the debauched frenzy of the takeover-obsessed 80’s and then fell off the radar screen for most of the 90’s.

But now, with the Street’s mania for mergers as fervid as ever, the deal-maker’s deal-maker is back in play. Mr. Boisi is the David Boies (the high-riding Microsoft and Napster attorney) of Wall Street.

When Mr. Boisi joined Goldman Sachs’ M.&A. department in 1971, there were virtually no deals to be done. His deal-making credentials, however, were sterling: His father, James O. Boisi, is a former Morgan Guaranty vice chairman, as well as a former adviser to real estate magnate Harry Helmsley. By 1978, he had made partner-at a precocious 31 years old-and in 1980, when he was named the head of Goldman’s M.&A. division, he was ready to hit his stride.

And, indeed, he did just that in 1983 when Goldman Sachs advised on the sale of Getty Oil. Books have been written about the famous bidding war between Pennzoil Company and Texaco Inc. over who would buy Getty. But for Mr. Boisi, his defining moment as an ice-in-the-veins investment banker may well have come when he stood up to an enraged Laurence Tisch-then a member of the Getty Oil board-at a 24-hour board meeting held to determine the price at which Getty would be sold. Mr. Boisi thought that Pennzoil’s offer of $110 per share was too low. The board and Mr. Tisch disagreed. Their inclination, recalled someone involved in the talks, was to take the easy money and run.

According to an observer, Mr. Tisch, a Wall Street titan, took the young Mr. Boisi aside and said in no uncertain terms: “Look, this is a damned good offer.” Mr. Boisi calmly responded: “I don’t think so.” Red-faced, Mr. Tisch asked: “Who are you to take such a risk? Let me tell you something: If you are wrong on this, you are dead.” (Mr. Tisch told The Observer he remembers no such exchange taking place. Mr. Boisi declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Mr. Boisi, it turned out, was right; he solicited a higher offer from Texaco, getting $125 a share. And while the end result was an epic law suit that ended with Texaco’s payment of $3 billion to Pennzoil, Mr. Boisi had earned his spurs.

“Geoff was at his best then,” remembered the participant in the talks who witnessed the scene. “He didn’t raise his voice, he didn’t curse; he just stood up to Tisch in his ice-cold way. He was able to separate his emotions from the task at hand.”

Throughout the 80’s, Mr. Boisi’s imprint was to be found wherever a big deal went down. In 1984, he advised the Continental Group Inc. in its $2.75 billion takeover by Peter Kiewit Sons Inc. and financier David Murdock. In 1985, he was there for General Foods Corporation in its $5.75 billion takeover by Philip Morris Companies. In 1988, together with his client, leveraged-buyout maven Ted Forstmann, he became a key player in the epic fight over RJR Nabisco Holdings.

That earned him a place among the rapacious characters in Barbarians at the Gate , though not a spot in the HBO film. (His best line in Bryan Burrough and John Helyar’s book: In a heated discussion with Shearson Lehman Hutton chief executive Peter Cohen over a confidentiality agreement, he said: “Let me understand you, Peter, you’re saying my word isn’t good enough?”)

By 1989, Mr. Boisi presided over an M.&A. department at Goldman Sachs that was reaping $350 million in revenues. By then, his star was firmly hitched to Stephen Friedman, who had started Goldman’s M.&A. department in the mid-60’s-the first Wall Street house to establish such a unit. In 1990, when Mr. Friedman and Robert Rubin were named co-chairs of the firm, it was widely expected that Mr. Boisi-then head of overall investment banking at Goldman-was to be the heir apparent.

In the career of every hotshot banker, there comes a time to make a bid for power. While not as publicly self-promoting or seemingly ruthless as a Bruce Wasserstein or a Henry Kravis, Mr. Boisi has never held back when it came time to advance his own interests. Close observers of Goldman Sachs say that Mr. Boisi made it clear to Messrs. Rubin and Friedman that he wanted to be designated their successor-just as they had been so designated in 1987 by then–Goldman chairman John Weinberg.

But it was a power play made too soon- and surprisingly for such a master of the back-room deal, one made with a bit of a tin ear. When Mr. Weinberg dubbed Mr. Friedman and Mr. Rubin as his successors, he had been running Goldman Sachs for a decade and was approaching the end of his career. Mr. Rubin and Mr. Friedman were younger, more ambitious and more wary. Why should they appoint a successor just one year into their run as co-chairs at Goldman-especially one with the heft and history of a Geoffrey T. Boisi?

“Geoff thought a lot about administrative issues, but there was not a lot of strategic brilliance there,” says one ex-colleague.

So Mr. Boisi, like ex–Morgan Stanley and Company acquisitions whiz Eric Gleacher (Gleacher & Company) did before him, and as Smith Barney Inc. chairman Robert Greenhill (Greenhill & Company) did after him, started up his own M.&A. boutique.

The spin was soft and gooey: Mr. Boisi wanted to spend more time with his family. He wanted to become more involved with his mentoring work. He was burned out-too many 18 hour days, too much travel.

Certainly, Mr. Boisi had a lot to keep him busy. Married for 31 years, he lives in Locust Valley on Long Island and has four children, including a son who is now a junior (and track star) at Yale. And, like many successful bankers, Mr. Boisi has other considerable and varied affiliations. But you will not find him on the board of the Met, MoMA, Lincoln Center or the New York Public Library-or, for that matter, pictured in the society pages with an underfed wife. Instead, he has aligned himself with Boston College (where there is a Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life), the Papal Foundation (where he is a trustee) and the Knights of Malta. He has also, as promised, become more involved with the National Mentoring Partnership, which he chairs.

Those who worked with Mr. Boisi at Goldman Sachs remember him as operating on a higher moral plane than one would expect from your everyday Wall Street shark.

“Some people thought of him as a bit pious,” says one ex-Goldman banker. “But it was real. You always had the sense that he cared about your spiritual side, that he might even be praying for you. That’s not usual for an investment banker.”

Poised for Takeoff

For most of the 90’s, the Beacon Group (not Boisi & Company, as one might expect) wallowed away in understated obscurity. The boutique’s focus-energy and natural resources-was very much out of vogue in a tech-driven market. But there was always a sense that Mr. Boisi craved one last shot at running a big-league investment bank, even if it couldn’t be Goldman. So he created a firm modeled on the big leagues, complete with a Goldman-esque tint: Many of its key employees came from Goldman and the offices were decorated dead-on in true Goldman style, replete with the same Oriental art and heavy wood paneling.

In 1999, with the big banks on both sides of the Atlantic looking to upgrade their investment-banking businesses, Mr. Boisi’s Beacon Group came into focus. Extensive negotiations with Schroders of the U.K. were embarked upon in 1999, only to collapse as news of the talks leaked.

Then came Chase last May. The $450 million it reportedly paid was a steep fee for 14 partners and another 100 in staff. But Chase was paying for Mr. Boisi and the boardroom entree that Chase chairman William Harrison felt sure he would provide.

And while the Welch deal would seem to represent an immediate dividend for Chase on its investment, others point out that, with J.P. Morgan chairman and chief executive Douglas Warner on the General Electric board, the selection of Mr. Boisi should not have come as a surprise.

“Without Warner on the board, the deal would not have happened [for Boisi],” said one rival banker.

Perhaps, perhaps not. But this much is true: Mr. Boisi is back in the hot seat-which is where he seems to like it.