Wall Street Read of the Week: “Bruce Wasserstein’s Last Surprise”

read6 3 Wall Street Read of the Week: Bruce Wasserstein’s Last SurpriseThere is an old rule about not speaking ill of the dead, and Vanity Fair‘s very entertaining piece “Bruce Wasserstein’s Last Surprise” comes close to breaking it. William D. Cohan’s profile describes the late Lazard dealmaker as a man who saw himself as a Nietzschean Übermensch. “He believes he is that,” Mr. Cohan says, quoting a friend of Wasserstein’s. “And so, if you believe that, you’re not bound by common morality, and you’re just incredibly ambitious and impatient and not held back by that.”

The piece has some respectful flourishes, especially quotes from friends who adored him. But for the most part Wasserstein is pictured as a selfish, un-embarrassed and absent leader at Lazard. “Nine out of 10 things that came out of his mouth,” a former partner says, “were crazy, or unfounded, or reflected a lack of attention to his audience and what their issues were. One out of 10 was smart, scary smart.”

After his death, there were long pieces about Wasserstein in, among other places, The New Republic, Forbes, the magazine that gave him his hated “Bid ‘Em Up Bruce” nickname, and New York, which he owned. But this is the only one that wonders about where he is buried or, more interestingly, describes the odd public disclosures from Lazard about his deteriorating health.

Mr. Cohan not only questions Wasserstein’s role in the legacy-sealing $21.4 billion Kraft acquisition of Cadbury, but describes his un-varying meal routine (“hamburger for lunch, shrimp cocktail and steak for dinner”), and his history with women (typical line: “Claude Becker, a tall, dark-haired French beauty… who was said to have been heartbroken, declined to comment for this article”). It also explains how he “deprived the state and city of New York of some $75 million in capital-gains taxes.”

Interestingly, the opening of the piece has a true Wasserstein-like flourish: The very first paragraph subtly name drops the title of Mr. Cohan’s book on Lazard.