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Lazard's Michel David-Weill: The autocratic aristocrat who divides to rule

External and internal pressures are making Lazard chairman Michel David-Weill's position precarious. But he will leave only with the greatest reluctance.

Michel David-Weill once told a friend that he had made a study of when families run places too long. He had concluded that "if he stayed on too long it would destroy the firm and if he got out too soon it would destroy him". Recent events and criticism in France and the US may have moved up a tooth that ratchet of destruction and self-preservation, but there is no sign that David-Weill is ready to leave his patrimony to others. His father and his grandfather ran the business before him, and he will leave only with the greatest reluctance. Two factors, though, are making his position precarious. The first is the personal strain of running a bank that has experienced many internal pressures on individual relationships. The second is fending off external pressures from large institutions, which are chipping away at its market, and would swallow it up the moment it showed the slightest inclination.

The recent disclosure that Lazard insider Antoine Bernheim supported and advised a raid by French entrepreneur Vincent Bolloré on shares in companies that form part of the complicated Lazard ownership chain was the most tangible evidence so far that David-Weill's network of family friends and colleagues was irrevocably imperilled.

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