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The turmoil of transition at Lazard

The secretive partnership of Lazard is not accustomed to public scrutiny, let alone attack from outside. But in early 2000, French entrepreneur Vincent Bolloré announced that he had acquired 31% of one company in the complex Lazard ownership chain. When Swiss bank UBS revealed that it too had acquired shares in other companies in the chain, Lazard chairman Michel David-Weill rushed to fortify the defences against the threat to his family bank's independence,which he cherishes above all else. In November 2000, David-Weill announced that Bolloré had gone away, having achieved what looked like a successful greenmail operation. But he is not the only threat to David-Weill's command. While battling his outside assailants in public, David-Weill has faced a less visible but more serious challenge from rebels inside the Lazard ranks. They have wrung significant concessions out of this last of the banking aristocrats. Now, if an independent Lazard is to thrive, it must stem the tide of departures and rebuild morale within.

When French entrepreneur Vincent Bolloré began buying shares in Rue Impériale de Lyon - one of the companies in the complex Lazard chain of ownership - in the early summer of 1999, the aristocratic chairman of Lazard, Michel David-Weill, invited the upstart investor to his grand villa at Cap d'Antibes on the Côte d'Azur.

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