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On the Death of Bruce Wasserstein

In the annals of lawyers who went on to bigger and better careers, Bruce Wasserstein, who died yesterday at the age of 61, reigns supreme. The Harvard Law School graduate and onetime lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore became one of Wall Street's best-known and most successful investment bankers and was chairman and chief executive officer of Lazard Ltd.

"He made more from investment banking than any man on the planet," William Cohan, author of the 2007 book The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Freres & Co., told Bloomberg News. Forbes magazine put his net worth at $2.3 billion and ranked him 190th on its list of the world's 400 richest people.

At ALM, the legal and business media company that is the publisher of this blog, Wasserstein is remembered as its former owner. In 1997, he paid $63 million for The American Lawyer and $200 million for National Law Publishing Co. He later sold the company he formed from those acquisitions to U.K.-based Incisive Media for $630 million.

Although I worked at ALM during the time it was owned by Wasserstein and met him once at a publishers' meeting, I have no great insight to share about him. That is not the case with ALM CEO Bill Pollak, who writes on his blog today that he will most remember Wasserstein for his mantra, "More, bigger, faster."

He didn't believe in marketing research, other than phoning up some friends to ask what they thought of an idea. He believed in being bold and moving quickly. No matter what we presented, Bruce wanted us to do in a week what we thought might take a few months. And, always, he wanted us to think bigger.

Wasserstein also owned New York magazine, where he was remembered as someone who "had a journalist's curiosity and took pleasure in the provocative." Indeed, before going to law school, he considered a career in journalism. As an undergrad at the University of Michigan, he was executive editor of the student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, where he was remembered by his one-time editor in chief as "a very hard-headed, careful reporter with an eye for personal details" and as someone who was "very good at strategizing, scoping things out."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 15, 2009 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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