The banker who famously helped to save New York City from bankruptcy recalls his career as a leading Wall Street dealmaker.
A self-described “capitalist with a liberal conscience,” 82-year-old Rohatyn (Bold Endeavors: How Our Government Built America, and Why It Must Rebuild Now, 2009, etc.) remains an advisor to the investment bank Lazard Frères, where founder Andre Meyer first hired him in 1948. Ultimately rising to managing director, Rohatyn spent more than 40 years with Lazard, participating in major mergers and acquisitions, including headline-makers like the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco, the RCA merger with GE and numerous acquisitions for ITT, whose chair, Harold Geneen, was his mentor. A staunch Democrat, he served as President Clinton’s Ambassador to France, the nation his Polish-Jewish family had fled 60 years earlier to escape the Nazis. In this well-written memoir, the author says dumb luck—certainly not his lackluster record as a Middlebury College physics major—led him to investment banking, about which he knew nothing. For many years, he writes, he acted naively, even stupidly on occasion, notably at a grueling 1972 Congressional hearing into ITT affairs, where he appeared without an attorney. He writes at length about his most rewarding success—resolving New York City’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s as chair of the New York Municipal Assistance Corp.—and provides some wonderful scenes: Rohatyn calling Attorney General John Mitchell nightly, to report on the state of Wall Street, only to listen to a drunken Martha Mitchell ranting about left-wing pinkos and Vietnam; Rohatyn roaming deserted Manhattan streets at 2 a.m. strategizing with Geneen; Rohatyn racing from Elaine’s with New York Gov. Carey to make a private phone call at a nearby bar, where a patron said, “ ‘You look like Hugh Carey,’ ” and the governor replied, “ ‘Are you kidding? What would the governor be doing in a dump like this?’ ” The author also offers tips for effective dealing: In a financial crisis, most data are probably wrong, but you must act, and you must rely on people who might very well have caused the problem.
Revealing memoir from a significant 20th-century business leader.