Bruce Wasserstein, who died Oct. 14 at 61, was one of the giants of modern investment banking. Beginning in the early 1980s, Wasserstein's dealmaking acumen turned mergers and acquisitions, then a rarity, into a powerful tool of corporate strategy.
He was an unlikely combination: an intellectual Wall Streeter. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Wasserstein enrolled at Harvard Law School at 19 and worked with Ralph Nader's "Raiders" before becoming a corporate lawyer. But it was as a banker--at First Boston, then at the boutique firm he founded, Wasserstein Perella, and finally as CEO of Lazard--that he made his mark. Wasserstein presided over the rise of the "Big Deal" (the title of a book he published in 1997), dreamed up takeover tactics like the Pac-Man defense and was sought by CEOs for his creative ideas on offense and defense alike.
Rumpled and round, he was intensely cerebral, with a deeply speculative mind that focused on more than just business. He was involved in liberal politics, employing both Vernon Jordan and, for several years, Rahm Emanuel. And he loved the media. The brother of deceased playwright Wendy Wasserstein, he edited his college newspaper as a teenager, interned at Forbes magazine and, over the past decade, assembled and sold American Lawyer Media, founded The Deal and acquired New York magazine.
Wasserstein played to win--but there was also a playful aspect to his sometimes gnomic quality of thought. His signature piece was a "Dare to Be Great" speech, which he would roll out to stiffen the spines of executives and colleagues for the inevitable triumph ahead.
Teitelman is editor in chief of The Deal, which is owned by Wasserstein & Co.