Lazard: CEO tasked with breathing new life into storied franchise

For 175 years Lazard has endured various crises and challenges. Now it has a new leader, Peter Orszag, to help push it through an evolving competitive environment and tricky global economy.

Lazard is an advisory and asset-management firm, unencumbered by the balance sheet and proprietary trading arms of bulge-bracket rivals. It is global, unlike most independent firms. It has a US stock market listing, deep roots in France and the UK and now a serious presence in more than 20 countries.

There is no resting on laurels in high finance. Despite its illustrious history, Lazard’s déjeuner has increasingly been snatched by US-focused upstarts.

In 2022 Lazard’s advisory business generated $1.65bn, up from $1bn a decade earlier. Compound revenue growth of near 5 per cent a year does not look too shabby. But that pales in comparison to the sector’s high-flyer, Evercore. The firm, founded in the mid-1990s by Blackstone veteran Roger Altman, powered past Lazard in 2022 with $2.4bn of dealmaking revenues. It has proved more profitable, too, reflecting the operating leverage of a human capital business. Over the past 12 years, Lazard’s shares have trod water, while Evercore’s have nearly tripled.

Evercore’s trajectory can be traced to Altman’s strength of personality as well as his skill at selecting bankers. Orszag does not yet have a deep Wall Street pedigree. But he could attract bankers intrigued by his political star quality.

Lazard’s franchise has evolved over 175 years. By contrast, the fortunes of upstart boutiques such as Evercore, are often tied to their founders. This puts them at risk from generational change. Greenhill, which this week sold itself for a fraction of its stock market high years ago, provides a cautionary tale.

Orszag’s ability to influence the stock price may be limited by broader market forces out of his control. Still, some big early wins in recruitment, deal mandates or just fresh thinking about Lazard’s two businesses could get all its stakeholders excited again.

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