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Paris Has Room For Only One Banker-President

Lionel Laurent

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Matthieu Pigasse was the face of Lazard Ltd. in Paris – you couldn’t think of one without the other. In hindsight, maybe that was the problem. After a career spent mixing his day job in finance with very public media investments and political aspirations, the glare of the spotlight was starting to burn. And with younger rival Emmanuel Macron carrying off the ultimate prize of the French presidency, there’s a good chance the clubby world of the Parisian elite had room for only one banker-politician.On the face of it, this is Pigasse’s decision: He’s striking an upbeat note as he leaves Lazard after more than 15 years, telling staff he wants to pursue a new challenge. But this story feels like more than a big-name advisor deciding that he’s worth more on his own, or that it might be fun to take an entrepreneurial risk. Media reports have pointed to in-fighting between Pigasse and Peter Orszag(1), who recently joined as overall head of advisory after his own glitzy career in politics and banking. With rival boutiques smelling blood and poaching Lazard advisors, some kind of showdown became inevitable.That Pigasse is the one leaving says much about where his star is currently placed in the firmament of the French elite. Around seven years ago, he was at the peak of his powers as a key mover in left-wing circles under Socialist President Francois Hollande and a media mogul with a stake in newspaper Le Monde, all while Lazard held the No. 1 spot in the Bloomberg league tables for French deal-making. Things have changed since then: Emmanuel Macron has blown up the French Left, Le Monde is struggling and last year Lazard was No. 3 in France, behind key rival Rothschild & Co.While it would be wrong to conclude the 51-year-old Pigasse had become detrimental to Lazard’s business – this is still a storied brand with a Top-10 market share in European mergers – the media influence he sought had clearly become more liability than asset. The news earlier this year that Pigasse had sold just under half his stake in Le Monde to Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, as well as reports (denied by Pigasse) that the whole stake was up for sale, raised internal hackles at the newspaper and led to critical coverage of his media investments.The fact that his media-mogul aspirations seemed so tied to his political ambitions probably didn’t help, given the change in political winds in France. Pigasse has been compared to Macron for years: Both hail from the same civil-service academy, both have similar political leanings and both used finance as a route into the establishment. That’s where the similarities end, though. Former Rothschild banker Macron succeeded where Pigasse failed, eclipsing him within the Socialist corridors of power and even beating him at what was most likely his own discreet goal of reaching the Elysee Palace one day.There may have been some spillover effects inside Lazard. Pigasse became the face of the enterprise, and maybe that stopped him cultivating a broad entourage of top bankers who might claim his place. Maybe that also made him hard to control from New York, where Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Jacobs eyed a more centralized structure. Pigasse clearly didn’t fit under Lazard’s roof anymore; but especially so in a town where there’s room for only one banker-president.

(1) Orszag is also a Bloomberg Opinion columnist.

To contact the author of this story: Lionel Laurent at llaurent2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at mpozsgay@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Brussels. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.

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