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Lower Wattage Star Power at Lazard?

The board of investment bank Lazard Freres yesterday ended weeks of speculation and gossip about who would replace the firm’s late CEO Bruce Wasserstein. The legendary and frequently controversial deal maker died suddenly last month at the age of 61. (The last, good long profile of Wasserstein appeared in the late semi-lamented Portfolio magazine. It is online here )To replace him, Lazard picked Kenneth Jacobs, 51, currently head of North American operations and a twenty two year veteran of the firm.

While Wasserstein was an A-list New York financial celebrity, a man who “came with his own lights” as they say, Jacobs is not well-known beyond Wall Street (where he is well-regarded) and has previously given few interviews. Lazard’s stock rose modestly on news of his appointment.

In comments made to reporters after his appointment, Jacobs indicated he has no radical plans for the firm, intending to stick to its basic model of relying on income from giving M&A and bankruptcy advice (as well as asset management).

Observers credit him with expanding Lazard’s midmarket deal work and opening new offices in Boston and Washington. He has advised on a number of big deals including GlaxoSmithKline acquistion of Stiefel Laboratories and Rohm &Haas’ sale to Dow Chemical.

One thing Jacobs ascent may signal is a change in tone. In the past Lazard has been known for infighting at the top. The choice of a low-key, veteran insider may signal an intention to put that to rest permanently. (Although its worth noting that Jacobs got the top job over a number of other Lazard insiders who were considered more likely choices, including Gary Parr, a prominent financial services industry expert).

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