Ward, 57, would be the highest-ranking Lazard executive to depart since Wasserstein died in October and Kenneth Jacobs, 51, succeeded him the following month. Ward has held talks with rival firms, including Evercore Partners Inc. and Perella Weinberg Partners LP, which was co-founded by his former boss Joseph Perella, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
Wasserstein, who began his deal-making career at First Boston Corp. and later started an investment banking boutique with Perella, brought many former colleagues with him when he took the helm at Lazard in 2002. While some of his recruits departed after the appointment of Jacobs, a 22-year Lazard veteran, the firm hasn’t suffered an exodus.
Judi Mackey, a Lazard spokeswoman, declined to comment and Ward didn’t return a phone call.
Donald Drapkin, chairman of Lazard’s investment committee, is among those originally enlisted by Wasserstein who left in recent months. Others include Douglas Taylor, who has advised media companies, and Perkins Hixon, a metals and mining banker.
Several senior Wasserstein recruits have signaled they expect to stay, said one Lazard employee who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the firm. They include Gary Parr, recently named to the Lazard board of directors, and Jeffrey Rosen, a deputy chairman.
In the period before Wasserstein’s arrival in 2002, a four- year succession struggle led more than a dozen top executives to leave the firm, including William Loomis, David Verey, Edouard Stern, and Steven Rattner.
“The firm is, as far as I can see, much more at peace with the world and focused on the business than I’ve seen in a long time,” Felix Rohatyn, Lazard’s former star dealmaker, said in January when he returned to the firm after a 13-year absence to advise Jacobs.
Ward was an investment banker under Wasserstein and Perella at First Boston from 1979 to 1988, then helped them form Wasserstein Perella & Co., the advisory boutique, where he was president. He later returned to First Boston, by then known as Credit Suisse First Boston, where he ran investment banking.
Dollar General, KKR
Ward left CSFB in 2002 to join Wasserstein at Lazard as president. He is also chairman of the firm’s asset-management operations, which accounted for $602 million, or 38 percent, of the firm’s net revenue in 2009.
Ward has continued to advise clients, helping Dollar General Corp. sell itself to KKR & Co. in 2007 and counseling International Paper Co. on the $6 billion acquisition of Weyerhaeuser Co.’s containerboard unit in 2008, according to Corporate Control Alert, an industry newsletter.
After leaving Wasserstein Perella and then working at Morgan Stanley, Perella co-founded Perella Weinberg with Peter Weinberg in 2006. A spokeswoman for Perella Weinberg declined to comment and a spokesman for Evercore couldn’t immediately be reached.
Ward’s total pay for 2009 was valued at $3 million, according to a proxy statement filed in March. His employment contract expires in March 2011. Michael Castellano, the chief financial officer since 2001, has announced plans to retire next year.