Frank Pizzitola, a general partner at Lazard Freres & Co. who worked with such legendary figures as Andre Meyer, Michel David-Weill and Felix Rohatyn during a 21-year career at the investment bank, has died. He was 89.
He died on Dec. 17 at his home in Manhattan, according to his son, Stephen. The cause was heart failure.
“Frank was a good banker and a good friend, and we will all miss him,” Rohatyn said yesterday in an e-mail. Rohatyn, 84, is now special adviser to Kenneth Jacobs, chairman and chief executive officer of Lazard Ltd., as the company is now known.
A veteran of the chemical industry, Pizzitola was one of the “industrial men” brought into New York-based Lazard in the 1970s to carry out “the long-overdue metamorphosis inside the firm toward industry specialization,” William Cohan wrote in his 2007 book, “The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Freres & Co.” His focus was mergers and acquisitions, a field Lazard dominated in the 1960s and 1970s.
A graduate of Harvard Business School, Pizzitola joined Lazard in New York in 1973 after serving as president of Jim Walter Corp., a building-materials company in Tampa, Florida.
As a general partner from 1973 to 1994, Pizzitola helped guide Lazard in its sometimes-turbulent final decades as a closely held family partnership.
In 1976, during the brief rule of Donald Cook, who came to Lazard after serving as chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Pizzitola became Rohatyn’s deputy partner in charge of a reorganized corporate-finance department, according to Cohan.
Like other Lazard partners who had been ostensibly put in charge of investment banking, though, Pizzitola “understood the pointlessness of the role in a small firm so totally dominated” first by Meyer, then by Rohatyn, Cohan wrote.
Robert Agostinelli, a former Lazard senior director who co-founded New York-based private-equity firm Rhone Capital LLC, said in an e-mail today that Pizzitola was “a grand man” and “an iconic Lazard partner.”
“Frank was fond of saying that Lazard defined the essence of the grande banque d’affaires -- where a handful of focused and capable men could alter the course of major corporate affairs and cast a shadow far greater than their number,” Agostinelli recalled. “Without a doubt Frank was one of those handful.”
Even after becoming a limited partner in 1994, Pizzitola remained a regular at the Rockefeller Center offices of Lazard, the largest independent merger adviser.
“He was for a number of years sort of an eminence grise there,” his son said. “He could help younger partners and associates get in the door, to make the introduction to clients.”
He finally reduced his involvement after Bruce Wasserstein took Lazard public in 2005, the son said.
For authors writing about the unique culture that was Lazard, Pizzitola was a font of colorful anecdotes.
Cary Reich, in his 1998 biography of Meyer, quoted Pizzitola on the nervous energy of Lazard’s leader for three decades:
“One time I saw him pick up a phone, ask a guy a question, put the phone down, pick up the second phone and ask him if he had the answer yet.”
According to Reich’s book, Pizzitola also told of complaining once to Meyer about a “garbage” investment made by the firm and being told, “You are a garbage man. You are supposed to deal with garbage.”
Pizzitola said he replied, “I don’t mind garbage, Mr. Meyer, but the least you can do is open the bag and let me smell it. Don’t just hand me the bag.”
Cohan, in his book, quoted Pizzitola describing the system of remuneration in place under Meyer’s successor, Michel David-Weill: “This is not a partnership. It’s a sole proprietorship with fancy profit sharing.”
Frank Joseph Pizzitola was born on Aug. 21, 1923, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to Joseph F. Pizzitola and the former Veronica Moloney.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and graduated from Brown University in 1949 and Harvard Business School in 1951.
He worked for seed-maker Monsanto Co., in St. Louis, Mexico City and Sao Paulo before moving to New York in 1956 for a job with Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp. He then held management positions at drugmaker E.R. Squibb & Sons and chemical producer Celanese Corp. before joining Jim Walter Corp.
He spent 12 years as chairman of the cooperative board at 733 Park Avenue, where he lived for almost four decades.
He was married to the former Elizabeth Bailey for 61 years until her death in 2011. A son, Paul, died in 1984 at 25. Survivors include three children, Linda, Stephen and Gregory, and seven grandchildren.