Scene Last Night: Rohatyn, Whitehead, Martin Lipton

Felix Rohatyn sat near a display case showing a gold Monopoly set last night at the Museum of American Finance, greeting admirers.

There was Vernon Jordan, a senior managing director at Lazard Freres & Co., and Martin Lipton, a founding partner of Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz.

A special adviser to Kenneth Jacobs, Lazard’s chairman and chief executive, the 83-year-old Rohatyn was there to accept the museum’s John C. Whitehead Award for Distinguished Public Service and Financial Leadership.

“I’ve worked with Felix for 40 years, starting when I was special counsel to the city of New York, working with the Municipal Assistance Corporation,” Lipton said. As MAC chairman, Rohatyn helped pull New York out of a financial crisis in the 1970s.

“Felix has been my friend and competitor for more than 60 years,” said John Whitehead, former chairman of Goldman, Sachs & Co. “He’s a super rainmaker who has worked on more deals than I like to remember.”

Alan Patricof, managing director and founder of Greycroft Partners LLC, was caught up in a wave of nostalgia.

“I remember when this was a bank,” he said of the museum, which is at 48 Wall Street in a 1928 building that once housed the Bank of New York. “I worked at 2 Wall Street and 63 Wall Street. Felix, where was your office?”

“44 Wall Street,” Rohatyn answered, Cipriani bellini in hand.

That was Lazard’s address, where Rohatyn began his career in 1948.

“I’d start my day taking the elevated subway downtown, for a nickel, looking into people’s windows,” Rohatyn said.

He spent 49 years at the firm, leaving in 1997 to serve as U.S. ambassador to France.

‘A Different World’

“I knew extraordinary characters,” Rohatyn said, mentioning Gus Levy, who led the New York Stock Exchange. “It was really a different world. Today, I find it very risky, it’s very complicated. The resolutions are never clear.”

It is the complexity of today’s markets that makes the museum “more important than ever,” said board member Andrea de Cholnoky, who recruits financial executives for Korn/Ferry International.

A current exhibition, “Checks & Balances,” explores how U.S. presidents have handled financial challenges.

“We’re pro-finance,” said the museum’s president and CEO, David Cowen, who boasted that last year the number of individual visitors increased 44 percent, to more than 18,000.

As for what is going on in the workaday world of his industry, Rohatyn expressed concern. “What frightens me is the reaction to capitalism is getting very difficult,” he said. “If we were to head into a recession, the world would not be kind to us, because we have not been kind to the world.”

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

(Corrects quotation in fourth paragraph of story first published on Jan. 10.)
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.