Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Being Bruce Wasserstein

Once again, I am sorry for any disappointment I may have caused my Faithful Readers for another extended absence, but I have been busy trying to persuade some Europeans and other unwashed furriners to use their ridiculously inflated currency to put a number of my US clients out of their undercapitalized misery. Attention K-mart shoppers, Blue Light Special in Aisle 3: Corporate America! Of course, being the upstanding patriot you know me to be, I refuse to accept payment of my fees in anything other than small-denomination pound notes, FOB the Isle of Man.

Anyway, in between moving assets frantically off shore, I dropped by The Deal's 2008 M&A Outlook conference in New Amsterdam today for a few giggles. A marquee list of the Great & Good—along with the usual admixture of shills and sponsors—trotted out the usual platitudes about the M&A market and its imminent climb to $50 trillion in volume any month now. A few people distinguished themselves by not making complete and utter fools of themselves, but it is against my policy to praise competitors in public, so I won't.

The highlight of the program for me was the triple billing of Bruce Wasserstein, Marty Lipton, and Leon Black, who did a creditable job of talking past each other in a very deferential and collegial manner. So polished was their family juggling act—Uncle Brucie, Grampa Martin, and precocious Little Leon—that they might want to consider the circus should credit armageddon or a Democratic Administration truly shut down the merger game for good.

For such a large bear of a man, Leon Black constantly surprises me when he opens his mouth to release a little, high-pitched voice more suited in my view to a prepubescent teen. That being said, there are plenty of squeaky voiced terrors out there with proven ability to kick my ass from here to Sunday—including Mike Tyson and David Beckham—so I never make fun of him to his face. Marty Lipton laid on the Grampa Munster act a bit thick, but knowing him he probably did it to keep the audience off balance for some devious ulterior motive of his own.

Bruce was another story. I don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I often scratch my head over the success and prominence of people at the pinnacle of my industry. I have met most of them, I have worked with and against them, and I usually can't see why they made it to the top of the slippery pole over dozens of other investment bankers with just as much apparent talent and ambition. Usually I just put it down to an over-developed Napoleon complex and leave it at that. I had not run across Bruce myself for several years, so I suppose I had slipped into thinking his ascent to his lofty, well-compensated perch was due primarily to a finely tuned talent for politics and some efficient knife work in a back alley.

But hearing him again in person reminded me of the impression he has made on me several times in the past. The man can talk. And by that, I do not mean the content of his speech, or the brilliance of his insights (which were middling). I mean his voice. For his voice is Bruce Wasserstein's true instrument, and he plays it like a master. It is persuasive, dynamic, melodious, and insinuating, with a noticeable throb and catch that cries out for his listeners to say, "Yes, yes! What that man is saying makes perfect sense. He is so ... reasonable." I always laughed when I heard him described as "Bid 'em up Bruce," but today I was reminded why he usually succeeded in advising his hardheaded clients to go for the gusto. They just curled up in a ball and purred, "Sure, Bruce, whatever you say. Just keep talking."

So with that in mind I offer up some free casting advice for Oliver Stone or whatever director decides to produce Bruce Wasserstein's life story: cast John Malkovich in the title role. The voice match is almost perfect—although Bruce actually has a lower register—and a little less hair and a little more tan would make Malkovich an almost perfect match in appearance. (Bruce has lost a lot of weight in the past six months or so.)

Besides, Malkovich the actor—whom I also admire—is in some deep, elemental way profoundly disturbing. Who better to play the Pied Piper of M&A?

© 2007 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.