Bruce Wasserstein ’70, a transformative figure in the history of investment banking and corporate finance, and one of the most generous supporters in the history of Harvard Law School, died Wednesday. He was 61.
Known as a consummate Wall Street deal-maker, Wasserstein was chairman and chief executive officer of Lazard. He also served as chairman of Wasserstein & Co., LP, a private company that owns the magazines The Daily Deal and New York Magazine.
“Bruce Wasserstein was one of our most brilliant and most influential graduates,” said Dean Martha Minow. “His impact on modern finance is immeasurable, and so is his impact on the Harvard Law School. The Wasserstein family became beloved members of the Harvard Law School family through their long engagement with the school and extraordinary generosity. Bruce had an unwavering belief in what an education here makes possible not only for those pursuing their own dreams, but also for those who use law to pursue justice. Bruce showed his devotion to the public interest by endowing a chair in that field in honor of his father and by supporting the Wasserstein Public Interest Fellows program, which honors outstanding public interest attorneys who in turn advise law students about public service careers. His most recent and magnificent gift has enabled Harvard Law School to launch our new building. We will miss him terribly.”
During the most recent fundraising campaign at Harvard Law School, the Wasserstein family made a gift of $25 million to support construction of Wasserstein Hall, the academic center now being built at the northwest corner of the Law School campus.
Wasserstein was also a member of the HLS Dean’s Advisory Board and served on the executive committee of the record-breaking Setting the Standard fundraising campaign. Over the years, he served on the gift committee of his 20th, 25th and 30th reunions, and was a member of the HLS visiting committee.
Wasserstein graduated from the University of Michigan at the age of 19 before attending Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. He graduated from Harvard Business School in 1971 and later studied at Cambridge University in England as a Knox Traveling Fellow, earning a graduate diploma in Comparative Legal Studies in Economic Regulation.
After graduation, Wasserstein began working at the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York. He quickly left law practice to join the mergers and acquisitions department at The First Boston Corporation. In 1988, he formed his own investment banking firm, Wasserstein Perella Group and served as its CEO until the company was sold to Dresdner Bank in 2001. He was named chairman at the newly formed Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein before he moved to Lazard in 2002.
Wasserstein is survived by his wife, Angela Chao AB ’95, MBA ’01, and six children, including: Pamela AB ’00, JD ’04, Ben AB ’03, and Alex AB ’07.
At the time he and his family made their gift to HLS for the construction of the new academic center, then-Dean Elena Kagan ‘86 said: “I am profoundly grateful to the Wasserstein family for their generosity and vision. This new gift will have a dramatic and long-lasting impact on the Law School, and particularly on the educational experience of our students. For generations to come, Wasserstein Hall will enable us to perform better our essential mission of training great thinkers and leaders.”