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Matthieu Pigasse to leave Lazard to start own venture

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Via Financial Times

Matthieu Pigasse, the longstanding head of France for Lazard and co-owner of Le Monde newspaper, has resigned from the financial advisory and asset management company.

Rumours had swirled for weeks that Mr Pigasse would join a rival boutique firm looking to start a Paris office. However, he said he would be starting his own venture.

“Lazard in France has an unsurpassed franchise, with strong momentum. I am excited to begin my next chapter beyond investment banking in a new entrepreneurial project.” Mr Pigasse said.

Mr Pigasse, 51, is a punk rock aficionado and self-styled enfant terrible of France’s close-knit financial world. He has advised some of the country’s largest companies, including Carrefour, Sanofi, L’Oréal and Danone, and carved out a reputation advising on sovereign debt restructuring for Iraq, Ecuador, Argentina, Cyprus and Greece.

The departure of Mr Pigasse, perhaps Lazard’s best-known rainmaker, is a blow to the elite M&A advice firm whose fortunes have sagged this year as the deal market has slowed and competition has ramped up from upstart boutiques.

He was elevated in May to global head of banking and deputy chief executive of Lazard’s global financial advisory unit. The firm has seen several leadership changes this year. Peter Orszag, the former Obama cabinet official, was named earlier this year as new CEO of Lazard’s financial advisory group, a step that appeared to indicate that he was being groomed to replace longtime chief executive and chairman Ken Jacobs.

“I admire and respect Matthieu Pigasse for all he has done for our clients and our global franchise,” said Mr Jacobs in a statement.

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Mr Pigasse’s resignation follows weeks of speculation that he was departing to start the France office for another boutique bank, either Evercore or Centerview Partners. However, Mr Pigasse said he was starting a new venture outside of investment banking.

Bankers in the Lazard Paris office, while concerned about the loss of Pigasse’s deep client book, expressed relief that the uncertainty hanging over them had been ended. Senior bankers in Paris were summoned to the office for a meeting on Sunday night.

Paris, with 135 bankers, has long been Lazard’s strongest office in Europe. The firm in September appointed a veteran of its London office, Cyrus Kapadia, as the new head of its UK unit replacing William Rucker who became chairman.

A handful of more junior Lazard bankers recently left the Paris office and Mr Pigasse’s departure is certain to embolden rivals to challenge the market position of the firm whose operations in France trace back to the 19th century.

Mr Pigasse studied at France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the country’s training ground for the political elite, and then had a stint in politics serving two finance ministers. He was cabinet adviser to Dominique Strauss-Kahn between 1998 and 1999 and chief of staff to Laurent Fabius between 2000 and 2002.

Mr Pigasse once harboured ambitions to be president of France, Alain Minc, an adviser, told Vanity Fair in a 2018 profile. Instead that path was taken by another of Mr Minc’s protégés: Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker at Lazard’s arch rival Rothschild.

Mr Pigasse moved into business in 2002 when Mr Fabius’s Socialist government lost the election, and aged 32 became the youngest-ever partner at Lazard.

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He has been an active investor in the media sector. Alongside telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel and the late French businessman Pierre Bergé, he helped rescue the Le Monde group, which own’s France’s left-leaning daily newspaper and was on the verge of bankruptcy.

A year ago Mr Pigasse sent shockwaves through the French establishment and fell out with his business partner Mr Niel when he unexpectedly announced that he had sold part of his stake in Le Monde to Czech energy billionaire Daniel Kretinsky. This sparked concern among the newspaper’s journalists, staff, readers and founders that Le Monde’s editorial independence would be compromised.

Last month Le Monde announced that Mr Niel and Mr Pigasse had signed a deal that gave the group the right to refuse any new controlling shareholder of Le Monde.

Additional reporting by Arash Massoudi in London

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