If Wasserstein could turn back Time (Warner)…

October 30, 2008

Bruce Wasserstein, chief executive of private equity firm Lazard, joined Blackstone co-founder Steve Schwarzman at a breakfast sponsored by Fortune magazine this morning to share their collective wisdom regarding the financial crisis. (For more on the breakfast, see our DealZone blog).

At the end of the Q&A session, he got one of those out-of-the-blue questions from editor and moderator Andy Serwer: If he could do it all over again, would he still have hooked up with Carl Icahn on the activist investor’s quest to shake up Time Warner Inc?

It sounded like he would. He told guests at the breakfast that he was proud of the report that he and Icahn prepared about the state of the media conglomerate, which contained a bunch of recommendations for how it could improve — including mounting a bigger push into the digital age.

Then there was the money. “Both Carl and we did well financially from this.” And the investors? “Our view was to be helpful to the shareholders of Time Warner.” (Icahn’s strategy to break up the company failed, but he did reach an agreement in early 2006 with former Chief Executive Richard Parsons to add independent directors to the board and to get the company to buy back more stock)

One problem: It was a pain to convince a company seemingly stuck to its accustomed ways, Wasserstein said: “You face such entrenched points of view that it’s difficult to be successful unless you have really long-term resolve.”

So, would he do it all over again? “Probably not is the honest answer.”

I asked him afterward what made him decide that. Explaining their plans was the hard part, he said. I said, “to whom? The company? Or reporters? People like me?”

“Yes,” he replied.

Hopefully it was worth the effort — financially speaking.

(Photo: Reuters)

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