Grégoire Chertok’s favorite place may be the inside of a cinema, but nothing gets the Rothschild & Cie. partner’s blood rushing like a big takeover. Chertok, 48, just emerged from a bruising fight for SFR, the telecommunications unit of Paris-based media giant Vivendi. He represented Martin Bouygues, the billionaire chairman and CEO of Bouygues, in the construction and media conglomerate’s unsuccessful battle with French rival Numericable, which landed SFR for some €17 billion ($23.5 billion) early last month. But for Chertok, the occasional defeat is part of serving as trusted adviser to his long-standing clients. “I have always been more a traditional banker,” he says. “My interest is in being long-term-focused, which is why I’ve been with the same firm for the last 23 years.”
Bouygues is one of several top French executives who turn to Paris-based Chertok for counsel. He helped Publicis Groupe’s Maurice Lévy pull off a $17.3 billion merger with the advertising firm’s U.S. counterpart Omnicom Group last year; advised Jean-Charles Naouri, head of Groupe Casino, on the supermarket chain’s 2012 purchase of its Brazilian operation; and represented Gérard Mestrallet, chairman and CEO of power company GDF Suez, on the two-step, €25 billion acquisition of Britain’s International Power in 2010 and 2012.
“I like to know that I’m working for a family rather than at a large bank, which ultimately works for big pension funds,” says Chertok, who was named Rothschild’s youngest-ever partner in 2000 at age 33. “I feel part of a true partnership at Rothschild.”
The firm has taken its knocks lately, though. Rothschild ranked 11th in European mergers and acquisitions last year, according to Dealogic, advising on 176 deals worth a total of $98.6 billion, down from eighth place in 2012, when it worked on 226 transactions with a combined value of $178.8 billion.
Long before he became a banker, Chertok lived in the public eye: His late father was famous French psychiatrist and hypnotherapy pioneer Léon Chertok. He was keen to escape the shadow of the elder Chertok, a Jew of Russian origin who served in the French Resistance after fleeing Nazi persecution. “I chose banking because it was the profession which was apparently furthest away from that of my father,” jokes the Paris native, who has three children of his own.
In 1988, having earned a management degree with a major in finance from l’École supérieure des sciences économiques et commerciales (Essec), Chertok started work in leveraged finance at the Houston branch of Banque de Gestion Privée, a division of Drexel Burnham Lambert, where junk bond king Michael Milken plied his trade. He soon moved back to Paris to spend two years as an analyst in the M&A division but left when Crédit Agricole bought the firm. Chertok joined Rothschild in 1991 as an M&A analyst; at the time, Baron David de Rothschild was creating a new operation after the French government had nationalized the investment bank.
Chertok has been a cinephile since his childhood in 1970s Paris, when he spent Sunday afternoons at a theater that showed old silent movies by artists such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His favorite director is Quentin Tarantino, and he’s written extensively on the cinema: Last year he published a Vanity Fair critique of what he regards as Hollywood’s Wall Street stereotypes. As a first-term Île-de-France councillor, Chertok, who holds an MBA from Insead, helps oversee public policies that include film funding. “My work as a regional councillor enables me to give something back to my country, and the country that welcomed my father just before World War II,” he says.
Chertok will have even less free time for the movies now that France’s M&A market has perked up: Year-to-date as of mid-April, 308 French deals worth a collective $109 billion had been announced, versus $20 billion for the same period in 2013. He expects a busy year for Rothschild. “Since the crisis of 2008, Anglo-Saxon banks have reduced head count in France by around one quarter,” Chertok notes. “We have maintained our scale and presence with clients, which they have appreciated.” • •
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