M&A boutiques go hunting for hires

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What do Simon Robertson, Joseph Perella, and Gerardo Braggiotti have in common? The answer, as anyone following the fortunes of venerable bankers will know, is that they've all branched out into the world of corporate finance boutiques.

According to recruiters, others are set to follow in their footsteps, and not just at senior levels. While Robertson, Perella and Braggiotti have set up boutiques of their own, and attracted the likes of Paolo Pereira, former head of European M&A at Morgan Stanley and Matteo Manfredi, Lazard's star Italian dealmaker, there's also a welter of opportunities for mid-ranking and junior bankers to join existing boutique operations.

Mid-market driving hiring

Why the flurry of hiring? The short answer is mergers and acquisition (M&A) deals. Last year, the value of worldwide announced M&A deals rose more than 30% according to data provider Thomson Financial. The mid-market, where boutiques are most active, shared in the expansion. Deals worth less than $500m rose more than 20% in 2005 according to Thomson, with Italy experiencing a rise of 30% or more.

Faster growth in the Italian mid-market may help explain why boutiques play a significant role in Italy. In the UK, for example, established boutiques such as Close Brothers, Gleacher Shacklock and Hawkpoint Partners, didn't make it onto Thompson Financial's league of the top 25 M&A advisors in 2005. By comparison, Vitale & Associati, Eidos Partners, and Pierce Fenner & Smith all featured in Italy. In the US, Joseph Perella's role in the $35bn Bank of America MBNA deal propelled him into 17th place, despite having worked at Morgan Stanley until April.

Purists to bank bonuses then head for boutiques

Recruiters are predicting further defections to boutiques after bonuses have been paid. With large investment banks encouraging top corporate financiers to sell the bank's other products alongside corporate finance advice, they say boutiques are seen as a refuge for bankers who want to focus on relationships alone.

"Bankers are being forced to peddle a whole array of products that they don't believe in," says Joe McCann, at New York search firm J.H. McCann & Company. "People are keen to move on to places where that's not an issue."

Alessandro Martinoni, a partner at Milan-based boutique Tamburi & Associati, says life in a boutique has its advantages. "We are a small boutique, but we work on large projects with clients of high standing," he says. "It's a different experience - we follow a pure relationship model and offer the opportunity to work on high profile deals."

France, Germany, Italy: Juniors and (very) seniors needed

Martinoni in Milan says the firm is looking to hire additional junior staff in the next few months. "We need to enlarge the analyst and execution team with young people who have one or two years' experience," he says.

Andreas Weik, head of financial services recruitment at Frankfurt-based Hoffman

Heads, says German boutiques are also eager to pick up talent. "German boutiques are looking for junior and senior staff," he says. "They need partners and people with less than four years' experience."

Sophie Wigniolle, a consultant at Parisian search firm Eric Salmon & Partners, reports a similar trend in Paris, where she says boutiques like Hawkpoint and Dome Close Brothers are hiring. "Boutiques are looking for intermediate people to execute deals and are interested in more senior people who can originate business." Earlier this month, Hawkpoint's former head of French M&A, Michel Payan, left for Société Générale Corporate & Investment Banking as global head of M&A.

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