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Boutiques Push Beyond Traditional Limits

The big winners in today's mergers & acquisitions environment are the 30 or so regional and boutique investment banks who focus on middle-market advisory work and private investment. They've been growing rapidly, some of them "stretching the definition of boutique," in the words of Investment Dealers' Digest.

As the investment landscape changes, so is the way these firms are positioning themselves, IDD says. Where previously they positioned themselves as regional experts, today they are increasingly showcasing their industry knowledge.

As deal activity continues to grow for these firms, so does the number of the new positions available. Pay, which can be termed generous to sizeable, depends entirely on deal flow, as the sector is bonus driven.

However, getting your foot in the door can be a difficult, although having a top-notch resume and career track in a related field can help. Says Jonathan Gilbert, an associate with Marlin & Associates, a New York-based boutique investment banking firm: "Most of the people at boutique firms come from a traditional or larger investment bank, having worked as an analyst or in one of the associate training programs at a bulge bracket firm like Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch or Lehman Brothers." Many hires have previously worked in equity research.

Firms such as Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin in New York, Harris Williams in Richmond, Goldsmith Agio Helms in Minneapolis, LincolnInternational in Chicago, GulfStar Group in Houston, George Baum in Kansas City and Edgeview Partners in Charlotte, N.C., are benefiting not only from pricing and private equity pressures, but from their clients' attraction to being closely or privately held. Private companies save on compliance costs and avoid Wall Street's focus on short-term results.

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