Cable-Centric Banks Hiring

3/29/2009 2:26 AM Eastern

Boutique investment banks, benefitting somewhat from the recent turmoil on Wall Street, are beginning to attract employees from major investment houses and are looking for more.

Firms such as Waller Capital, RBC Daniels, Greenhill & Co. and the Blackstone Group have been snapping up former Wall Streeters by the handful, according to banking-industry executives.

While those hires are just a tiny fraction of the layoffs at some of the big investment banks, it is allowing some of the smaller banks to tap into areas that they may have avoided or neglected in the past.

Case in point: New York-based Waller Capital. Founded in 1982 by John Waller III, the firm has focused mainly on the cable and telecom space, brokering deals with the likes of Bright House Networks, Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable and Comcast over the years.

Lately, Waller has been hiring bankers with expertise in the broadcasting, digital media and telecom space. Most recently, it hired former Morgan Stanley senior investment banker Brian Stengel to head up its digital media practice.

“We are aggressively interviewing people to add and we are adding bankers,” Waller president Garrett Baker said. He didn't want to say how many people the firm is looking to hire, but said Waller has about 15 investment bankers on staff already.

“I wouldn't be surprised if we added five to 10 people in the next 12 months,” Baker said.

While some of the candidates Waller is interviewing have been downsized from larger firms, others have jobs but want to move to a less-restrictive culture.

“There are a lot of talented people out there,” Baker said. “Some have been downsized; others are still at their firms but just got a very low bonus. We have a platform that doesn't have the conflicts and restrictions that some of the bigger banks have and is likely to be much more lucrative for the short to medium term.”

Wall Street firms that have received or are looking to get their hands on federal bailout money have come under harsh criticism for their compensation structures. That, and uncertainty about the overall health of some of the larger banks, is prompting some people to look toward the smaller firms.

At RBC Daniels, chairman and CEO Brian Deevy said that his bank's parent, RBC Capital Markets, a unit of Royal Bank of Canada, has hired bankers from Wall Street firms over the past several months, including former Bear Stearns head of technology, media and telecommunications banking Scott Moskowitz; former Lehman Bros. dealmaker Kevin Lewis; and former Bear Stearns banker Jim Wolfe.

While those executives work for RBC Capital Markets, Deevy said his team can work with them on deals.

Like Waller, the core focus at RBC Daniels is still the cable industry. But the Denver-based firm has been branching out over the past few years into telecommunications, wireless, outdoor advertising and the like.

“We are broadly focused across all communications businesses,” Deevy said.

He said the decision to merge Daniels & Associates with Royal Bank of Canada back in 2007 seems like a better idea every day, given the capital markets' downturn.

“We have an equity capability and a debt capability and we've got this broad reach in the communications space,” Deevy said.

Blackstone and Greenhill also have been hiring in the past several months — with Greenhill opening a new financial advisory and restructuring practice earlier this month in New York and London, headed by former head of GE Capital's London Media, Communications and Entertainment unit Ken Goldsbrough and UBS head of restructuring Andrew Kramer.

Kramer will be based in New York while Goldsbrough will remain in London. Greenhill made about nine hires from firms like Lehman and Citigroup in 2008, according to company press releases, mainly in the healthcare, telecom and industrial sectors.

Representatives from Blackstone and Greenhill did not return calls for comment.

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