Media banking veteran Phyllis Riggins, who retired as head of Banc of America Securities media and telecom investment banking division last year, has resurfaced as a partner in a Dallas-based investment bank, Bluffview Capital LP.
Riggins, who had her hand in about $100 billion worth of cable deals since 1979 — she was an early adviser to Comcast Corp., as well as Tele-Communications Inc., CableVision Industries Inc. and Falcon Cable — joined Bluffview with former B of A Securities colleague Jennifer Bishop late last month, along with cable pioneer Nate Levine.
Levine, a limited partner and an investor in Bluffview, also owns Cable Management Associates, which has 70,000 subscribers in Louisiana, Texas, Nevada and Mississippi and Credit Protection Association, one of the largest bad-debt management and recovery firms to the cable industry.
Bluffview was started by three former Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette and Credit Suisse First Boston Inc. investment bankers — Tom Davis, Bill Payne and Todd Miller — to provide advisory and capital-raising services to companies across a wide range of industries.
Private-equity giant Tom Hicks — of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc. — is also a limited partner and an investor.
Riggins, 50, said she left Banc of America Securities on Sept. 30, after it decided to consolidate its investment banking operations in New York.
"We like Dallas, my family is here," Riggins said. "I made it pretty clear from the beginning that unfortunately, I wasn't flexible about that. I did try for a couple of years, spending most of my week in New York City, but with teenage kids, I didn't want to miss that part of their lives.
"With the market so soft, it made sense to consolidate in one place. It worked out that I was right at the age where I technically could retire."
With two teenage children, Riggins said she spent some time driving the neighborhood car pool, but soon decided it was time to get back into the industry.
Riggins joined the board of directors of radio giant Clear Channel Communications in January. She didn't want to return to the industry working for a big financial firm, she said, mainly because being an independent director, she can't do any business with Clear Channel.
It turned out that Levine, a longtime friend, had recently invested in Bluffview, and met Riggins for lunch.
"I convinced her to come out of retirement," Levine said.
Riggins said her focus will be on smaller cable operators, providing advisory services and helping them raise money in both the debt and equity markets.
"Our goal is to make available to media companies of all sizes the same quality of advice and capital raising services that the larger companies have enjoyed," Riggins said. "I will probably spend some time trying to help the company that maybe will be the next Mediacom [Communications Corp.] or Insight [Communications Co.]. I look forward to doing that."
Riggins was also encouraged by the rise in cable valuations, with some recent deals reaching $3,600 per subscriber.
"It's interesting to me how much private equity seems to be available, given the lower leverage guidelines," Riggins said. "There obviously is some great upside in there somewhere, because the returns wouldn't work if not."
That could get even more interesting as several larger cable operators are expected to begin rationalizing their systems — selling off nonstrategic markets — within the next 12-to-18 months.
Some analysts have predicted that as many as 2 million subscribers could come on the market in that time frame.
"There are an awful lot of management teams and private equity waiting for that to happen," Riggins said.
"Every group of systems that comes out [on the market] seems to be contested. I talked to an operator today who is trying to buy a very small group of systems and he feels like it's been very competitive."