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Boutiques for sale

Within the past year two of the most respected investment banking boutiques have been sold ­ Gleacher to NatWest and Wolfensohn to Bankers Trust. Do those deals mark the beginning of a trend and, if so, which targets are left? Stephen Neish talks to the main players

"Sorry, we're not selling it this month, maybe next," quips John Herrmann, head of investment banking boutique The Bridgeford Group, as he comes to the telephone, aware only that Euromoney is calling to discuss boutiques.

His reaction typifies the current excitement surrounding investment banking boutiques in New York. What used to be dismissed as vanity shops for dealmakers who disliked being accountable to management committees have acquired respect. Two of the better-known firms, Gleacher & Co and Wolfensohn Inc, sold themselves within the last year for sums which woke the investment banking world with a jolt. NatWest Markets North America, part of the UK-based National Westminster Bank, paid $135 million to have Eric Gleacher and a dozen of his associates join the company in October 1995, while Bankers Trust announced in May that it was paying $210 million for the 55 professionals at Wolfensohn.

The excitement is over who will be next. Foreign banks are circling. Boutique owners are acting coy. The dining room of the Four Seasons hotel on New York's 57th Street is a prandial casting couch. Everybody is having lunch.