The Business Journal spotlights local investment bankers who are capitalizing on Wall Street’s chaos.
Few in the cutthroat world of investment banking have the name recognition and command as much respect as Ken Moelis.
Fewer still have attained such status while working primarily in a market as small as Los Angeles.
But Moelis, who lives in Beverly Hills and has spent the past 26 years working in Los Angeles, credits his success, in part, to his distance from Wall Street.
“Being away from the Street has allowed us to continue to think differently and bring new and fresh ideas to the game,” said Moelis, chief executive of Moelis & Co., a boutique firm he founded in 2007.
The firm is technically headquartered in New York despite the fact that Moelis, most of the firm’s co-founders and about 50 bankers work in Los Angeles.
Now with Moelis & Co.’s torrid growth – expanding from a handful of people to nearly 300 in three years – it is quickly becoming a global firm. It has recently opened international offices in London and Sydney, Australia.
Already, the firm has been handpicked to work on some of the largest and highest-profile deals over the past few years, including the $26 billion acquisition of Hilton Hotels by Blackstone Group LP and the sale of Anheuser-Busch Cos. to InBev NV for more than $60 billion.
More recently, the firm was hired to replace Deutsche Bank in advising Dubai World on the restructuring of $26 billion in debt. The firm has been ranked among the largest M&A firms by market share.
With an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Moelis started his investment banking career in 1981 at the now-notorious Drexel Burnham Lambert, where he worked alongside junk-bond king Michael Milken.
From there, Moelis went to Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, where he headed the L.A. office and served as head of corporate finance. In his highest-profile position, he was president of UBS Investment Bank.
During his career, though, Moelis grew disenchanted with large institutions, which he said became too large and diversified to give clients the attention they deserve.
Moelis believes his firm is settling into a sweet spot, providing a greater range of services than a boutique but avoiding the pitfalls of larger firms – some of which have been accused of trading securities on their own behalf, rather than their clients’.
“If the word ‘boutique’ means you’re giving up any expertise or ability to provide information and advice, I do not like the idea of a boutique,” he said. “If being a bulge bracket firm means you’re totally conflicted, I don’t want to be a bulge bracket.”
While Moelis is now competing with the largest firms and is renowned within the industry, he insists that he hasn’t let the success get to his head.
“My first thought in the morning is not, ‘How do I conquer the world?’ It’s ‘How do I complete transactions for my clients in a quality way?’” he said.
KEN MOELIS, 51
Moelis & Co., Century City