A self-described "deal junkie," Bernie Zaia's career as a Los Angeles investment banker spans more than two decades. After graduating from Stanford University in 1986, Zaia went to work as a financial analyst in Dean Witter's L.A. investment banking office. One of the deals was the initial public offering of national cable system operator Falcon Cable TV. Falcon's founder, Marc Nathanson, was so impressed that he hired Zaia, who spent the next seven years raising money there. In 1994, Zaia joined what was then a small L.A. investment bank, Barrington Associates. Working primarily on middle-market transactions, Barrington grew at a fast pace over the next decade and became one of the top-tier middle-market investment banks in the country. Zaia became a partner in 2000 and later became managing director. In 2006, Barrington was acquired by Wells Fargo, in a
transaction that Zaia maintains hasn't changed its culture. Zaia sat down with the Business Journal recently to discuss what drives him as an investment banker, how he copes with his job while raising two small children, and other issues.

Question: What do you enjoy most about investment banking?

Answer: I like the fast-paced nature of the business and the challenges of working with a wide array of entrepreneurs and helping them navigate what is usually the most important transaction of their life. When you get across the finish line and the client achieves his or her goal, there is really no way to describe the sense of accomplishment that we as bankers enjoy. And, of course, the success fees we earn when we close the deal are also pretty enjoyable.

Q: Can you describe the relationship between an investment banker and his client?

A: It can be a very taxing and emotional process for a business owner to sell all or part of his company. So we inevitably develop a very special relationship with the entrepreneur, usually as a trusted adviser, sometimes as a shrink, and always as a guy who is in the foxhole with them during a firefight.

Q: A shrink?

A: Yes, sometimes we play the role of psychologist. Inevitably in a transaction I find myself having a number of heart-to-heart talks with my client, dissuading them from getting caught up in the heat of the battle and refocusing them on their personal goals and why they pursued a transaction in the first place. While there is no couch involved, these conversations can get pretty deep.


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