Jeff Schiamberg, a New York investment banker for 10 years with Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, never envisioned leaving the world’s financial capital.

That was, until he was laid off early this year.

Schiamberg, like many of the thousands let go from their Wall Street jobs amid the financial crisis, looked to the one sector of the industry hiring through it all: boutique investment banks.

At a time when the biggest firms are still slashing their ranks, boutiques in Los Angeles and across the country have been waiting with open arms to snap up top-shelf talent. Locally, hundreds of those displaced have found homes in firms such as Imperial Capital LLC and Moelis & Co., which like other small firms largely avoided the risky investment instruments that got the larger firms in trouble.

Schiamberg, a native Angeleno, looked to Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc., an aggressively expanding downtown L.A. firm. A few months later, he joined as a managing director in Los Angeles.

“It’s exciting to help a firm like Wedbush build and strengthen its investment banking practice,” he said. “At some of the larger firms you have competing factions and everyone seems to have their own agenda. At a smaller firm, everyone seems to be pointed in the same direction.”

A year removed from the catastrophic upheaval in the markets that wiped out financial titans such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros., the dislocation of talent in the investment banking community still has yet to settle.

Indeed, a reshuffling of talent that began in earnest late last year has ramped up in recent months as the economy has shown signs of stabilizing. Many boutiques are now rushing to add talent while it is still available. Small and midsize investment banks headquartered in Los Angeles County added more than 100 local employees in 2009, according to an informal survey of just five by the Business Journal.

Among those bringing in new talent: Greif & Co., a boutique firm headquartered in downtown Los Angeles specializing in middle market mergers and acquisitions, is adding six people – a 50 percent increase in its work force ; Imperial Capital, a Century City firm, has already added 23 people; and B. Riley & Co., a West L.A. investment bank with about 60 employees, is bringing in 10.

“We’re hiring in all segments of our business,” said B. Riley Chairman Bryant Riley. “There is a lot of opportunity for hiring quality people.”


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