The Business Journal spotlights local investment bankers who are capitalizing on Wall Street’s chaos.

In the global finance industry, Bryant Riley has succeeded by thinking local.

Since founding brokerage and investment bank B. Riley & Co. in 1997, he has focused on middle-market companies in Southern California. Although the firm has grown to 65 people in equity research, trading and investment banking nationwide, more than half its clients and covered companies are still located in Southern California.

During the financial meltdown, Riley had to cut about 10 people from his staff, but last year he already he entered a new growth phase.

“I can quantify it: Our investment banking business was up 40 percent last year,” he said. “Certainly there is a lot less competition and a healthy respect for guys who stuck to their knitting.”

In the last few months, Riley has completed several deals. Among them: He took the inventory liquidation firm Great American in Woodland Hills public through a $159 million reverse merger. He also represented Bullet Freight, an Anaheim motor carrier, in its sale to Roadrunner Transportation, a Milwaukee-based logistics company.

“Interest among large companies looking to buy smaller ones is the highest I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Activity is heating up and I think you’ll see more transactions later this year.”

Riley grew up locally in Orange County, but went to the East Coast to attend college at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. After earning a bachelor’s in finance in 1989, he landed a job as an institutional stock trader, but his entrepreneurial streak manifested itself. In 1991, he co-founded Huberman-Riley, a Dallas brokerage he ran for two years before returning to Southern California. From 1993 to 1997, Riley was co-director of the equity department at Dabney-Resnick, an L.A. brokerage.

Then in 1997, with $100,000 in his pocket, he started his West L.A. company as an institutional stock trading firm. At first he avoided investment banking because of potential conflicts of interest with his equity research and trading operations. But in 2003, Riley purchased a small investment bank in Irvine. Since then his company has completed more than 350 debt and equity transactions worth more than $16 billion.

“We saw an unserved market, so we focused on these undercovered companies in our own backyard,” he said.

To prepare for his next phase of growth, Riley has started to hire talented investment bankers from large banks that either downsized or shuttered. He also hopes to get into the working capital finance business, and plans to expand his annual investment conference for local companies.

The company’s annual investor conference, set for May 24-27 at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, will present at least 120 companies, more than ever in its 11-year history. An additional 30 companies are on a waiting list.

“It will be our biggest conference by far,” he said.

BRYANT RILEY, 42

Chairman and Chief Executive

B. Riley & Co., West Los Angeles

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