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

Some financial professionals specialize in a specific niche. Jason Reese, on the other hand, is something of a renaissance man.

He has spent years investing in real estate and trading high-yield bonds. Now, as chairman and chief executive of Imperial Capital Group Inc., he is trying to build one of the largest full-service investment banks in Los Angeles. Despite hitting a snag this month in its plans to go public, Imperial Capital is still one of the most prominent and fastest-growing local investment banks.

Indeed, Imperial Capital has hired about two dozen employees over the past year, including many from larger competitors such as Barclays Capital and UBS.

Business, too, has been strong. Already in 2010, the firm has advised on six deals, including the closing of a $200 million convertible subordinated debentures offering for aerospace manufacturer GenCorp Inc.

Born in Long Island, N.Y., in 1965, Reese graduated from Yale University with a degree in – of all things – electrical engineering. But Wall Street was booming, so he joined PaineWebber in the mid-1980s and completed the firm’s analyst program.

In 1989, Reese was ready to go to back to school to get his M.B.A. or law degree, but instead he followed a colleague to Gordon Investment Corp., a merchant bank in Canada. There, Reese handled distressed real estate investing, leveraged buyouts and high-yield securities.

After a brief stint in Dallas in the early 1990s investing in real estate, Reese moved to Southern California, where office buildings were cheap and plentiful amid a brutal recession.

In 1997, Reese co-founded Imperial Capital with Randall Wooster, a longtime securities trader. The firm initially focused on restructuring work for companies in bankruptcy, including lingerie maker Frederick’s of Hollywood, and later expanded into other areas such as high-yield bond investing.

For years, the firm stayed small. In a 2003 interview with the Business Journal, Reese said, “We’re much more focused on growing revenue, not personnel.” The firm declined comment for this article as it works toward an initial public offering.

But today, with more than 170 employees, Imperial Capital is trying to shed the “boutique” label and position itself as a true full-service investment banking firm, offering a range of advisory, restructuring and capital markets services to clients, as well as sales and trading. Imperial Capital handles deals in a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, clean energy, gaming and more.

The firm has also expanded geographically. It now has locations in six major cities, including New York and San Francisco.

But the firm has suffered some growing pains.

After kicking off an IPO this month, executives abruptly shelved the offering. The firm, which had already reduced the expected proceeds from $150 million to roughly $100 million, did not give a reason for the move, but analysts said it was likely due to the softening IPO market.

JASON REESE, 44

Chairman and Chief Executive

Imperial Capital Group Inc., Century City

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.