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

Fresh out of Cal State Northridge in the early 1980s, Scott Beiser had his sights set on a career in finance. But the L.A. native had no intention of moving across the country, even if all the jobs, it seemed, were in New York.

So, he turned to the classifieds.

“I wanted to stay out here in Los Angeles,” he said. “I read a newspaper ad from a company called Houlihan Lokey. The firm had about 25 people at that point.”

He joined the firm in 1984 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Beiser is co-chief executive (a title he shares with Minneapolis-based Jeff Werbalowsky) of Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, one of the largest investment banks headquartered in Los Angeles.

At last count, the firm had 850 employees and 14 offices across the United States, Europe and Asia.

What’s more, despite being in business four decades, Houlihan Lokey claims never to have had an unprofitable year.

The firm perennially ranks among the top M&A advisers, the top restructuring advisers and the top fairness opinion providers. The firm has advised on several of the largest bankruptcies in U.S. history, including WorldCom Inc., Enron Corp., Lehman Bros. and, more recently, CIT Group Inc.

Lately, it has been engaged in the “opportunistic hiring of key individuals,” mostly seasoned veterans displaced by the turmoil in the bulge bracket, Beiser said. Houlihan Lokey has increased its ranks by about 5 percent over the last year.

Despite the economy, there is still significant demand for the firm’s services, Beiser said, particularly when it comes to restructuring and raising capital.

“We do a lot of work that does well in a bearish environment,” he said.

In addition to leading the L.A. operations, which include about 225 local employees, Beiser is also head of the firm’s Engineering and Construction Group. In fact, when Beiser first joined the firm, he cut his teeth providing investment banking services to engineering companies, which are abundant in Southern California.

“Notwithstanding current economic conditions, California is probably one of the better states to do (construction-focused investment banking) in,” he said.

Though being in Los Angeles was something of a handicap for financial professionals when Beiser was starting out, that is no longer the case, he said. With an increasingly global economy, Los Angeles is important to the overall industry.

“There always was and still will be more financial opportunities out in New York City, but we’ve clearly seen that Los Angeles has grown,” he said. “As you do more work in Asia, there are some benefits obviously to being on the West Coast.”

SCOTT BEISER, 50

Chief Executive

Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin Inc., Century City

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