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

For Mike Rosenberg, it seems, all roads led to Wells Fargo.

After graduating from UCLA with an economics degree in 1982, he spent two years working for the Foothill Capital Corp. before earning an M.B.A. from Harvard. Then he helped co-found Barrington Associates, a boutique investment bank in Brentwood of which he eventually became chief executive.

Today, both Foothill and Barrington are part of Wells Fargo, where Rosenberg has become a key player in the bank’s efforts to become a major force in investment banking.

“Previously we didn’t even show up on the league tables,” said Rosenberg, noting the deal rankings by which investment banks are measured. “Now, with the acquisitions of Barrington and Wachovia, we are a meaningful player in most investment banking categories.”

As an executive of the middle-market group, Rosenberg’s job is to advise companies with annual revenue less than $1 billion.

That’s pretty much what he did at Barrington before it was taken over in 2006 – a deal modeled after the earlier acquisition of Foothill, a small firm that Wells Fargo absorbed as part of its 1998 merger with Norwest Bank.

For a time, Barrington, an M&A specialist, retained its own L.A. office, staff and identity. It also had satellite offices in Newport Beach, San Francisco and Boston. However, with the acquisition of Wachovia, which had a substantial investment banking operation, the smaller company has been brought in-house. Wells Fargo is creating a financial supermarket offering a wide array of investment services.

Indeed, while many of the largest firms have struggled recently and the bulge bracket has lost several longtime members, Well Fargo has been opportunistic in its acquisitions and now ranks among the investment banking powerhouses.

“Our challenge and mandate now is to expose our vast universe of customers to the suite of investment banking products previously unavailable to them,” Rosenberg said. “Our middle-market group is now part of a larger investment banking platform with a much wider set of products.”

The middle-market group, which has about 60 employees nationwide, intends to add some this year to the 40 already based in Los Angeles.

“We have a do-whatever-it-takes attitude to act in the best interests of the client, whether that means selling his business for the best price or providing the best contacts in the investment community to get his needs met,” he said.

While 2009 was tough for the markets, Rosenberg expects this year to be much better, calling himself “cautiously bullish.” “Entrepreneurs are once again looking to pursue liquidity events and private equity firms are seeking liquidity for their portfolio companies. You have new firms popping up. It’s just a testament to the entrepreneurial nature of this city’s business community,” he said.

MIKE ROSENBERG, 49

Co-head of Middle Market Group

Wells Fargo Securities LLC, West Los Angeles

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