Siebert Williams Shank is aiming to elevate its role in the higher education sector with the establishment of a dedicated group led by Chicago-based public finance professional Julia Harris.
Harris recently joined the top-ranked women and minority-owned firm as a managing director and head of the higher education group.
SWS is no stranger to the sector, having worked in some capacity on 65 higher education deals valued at more than $30 billion since 2018, but establishing the group is designed to raise the focus and apply more resources and expertise as it looks to land senior manager roles.
“We’ve been involved in transactions,” Gary Hall, a partner and SWS’s head of infrastructure and public finance, said in an interview. “Now we are really trying to climb and be a meaningful player in the space.”
Hall said the firm’s more focused approach will offer a deeper breadth of information, data and expertise on the sector and its credits.
Suzanne Shank, president and chief executive officer of SWS, signaled last month the firm’s interest in carving out a bigger piece of higher education and healthcare transactions after striking a strategic partnership with Apollo, a global asset management firm.
“Our municipal group is very well built out. We compete head-to-head with any firm on the Street,” Shank said last month. “We’d like to do more in the higher education and healthcare spaces, so having additional resources to ramp up in those areas — which means talent, which is not inexpensive these days — will help and we are looking to expand.”
Hall said he recruited Harris for the role saying she was the right fit as he looked for a professional with leadership skills, an ability to collaborate and deep financial experience. “Julia brings all that” to the table, he said, given her experience setting up an advisory firm and working with other advisory and banking firms as well as for an issuer and rating agency.
Harris co-founded the advisory firm Public Alternative Advisors in 2016. Harris spent the previous 10 years at the former advisory firm Scott Balice Strategies and then at PFM Financial Advisors which acquired Scott Balice in 2011.
Harris previously had worked as an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. Earlier in her career, Harris spent three years with Chicago’s budget office before moving on to banking positions at the former Banc One Capital Markets and Goldman Sachs.
“I have long admired Siebert’s commitment to excellence, inclusion and values-based leadership, and I am excited to help the firm enter this new chapter,” Harris said in a statement. “Having seen the inequities pervasive in the business world, I wanted to join a woman-owned firm, after starting my own, to continue to promote greater inclusion in the financial world.”
The firm expects to hire additional bankers that specialize in the higher education universe in various regions, Hall said.
Size doesn’t pose an impediment to the firm’s ability to senior manage the largest higher education deals, Hall said. The firm’s strategic partnership with Apollo further raises its underwriting capacity for muni and corporate debt as well as equity offerings. Municipal bond deals on which SWS has served as bookrunner have ranged in size from $3 million to a $1.75 billion transaction for the state of California.
The Apollo investment will also expand SWS’s ability to bridge the investment and liability management needs of its corporate and municipal clients with the expertise offered by Apollo, the firms said.
SWS ranks 15th so far this year among senior managers nationally, leading nine deals valued at $2.4 billion. The firm finished in 14th nationally each year from 2018 to 2021, according to data from Refinitiv. The firm ranks 19th among senior managers in the higher education sector so far this year with one deal valued at $56 million. It finished last year in the 24th slot and ranked 15th in 2020 and 19th in 2019.
SWS, which celebrated its 25th anniversary tlast year, is an independent non-bank financial services firm that is dually headquartered in New York and Oakland with 125 professionals in 19 offices. The staff includes 68 in the municipal department and 44 in banking.
—Chip Barnett contributed to this story