Chicago financial services firm William Blair cut investment banking employees this month at a time when the coronavirus outbreak has dramatically chopped the pace of mergers and acquisitions industrywide.
The company dismissed about 25 bankers, according to sources familiar with the situation. William Blair, which also has a separate investment management business, declined to specify the number of bankers cut, and pinned any recent dismissals on individuals not being up to snuff, as opposed to any impact from the pandemic.
“We have a high-performance culture that delivers globally for our clients, and each year, we see a small percentage of investment banking employees impacted due to performance-related assessments,” the company said in a statement responding to an inquiry about the cuts.
William Blair maintained that it has handled the same number of deals to date as it had last year at the same point, with about 42 transactions so far, according to Tony Zimmer, a spokesman for the firm. Including other types of investment banking work, like equity underwritings, Zimmer said transactions were running slightly higher so far this year at 82 transactions, versus 79 at this time last year.
Nonetheless, 25 bankers would be a significant number of bankers for any firm to cut, and the sources suggested the number could be higher. William Blair wouldn’t immediately say how many total bankers it has currently, but that figure was 370 worldwide as of April 2019, so the reduction relative to that past banker headcount would be about 7 percent.
William Blair’s investment bank merger-and-acquisition advisory division is co-led by Dan Connolly and Andy Jessen. Mark Brady last year stepped back from his former role as global head of that unit, though he is still a senior director in the area. The firm declined to make any of the executives available for an interview.
M&A activity was down worldwide in the first quarter of the year, according to data research firm Dealogic, even before the current continuing impact of the coronavirus crisis was known. The decline was due not only to the economic slowdown caused by the outbreak, but also the related collapse of financial markets and a plunge in oil prices.
Deals targeting the Americas, principally the U.S., were even more negatively impacted than other parts of the world, with a “staggering” 50 percent drop in volume to just 2,761 transactions for $307 billion in value during the first quarter, Dealogic said in its quarterly report.
William Blair had recently been on a roll, like other local investment banking shops, posting a 50 percent increase in deals between 2014 and 2018. Last year, that pace slowed, but was still rising, with deal value up 10 percent over 2018 to $60.4 billion and the number of transactions climbing about 1 percent to 134.
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