Johnson Financial Group to acquire Cleary Gull Advisors

Investment banking arm will remain separate

Coins stacked

Racine-based Johnson Financial Group announced today that it plans to acquire Milwaukee investment advisory and wealth management firm Cleary Gull Advisors Inc.

Tom Bolger

The acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter, and will need regulatory approval. The integrated company will be known as Cleary Gull Advisors Inc., a Johnson Financial Group Company, and will have more than $8.5 billion in assets under administration.

The investment banking arm of Cleary Gull Inc. will not be included in the acquisition, and the remaining stock will be purchased by its 18 employees.

“It’s not a natural fit with Johnson and as a result, it was better to do two transactions—one with Johnson and one with the employees in banking,” said Michael Cleary, chairman and chief executive officer of Cleary Gull.

Managing directors Ronald Miller and John Peterson will lead the investment banking group under the Cleary Gull Inc. brand moving forward. It provides advice on exclusive sales, mergers and acquisitions, private debt and equity capital placement for transactions between $10 million and $200 million in size.

Michael Cleary

“We’re able to put more ownership into the hands of our employees in the banking group and focus only on investment banking,” Miller said. “We’re going to end up hiring at least a couple of additional people given the expanded corporate resources and growth that we have planned.”

Miller said Cleary Gull Inc., currently located at 100 E. Wisconsin Ave. in downtown Milwaukee, will likely seek new office space within the next year. The two companies will continue to work in the same space for the time being.

“Over the past decade we have significantly increased our transaction volume, geographic reach and employee base, and we expect our banking growth to continue to accelerate during the next few years,” Peterson said.

Johnson Financial is the $4 billion parent company of Johnson Bank and Johnson Insurance. Johnson Bank provides customized investment management, fiduciary trust services and retirement planning for more than 2,200 individuals, businesses and institutions.

“We are making this move to strengthen our market presence with well-known, highly capable people dedicated to serving their clients with the kind of professional expertise and personal, caring approach that makes us distinctive in all that we do,” said Thomas Bolger, president and chief executive officer of Johnson Financial. “This move is part of our growth strategy for our wealth business and strongly demonstrates our commitment to the Milwaukee market. It positions us to be a leading provider of investment advisory and retirement planning services.”


Cleary Gull has 40 employees, all of whom will become Johnson Financial Group employees and continue to work out of the same downtown Milwaukee office. It has $2.1 billion in assets under advisement. Michael Cleary will serve as president of the integrated company, which he said will likely change its name in the future to match the Johnson brand.

“The basic strength and appeal of Johnson Financial Group is they are Wisconsin-headquartered, family-owned and here to stay for generations,” Cleary said. “What this means to investors and the marketplace is two legacy companies with deep roots in Milwaukee and Wisconsin will join forces, become bigger and better together and be able to grow in the best way. Plus, all of our clients, including our specialty practice focused on airline pilots, will now have access to the full breadth of services Johnson Financial offers, including banking and insurance.

“It was a great cultural fit. They share our same values and they put clients and associates at the top of their list of priorities.”

The companies began communicating in September, when Cleary Gull president and chief investment officer Brian Andrew was hired as CIO at Johnson Financial Group.

“I’ve known Tom Bolger for a number of years and always had great respect for the Johnson organization,” Cleary said. “I had been thinking about the future of our firm for some time and when Brian left last year, I reached out to Tom to start a conversation . . . and here we are!”

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

No posts to display