Michael Cleary’s entrepreneurial vision was instrumental when he was a co-founder of Cleary, Gull, Reiland, McDevitt & Callopy in 1987, and it has been crucial in the firm’s evolution into Cleary Gull Inc. today.
The original company was founded as an institutional research boutique. The firm began offering investment banking in the early 1990’s, when it saw a need within the marketplace.
“Some of the companies (we worked with) needed investment banking services, and we weren’t in that business,” Cleary said. “In a lot of cases, we were the only firm that wrote opinions (about those businesses), but we didn’t have those capabilities.”
Investment banking has become a major component of Cleary Gull’s business. And it also led the company to its work in wealth management.
“The investment banking business leads us to do business with public companies, but we’re also doing M&A work for private companies,” Cleary said. “When they end up selling their business, the owners get big checks. And they end up going somewhere else because we didn’t have wealth management. We said, ‘OK, it makes sense to branch out to entrepreneurs who have monetized their lives work.'”
By 1998, Cleary Gull had grown large enough to attract the interest of Tucker Anthony Sutro, a national investment firm. The merger made sense at the time because Cleary Gull had capital markets expertise that Tucker Anthony Sutro did not, Cleary said.
However, in 2001, Tucker Anthony Sutro was purchased by Royal Bank of Canada, which later became RBC Dain Rauscher, and the game changed.
“The fit with Tucker Anthony made some sense, but RBC Dain Rauscher didn’t make that much sense for us,” Cleary said. “They ended up laying off a lot of our capital markets people.”
About five months after the RBC Dain Rauscher acquisition, Cleary, his management team and employees decided to buy Cleary Gull back.
“We just didn’t think that rolling what we do into a big firm was in the best interest of our clients and the firm,” he said. “They (RBC Dain Rauscher) wanted to keep us – they offered us some very lucrative contracts. But if our clients wanted to be with a big firm, they would be.”
Since the buyback, Cleary Gull has grown significantly, from $600 million in assets under management to more than $4.5 billion. The company’s annual revenues have grown from about $6 million in 2002 to $18 million in 2007, and its number of employees has grown from 33 to 65.
Cleary Gull’s business model allows its managers and employees to pitch ideas and help make decisions, making the firm more nimble and respond to client needs.
For example, the company recently changed some of its wealth management software and operations, and it has met with many clients to show them how it works.
“Last night, I had three people at my client’s house for two hours working on his computer for his own records,” Cleary said. “And we had another client show up with his laptop – he said he couldn’t make the new system work. And we made it work. We don’t walk dogs, pick up mail or do windows. Other than that, we’re pretty full-service on the wealth management side.”
While Cleary Gull’s investment banking division is coming off of a record year and its investment management division prepares for growth, the company will keep delivering a high level of personal service to its clients, Cleary said.
“The story doesn’t change – it just keeps getting better,” he said.
Cleary was nominated for the Bravo! Entrepreneur Award by Tina Specht of the company.
Address: 100 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee
Web site: www.clearygull.com
Industry: Wealth management for individuals and families; investment advisory services for retirement plan sponsors, foundations and endowments, and investment banking for mid-market companies.