William Blair & Company
|Predecessors||Blair, Bonner & Co.|
|Founded||January 8, 1935|
|Founders||William McCormick Blair and Francis A. Bonner|
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Products||Investment banking, Equity research, Brokerage, Asset management, Private capital|
The firm has broad employee ownership, with 173 principals, a large percentage of the professional staff and over $130 million of equity capital.
William Blair & Company opened on January 8, 1935 as Blair, Bonner & Co. The firm was founded by William M. Blair and Francis A. Bonner who had worked together at investment firm Lee, Higginson & Co., prior to its collapse in 1932-1933.
In its early days it assisted the growth of the Household Finance Corporation, Continental Casualty and Continental Assurance companies (today CNA Insurance). The firm focused on raising capital, primarily for midwestern growth-oriented companies, through its own originated issues rather than distribute securities for larger Wall Street based investment banks.
In 1941 Bonner left the company, and it was renamed William Blair & Company. The firm was managed by five partners: William Blair, Wallace Flower, Donald Miehls, Lee Ostrander and Daniel Ritter.
In 1946 Blair's sons, William McCormick Blair, Jr., Edward McCormick Blair and Bowen Blair joined the firm. Blair, Sr. stepped down as managing partner in 1961, and handed the reins over to his son Edward. William M. Blair remained a senior partner of William Blair & Co. until his death in 1982 (age 97).
Under Edward Blair and Edgar D. Jannotta (managing partner from 1977 to 1994) the firm experienced two difficult periods: the late 1960s, when the inability to process trades resulted in a paper crunch that threatened the industry with shutdown, and the 1970s, when the market value of securities and underwriting activity declined substantially. The firm continued to help finance growth companies completing initial public offerings for companies such as Molex, Oil-Dri Corporation and Safety-Kleen during the 1970s.
In the 1980s, the firm generally avoided many of the hottest areas including underwriting junk bonds, hostile takeovers and merger arbitrage. The company expanded its geographic reach, opening additional offices in London and Liechtenstein to better serve international clients. It enlarged its corporate client base to encompass more companies throughout the United States beyond the midwest and extended its corporate financial services.
During the 1990s, business continued to expand dramatically. Between 1991 and 1996 William Blair & Company lead managed or co-managed 196 equity underwriting transactions representing $13.6 billion in capital. William Blair & Company also expanded its debt finance services, becoming active in bond financing and bond trading. The firm continued to serve traditional debt-issuing clients such as private corporations and states, counties, municipalities and school districts while expanding this client base to encompass healthcare facilities, institutions of higher learning and transportation authorities. The firm also earned a growing national reputation for successfully floating bonds for cultural institutions.
In 1995 the firm opened a Zurich office, followed in 1996 by a San Francisco office and in 1999 by a new office in Hartford. William Blair also expanded its international presence by increasing the size of its Tokyo and London offices. In August 2006, William Blair opened an institutional sales and trading office in downtown Boston, as part of an effort to locate in regions with a high concentration of clients. In 2007, the firm has opened a new representative office in Shanghai, China, and another institutional sales office in New York.
William Blair Capital Partners
William Blair Capital Partners was the investment arm of William Blair & Company, founded in 1982. During the 1980s, WBCP was an active investor in leveraged buyout transactions.
In 2004, the principals of William Blair Capital Partners completed a spinout from William Blair to form Chicago Growth Partners, a private equity firm focusing on investments in growth capital and leveraged buyouts of lower middle market growth companies. The primary motivation for the departure of the Chicago Growth Partners team from William Blair was to gain access to a more diversified base of institutional investors that was limited by the group's involvement with the investment bank.
In August 2006, the remaining partners of William Blair Capital Partners suspended efforts to raise William Blair Capital Partners VIII, which had been reportedly targeted at about $250 million. The remaining team left William Blair to found a new private equity firm, Seyen Capital.
- A Fearless Leader With Long-Term Designs, Financial Times, May 25, 2008
- An Island of Calm: Face to Face with Michelle Seitz. Pension & Investments, November 10, 2008
- William Blair & Company (company profile)