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William Blair & Company

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William Blair & Company
Private Company
Industry Financial Services
Predecessor Blair, Bonner & Co.
Founded 1935; 82 years ago (1935)
Founder William McCormick Blair and Francis A. Bonner
Headquarters Franklin Center
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Products Investment Banking, Equity research, Brokerage, Asset Management, Private Capital
Revenue Increase $845 Million (2014)
Number of employees
1,480 (2016)

William Blair & Company ("William Blair") is a privately held, employee-owned financial services firm that provides investment banking, equity research, brokerage, asset management and private capital services.

Headquartered in Chicago, it has 16 offices on five continents in cities such as Boston, Frankfurt, London, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Sydney, and Zurich. It also maintains a presence in Asia, taking an ownership stake in Business Development Asia, which has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City, Seoul, and Tokyo.

In 2015, William Blair received "M&A Deal of the Year," "Corporate and Strategic Acquisition of the Year," and "Cross-border Deal of the Year" from M&A Advisor; that same year, the firm received "Americas Investment Bank of the Year" and "Investment Bank of the Year" from M&A Atlas. Most recently, William Blair was ranked as the 14th "Best Global Investment Bank" by the Vault Guide.

The firm regularly works with household-name clients such as Google, Shake Shack, Whole Foods, and IBM.


Founding and early years

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. 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.[citation needed] 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.

Growth and development

In the 1980s, the firm generally avoided many of the hottest areas including underwriting junk bonds, hostile takeovers and merger arbitrage.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Recent years

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 opened a new representative office in Shanghai and another institutional sales office in New York.[1]

In 2017, William Blair's Chicago headquarters will move to 150 N. Riverside Plaza. The new headquarters will be Sustainability LEED-CS Gold Pre-certified with a maximization of open space, 1.5-acre park, plus 100% green roof.[2]

Business overview

Investment banking

William Blair's investment banking group focuses on high-growth companies, executing advisory and financing services such as mergers and acquisitions, public equity offerings, and private capital raises. From 2010 to 2014, the investment banking group completed more than 330 M&A transactions, worth a total of $73 billion in value.[3]

These deals involved parties in 36 countries and five continents; nearly one-third of all transactions were cross-border. During that same period, the firm was an underwriter on more than 20 percent of all U.S. initial public offerings and raised nearly $100 billion in public and private financing.

Equity research

The firm is also known for its equity research unit, which was named the "Most Trusted Research" in Greenwich Associates' 2014 survey of small and mid-cap portfolio managers. In the 2015 survey, William Blair ranked No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 in nine categories.[4]

Asset management and institutional sales

William Blair is a long-term partner to institutional and individual investors around the globe, with more than $72 billion in client assets through customized portfolios, separately managed accounts, mutual funds, SICAVs, and retail accounts. Using a disciplined research process, William Blair provides institutional investors active management across the market-capitalization spectrum in U.S., international, and global markets.

William Blair Capital Partners

William Blair Capital Partners logo

Founded in 1982, William Blair Capital Partners was the investment arm of William Blair & Company. 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.[5] 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.[6]

Office locations

The bank operates from 16 cities across 5 continents.

Awards and accolades

In 2012, the firm was named "Investment Bank of the Year" by Mergers & Acquisitions magazine, and in 2013, it was named the "Mid-Market Financial Advisor of the Year" by the Financial Times and mergermarket. In addition, William Blair regularly receives M&A accolades, working for household-name clients such as Tumi, Pandora, Dunkin' Brands, and Caribou Coffee. For example, William Blair received "2013 North America M&A Deal of the Year" honors from M&A Atlas for advising Molex Inc. on its sale to Koch Industries for $7.2 billion. And in 2015, William Blair received "Global Deal of the Year" honors by M&A Atlas for the bank's work on Portfolio Recovery Associates' acquisition of Aktiv Kapital.


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