FINSwire Jun 21 2011

UBS M&A Head Leaves for Boutique Moelis & Co.

By deborah ball

In the latest of a string of high-level departures to hit Swiss banking giant UBS AG, its head of global mergers and acquisitions has defected to become a partner at New York-based boutique Moelis & Co.

Liam Beere, a 19-year veteran at UBS, will join Moelis in September, according to a statement from the boutique bank. Beere, formerly the head of European M&A at UBS, was promoted to the global job only in March. At Moelis, he will be based in London and advise clients around the world

Moelis was founded by Ken Moelis, who quit UBS in 2007 to set up his own firm.

Beere's departure is the latest in a series of defections by UBS bankers in recent months, as the Swiss giant works to revamp an investment bank that was among the hardest hit during the financial crisis. Bankers have been leaving UBS over pay as well as questions regarding the strategy set out by top management. UBS declined to comment on Beere's move.

The news is the second coup in one day for Moelis, an aggressive upstart that also won a highly coveted role advising SABMiller on the U.K.-South African brewer's unsolicited $10 billion offer for Australia's Foster's Group Ltd.

While UBS has suffered a particularly painful flow of departures in its U.S. business, the bank's core European investment bank had held up better. Attrition rates have been close to those before the financial crisis. Beere's resignation is a particular blow to the bank's strong European franchise. UBS has recently done some European poaching of its own, hiring new investment-banking chiefs in Russia, Germany and Austria, and also has advised on a number of key deals.

In Asia, where UBS is also strong, the bank has also lost some heavy hitters, including Matthew Koder, Asia-based head of global capital markets, who left for Bank of America Corp. this year.

People close to UBS in London immediately moved to deflect the inevitable criticism that will greet Beere's departure, saying the move was driven by his desire for change after 19 years.

"I might have a grand title, but I don't have a big role," Beere recently told colleagues, according to a person familiar with the matter. Beere wasn't available to comment.

Mark Aedy, Moelis's head of investment banking for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said he started talking with Beere about the job this spring, shortly after UBS promoted him. "He is looking forward to getting back into the independent advisory role...where he isn't part of a much bigger firm," Aedy said. "A lot of people find that emancipating."

Beere's departure comes at a time of the year when competition for banking talent typically reaches a crescendo, given that most bankers have their annual bonuses in hand by now. People close to UBS in London said the move was driven by his desire for change after 19 years and noted that UBS has hired a number of senior European bankers recently.

But the most noteworthy departures this year have come from UBS. A number of bankers in the U.S. have left for Citigroup Inc., which is rebuilding its investment bank in the wake of the losses it suffered as a result of the financial crisis. Moelis, founded by another UBS alumnus, has also been a particular draw for UBS bankers in recent years.

Under the leadership of Carsten Kengeter, a former Goldman Sachs partner, UBS faces one of the toughest challenges in rebuilding a battered investment-banking franchise just as the market is slowing down. He has hired more than 1,000 bankers over the last year, including new heads of M&A in Russia, Germany and Austria.

Analysts are skeptical that Kengeter can hit aggressive revenue and profit targets set out by chief executive Oswald Gruebel in November 2009. Since then, Swiss regulators have put out capital requirements that are the toughest of any major financial center, thus making it tougher for UBS to compete.

In 2007 and 2008, UBS wrote down more than $50 billion in securities, leading to a net loss at the group of $21.3 billion Swiss francs ($25.1 billion) in 2008. In the autumn of 2008, the Swiss National Bank had to bail out UBS.

At Moelis, Beere "will be leading the charge on M&A in EMEA, and will be front and center to make sure we're right on top of M&A developments," said Aedy, head of investment banking at the firm for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Moelis, which advises companies on mergers, acquisitions, restructurings and other transactions, has about 100 people based in London, of 500 staff globally.

Its reputation as one of Wall Street's top boutiques was cemented with a series of restructuring advisory roles during the financial crisis. More recently, it has been climbing the league tables for M&A advisory work; Dealogic data shows it has advised on 24 deals valued at $35.5 billion so far this year, up from 15 deals worth $9 billion in the same period last year.

Deborah Ball and Dana Cimilluca are reporters for the Wall Street Journal, where this story originally appeared. Write to Deborah and Dana.

David Enrich and Margot Patrick contributed to this article.

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