Art of Acquire

By: 
Sep. 15, 2017

By John Haughey | Contributing Writer

There was “a lot of new whiz-bang technology in financial services” being developed by emerging high-tech firms, particularly in Asia, she recalls. When the team came across a small operation called Bonds In Asia, it saw it as “a big and exciting opportunity,” she says, and “invested tons of money” in what looked like a good risk: a platform that made trading Asian bonds simpler, quicker, more accessible.

“The way it actually turned out though — despite the great technology and the great people — was there just wasn't enough bonds in Asia” being traded to support the technology or the people to operate it, Band says.

Lesson learned: “Unless a business is solving a problem, filling a niche, or scratching an itch, it's not going to succeed,” she says. “That was a big lesson for me. It's not about what you bring to the table, it's about what the customer needs.”

That lesson has served Band well in her current post, senior vice president and head of corporate development for St. Petersburg-based Raymond James Financial. Since 2012, Band has orchestrated the acquisitions of Morgan Keegan, Mummert & Co., MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier and Alex. Brown. Those deals, billions of dollars in total, have helped transform Raymond James into one of the nation's largest full-service wealth management and capital markets firms not headquartered on Wall Street. The company, based in a sprawling campus on Carillon Parkway, had $5.52 billion in revenue in 2016 and $552 million in net income. Those metrics are up 4% and 5%, respectively, over 2015.

And the acquisitions, says Raymond James Chairman Emeritus Tom James, wouldn't have happened without Band. “Alexandra was a key element to this success — she was our point person in organizing the management teams on both sides,” James says. “She was in constant communication, in around-the-clock meetings. (She) made everyone feel comfortable. She managed the detail, and developed an in-depth checklist of issues that needed to be done for the due diligence process.”

Each acquisition, Band says, served a need or provided a proficiency that enhanced Raymond James' profile.

“We are always on the lookout for that problem that needs to be solved,” says Band. “What kind of problem or need can this company help us with? Any time we look (at acquisitions), we are looking at opening up new directions, at interesting little adjacencies, to make sure they fit.”

'Desired acquirer'

Band says the nuts and bolts of corporate development at Raymond James is “sourcing acquisition targets” that meet an exacting criterion. But while she and her team do some hunting, more often companies come to her. “We have hundreds of external inquiries a year from companies in financial services that want to be sold, that see Raymond James as a desired acquirer,” she says.

Acquisition is an art and a science-based process in Band's world. For instance, Raymond James' $1.2 billion purchase of Memphis, Tenn.-based Morgan Keegan from Regions Financial Corp. in 2012 followed a multiyear courtship, she says. While Morgan Keegan was a strategic addition for Raymond James, the key to success was convincing Morgan Keegan's 900-plus financial advisers and their clients that joining Raymond James would benefit them.

“We knew we were going to need an integration strategy to make sure we retained the greatest percentage of brokers and advisers,” James says. “Otherwise, you don't get the full value” of acquiring the firm.

That's when the company turned to Band.

She helped hammer out an integration strategy that retained Morgan Keegan's top 12 executives and 98% of its financial advisers. Her strategy and model for that project is now hailed as the ideal for mergers and acquisitions. “You have to maintain a level of sensitivity after the deal because you have to run both systems parallel for a period of time,” James says. “Some of the things don't show up until after the transaction. It's an ongoing process and you have to be totally dedicated.”

Part of Band's approach was to take a back-to-basics theme. “Our sense of engendering autonomy for employees, particularly for employees who have skills and proficiencies that made the company a desirable acquisition in the first place, is what we want to protect,” Band says. “We are not going to put our Raymond James stamp on their secret sauce. We're going to protect the culture and identity of the business we are acquiring.”

Raymond James' integration strategy has made it possible to acquire other firms — even when it dangles less money. “It is a very competitive process. Any type of target company that we'd be interested in, we are not alone,” Band says. “Even when we are not the highest bidder, we tend to win because we are the most desired acquirer for the management team. It is not always price.”

The 2016 acquisitions of Mummert & Co., a merger and acquisition firm based in Munich, Germany; the Canadian wealth management firm MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier; and Alex. Brown, an investment bank known for its high net-worth individuals and institutions, from Deutsche Bank, all fit that mold, Band says.

“I will say one thing, though. We tend to only go the distance with companies that have a culture similar to us,” she says. “We want to keep the people and their culture — from the mailroom person to the ops person.”

Strong values

A 1992 Harvard graduate who studied at Oxford University and the London School of Economics, Band received her MBA in finance at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. While at Northwestern she received a pearl of wisdom from onetime Delta Airlines CEO Leo Mullin.

“You're going to have to stretch yourself and take on assignments that put you in a temporary state of incompetence,” Band recalls Bastian's advice. “You have to become comfortable with that.”

Band was always comfortable with the idea she would pursue a business career — even in a family where that was something of an oddity. “I told my parents that I wanted to go to Harvard when I was 7 years old,” she says.

It was a precocious statement, considering her mother, Dasha Reich, was a Manhattan fashion designer who is now a renowned abstractionist painter, and her father, Dr. Charles Reich, was a periodontist who is now a well-known architectural photographer.

“It's so obvious, isn't it?” Band jokes about her place among her family's artists. “My parents did a really good job of responding to the direction I went in. They believe in nature over nurture. They didn't force arts down my throat, although it was a big part of my home environment and my heritage.”

Since leaving New York and retiring, Dasha and Reich have been active in Sarasota's arts community. Band was visiting them when she met her future husband, area attorney Greg Band, on a blind date.

As a Manhattan native who studied in Boston, London and Chicago and worked in New York, Hong Kong and San Francisco, Band says she was “a big-city girl” before moving to Sarasota for marriage.

That's when she “came across this little bit of a gem in Raymond James,” she said. Alumni connections arranged a meeting with James, son of the founder, Bob James. “We struck up a great relationship,” Band says, “and 10 years later, here I am.”

James adds that when he first met Band she was in a senior-level private equity role at Merrill Lynch/Bank of America. “We didn't need any investment bankers at the time,” says James. “(But) I would have hired her on the spot. We are a growth organization, and when you see talent like that, you seize the moment.”

Band, whose maternal grandparents survived the Nazis in Czechoslovakia, was recently named a board member with The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. She will spearhead middle and high school education programs, she says, which is “not so much about the Holocaust but about lessons in standing up for what is right — which is a very American value.”

Influences and influencing

Band also mentors interns from local universities and often speaks with groups such as The Young Professionals Network. She founded a Women in Capital Markets Group at Raymond James and helps promote The Women's Conference of Florida.

Among influences Band shares with mentees and her team are Malcolm Gladwell's books, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” and “Outliers: The Story of Success.”

She also recommends NPR's “How I Built This” podcasts. “Every story is different. That's the great message about business — there are many ways to skin a cat. There isn't just one model. Patagonia and Starbucks — what was their secret to success?”

Communicating, she says, is the key to good leadership. “My philosophy is, 'You need to know the whole picture so you know what your role is.' Give them a field of responsibility to handle,” Band says. “People feel so much more vested when they have their own real estate to manage. Don't keep them in their little cube.”

Major conference

Alexandra Band, outside her work in mergers and corporate development for Raymond James, helps put on the Women's Conference of Florida.
Last year, at the inaugural conference, held in Tampa, there were about 900 attendees. This year, organizers expect to surpass 1,000 attendees. The 2017 Women's Conference of Florida is scheduled for Oct. 26-27 at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The list of speakers scheduled for the 2017 conference includes:
• “Shark Tank” TV show star Lori Greiner;
• Levo Chief Leadership Officer Tiffany Dufu;
• Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research Executive Director Lori Mackenzie; and
• Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Bank of Montreal independent director Jan Babiak.  
For more information go to womensconferenceofflorida.com

(This story was updated to reflect the correct name of Band's mentor at Northwestern.)