LOS ANGELES — Fitch Ratings has wooed back Jessica Soltz Rudd, a former analyst with the firm, to replace John Tillapaugh, who is retiring as business relationship manager of the western region.
Soltz Rudd spent 11 years with the rating agency, working her way up to senior director and co-head of Fitch's transportation group, before leaving in June 2008 to work as a senior consultant for municipal advisory firm Frasca & Associates LLC.
"We're excited to welcome Jessica back to Fitch," said Ann Flynn, managing director and global head of U.S. & international public finance and global infrastructure business and relationship management.
Soltz Rudd had ascended to senior director at Frasca.
She returned to Fitch on Dec. 19, a few weeks before Tillapaugh's last day, to make the transition smoother, the firm said.
Tillapaugh's last day is Jan. 10.
Tillapaugh also ran the San Francisco office, but Soltz Rudd will not take on that role. A replacement has not yet been named for the office manager role.
Soltz Rudd first began at Fitch in 1997 after graduating from Syracuse University with a law degree and a master's degree in public administration.
Flynn said it is not uncommon to see people return to Fitch.
"We couldn't be happier that Jessica has decided to join the business and relationship management team, heading our tax-supported efforts in California and the Western states," Flynn said. "Her long tenure in the California public finance industry, along with an extensive network, positions her to execute on Fitch's strong position in that market."
Soltz Rudd will be targeting tax-supported credits, or those supported by tax revenue, which include school district bond issues as well as general obligation and lease revenue bonds issued by municipalities.
"We have very specific short-term goals," Soltz Rudd said. "I am going to reach out to the issuers and the municipal advisory and banker communities that we have worked with to further those goals. Our long term goal is to continue to increase our presence and our relevance."
Soltz Rudd will also target water-related credits, transportation, and school districts.
Fitch issued new criteria on how it evaluates school district ratings last year that shifted the emphasis from budget operations to focus on the dedicated taxes that support bonds districts issue.
Tillapaugh opened Fitch's San Francisco office in 1994. Soltz Rudd started at Fitch as an analyst in New York and then transferred to the San Francisco office in 2000. The northern California office now has 19 employees.
Over his 22 years with Fitch, Tillapaugh watched the rating agency grow from 150 to nearly 3,500 employees.
"I have been lucky to watch [Fitch] grow and prosper and become an important player in finance," Tillapaugh said.
His favorite attributes of the municipal bond industry are the collegial atmosphere and working in an industry that provides a public service. He has even considered some competitors as mentors, he said, naming Tony Cone, in particular.
Cone, formerly of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Westhoff, Cone & Holmstedt, died of a heart attack in February 2016.
Tillapaugh, 68, worked 16 years as a public finance banker before joining Fitch. He was at Kidder Peabody & Co, an investment bank acquired by General Electric in 1986, and then he was at Bank of America Securities for six years, as a public finance banker focusing on West Coast credits.
"Fitch was small then – it was new and being recapitalized," he said. "It had a strong management team that was entrepreneurial."
He was taking a risk by leaving investment banking, but it ended up being a great career move, he said.
Fitch was forward-thinking, said Tillapaugh, in opening regional offices in San Francisco, Texas, Florida and Chicago, which helped the company grow.
"Public finance is local and there are 7,000 potential issuers in California alone," Tillapaugh said. "It is important to have people on the ground and familiar with what is happening politically and economically, because you know what is going to happen before it happens."
Tillapaugh has been "an integral part of Fitch's U.S. public finance practice for more than two decades and we thank him for all of his contributions," said Dan Champeau, managing director and global head of U.S. & international public finance & global infrastructure.