CHICAGO - Denver-based investment banking firm George K. Baum & Co. has hired prominent Midwest health care banker Tom Laird to open a Minneapolis office and launch a new national health care business.

Hired as a senior vice president, Laird moved to Baum from RBC Capital Markets, where he worked for six years, part of the time as head of the health care group. He left RBC last October.

Baum plans to hire support staff for the new Minneapolis office as well as additional senior bankers over the next few months if business goes well, said vice chairman Robert K. Dalton.

The expansion comes as many Wall Street firms, struggling with declining profits, continue to shed public finance bankers and smaller, regional firms move to take advantage of those industry changes.

"It's a time of a lot of opportunity, both on the personnel side - where we are seeing lots of resumes and have the opportunity to evaluate a lot of talented bankers - and it's even more of an opportunity in terms of issuers and the situations they find themselves in," Dalton said.

"Many of the banking teams [previously used by issuers] have evaporated over the past 12 months. We are hopeful of expanding our market share over the next few years," he added.

For Laird, who is 39, the move to Baum from RBC is part of a larger shift taking place in the public finance industry.

"There's been a fundamental paradigm shift on Wall Street, and it's a great opportunity for boutique, regional firms with a national presence to gain in this market, because they haven't lost their culture or their focus," Laird said. "Our industry is going to look very different in a year or two, and we hope to take advantage of that."

One shift that could benefit smaller firms is the possibility that more issuers will look to teams of broker-dealers instead of just one firm on deals, predicted Laird.

"The supermarket approach to investment banking - I can do soup to nuts for your organization - well, the market has demonstrated that that's not true," he said. "Many clients have looked at the last year and said, 'The firm didn't support me the way I thought they would.' Just as it's considered good to diversify your investment portfolio, it's good to diversify your service portfolio. Two years ago that concept would have fallen on deaf ears, but it's a whole different story today."

In terms of the health care market, Laird expects issuance to remain down throughout the year, and issuers will continue to assess their capital needs and look for advice to cope with a changing municipal market.

"It's a very difficult time to be a [chief financial officer] of any major company and especially in health care," he said. "In terms of providing trusted advice, there's no better time to be in our business."

Founded 80 years ago, Baum has 48 public finance bankers in 15 cities across the country. The firm employs 43 sales and trading professionals in five cities. It focuses on the single-family housing sector, higher education, K-12 schools, transportation, and now health care.

Among senior managers, Baum ranked 13th in the nation last year on 214 deals worth $4.3 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. Since 2004, the firm has ranked either 12th or 13th in the nation. In the Midwest last year, Baum ranked 15th among senior managers.

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