Ehlers embarks on a new chapter with a new president

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Roseville, Minnesota-based financial advisory firm Ehlers Companies is reintroducing itself to the municipal market as it looks to the future with a new president and eye on expansion.

The independent advisory firm this month launched a brand makeover with a new logomark, description, and website that it believes better describes the full scope of its services under one brand, said Jeff Eaton, who took over as president late last year.

“Over the last several months, we’ve taken a hard look at what’s really important about what we do every day,” Eaton said. While the firm is proud of its 64-year legacy in public finance, it wants to send a broader message that its role is about “building communities” and the firm wanted that made clear in its brand image.

Services extend beyond advising on bond sales to include financial management planning, economic development, debt compliance, investment and treasury management, and arbitrage consulting. Prior to the retooling of its brand, each service line maintained its own identity on the website. The firm believes the makeover now makes clear that Ehlers is one company with an array of services.

Eaton and the firm’s marketing director, Kristin Cummings, said the firm already marketed those services so it was a matter of matching its website and marketing identity to what advisors were already doing with its issuer clients.

The firm ranked second in the Midwest among advisors last year, credited with 313 issues totaling $2.9 billion, according to Refinitiv data. It ranked 19th nationally.

The bulk of its bond advisory work is on competitive deals for clients that have included more than 1,500 local governments, schools, and public agencies in five states.

The Ehlers board chose Eaton, whose career had been in commercial real estate, after conducting a four-month national search that also looked at internal candidates. The board highlighted his financial acumen, leadership skills, and reputation in establishing work places that have been recognized as “best workplaces” in magazine and industry rankings.

“It became clear to us very quickly that Jeff embodies the executive qualities and experience we need to help Ehlers seize new growth opportunities, optimize financial performance and enhance brand presence,” board chairman Phil Cosson said in a statement.

Eaton most recently led Cushman & Wakefield’s north central region. While he faces a municipal learning curve, Eaton said there had been some overlap as he’s worked on public real development projects.

Eaton is among a crop of new leadership at the firm after the board’s longtime chairman Michael Harrigan, also a senior financial advisor, retired late last year, handing the reins to Cosson. Ehlers' chief financial officer also departed.

Eaton replaced Steve Apfelbacher, who announced his plans to retire after 40 years at Ehlers last year. He remains at the firm to help steer it through the leadership transition.

“Forty years ago, we had just a handful of employees and a single shop in Minneapolis,” Apfelbacher said. “Leaving this work after four decades is certainly bittersweet, but I feel incredibly confident that, under Jeff’s leadership, Ehlers’ future will be a bright one.”

Ehlers currently has a staff of 75 across its operations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado including 35 who offer either municipal, investment or arbitrage advice as well as 30 analysts or specialists.

The firm expanded its footprint from Minnesota and Wisconsin to include Colorado in 2014 when it acquired Public Finance Associates, a small financial advisory services firm facing the challenges of a more demanding regulatory environment after the establishment of the municipal advisory rule.

Eaton said the firm has its eye on “growth opportunities” that include the goal of snaring more business in its existing footprint, adding or enhancing services, and expanding beyond existing markets. The firm is not currently in any active acquisition or merger talks but is open to such a move to achieve expansion.

“We are looking at places where our business model as an independent firm with integrated services might fit,” Eaton said.

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Municipal advisors Sell side Financial services industry Career moves Ehlers Companies Wisconsin Minnesota Colorado