BRADENTON, Fla. - After 42 years at Moody's Investors Service, John Incorvaia is retiring with a legacy admired by many municipal market participants.
"At the end of a deal," said financial advisor Jerry Ford, "he forced the people on the other side of the table to be better than they would have been otherwise."
After spending much of his tenure at Moody's concentrating on Florida, those who worked with Incorvaia say they consider him a consummate professional who treated everyone fairly and with integrity.
"We refer to him as the dean of public finance. He's the yardstick by which we measure everyone else," said Ford, president of Tampa-based Ford & Associates.
Born in Brooklyn, Incorvaia received a bachelor's degree from Don Bosco College and remained in the New York area afterward. "I came to Wall Street armed with a philosophy degree and thought that the degree would get me in somewhere," he said.
In 1973, Moody's offered him a job in financial publishing where he eventually became associate editor and supervisor. When internal candidates were considered for analytical positions in 1979, Incorvaia said he jumped at the chance to develop a good, long-term career.
"I saw the work as challenging, yet interesting. And that proved to be right," said Incorvaia, who climbed through the analytical ranks from assistant vice president, to vice president and senior vice president.
At work, Incorvaia is a "genuinely thoughtful person" who remembers colleagues' birthdays, said Julie Beglin, Moody's vice president and senior credit officer.
"John's been a complete pleasure, such a gentleman, and an expert in his field," she said, adding that he developed deep knowledge about Florida's economy and factors that related to the state's credit strengths.
"The other major thing I'd point out about John is how great and unparalleled he is in terms of issuer relations," she said.
Colleagues who attended conferences with Incorvaia said he was greeted like a rock star by issuers who waited in line to shake his hand, Beglin said, who added that he treated issuers and investors alike.
An early riser, Incorvaia would often hold rating conference calls as early as 5:30 a.m. to accommodate issuers' schedules. He developed a reputation for using his vast knowledge of credits to pepper clients with probing questions, according to those who worked with him.
"He really knows his craft, and he does his homework," said Benjamin Leong, chief financial officer at Broward County Schools, the sixth-largest public school system in the U.S.
"He asks a lot of questions," said Leong, who has known Incorvaia since he became Broward's CFO about 15 years ago. "He's a fair guy. I'm going to miss him."
Incorvaia "helped make a better life for many people" by facilitating a trusted dialogue about government infrastructure that brought investors and funding together to finance worthy projects, said Orange County, Fla. fiscal manager Fred Winterkamp.
Municipal market participants said they have found Incorvaia to be remarkable in his dedication and willingness to understand his clients. Beglin said he did not sugar-coat bad news, but he prepared clients if a downgrade was coming and still maintained a positive relationship.
"I often told issuers, 'Be prepared because John may know your financials better than you, he has been reviewing the notes in your audits for 15 years, and he knows every detail,'" said David Moore, managing director at Public Financial Management.
"He always approached issuers with an open mind and a sincere desire to understand the unique aspects of each one," he said.
Florida experienced "phenomenal growth and significant challenges" during Incorvaia tenure at Moody's, Moore said. "He played a role in helping a wide range of issuers develop more successful approaches to the capital markets by encouraging them to build stronger financial foundations."
Before the recession, the Sunshine state faced the challenge of dealing with unprecedented growth, Incorvaia said. Several years after the housing market crash, most tax bases have recovered yet Florida communities continue to struggle to balance their budgets.
Incorvaia predicted a period of more modest growth in Florida's tax base and population going forward, and said he believes the state needs to continue diversifying the economy to generate higher-paying jobs. Large cities need to control fixed costs, such as pensions, and start rebuilding reserves.
"Climate change, I believe, will also pose some economic and financial challenges going forward," he said.
When asked about his most memorable experiences over the past 42 years, Incorvaia said one involves a not-so-pleasant helicopter ride in which another analyst became sick.
Meeting former Gov. Jeb Bush was also memorable, he said, as was flying over south Florida to see the destruction caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
For the past two years, Incorvaia has commuted to work in New York from the Research Triangle area in North Carolina where he and his family will retire. His last day is April 30, when he turns 66.
Incorvaia said he will miss colleagues and clients but not deadlines, special projects, or new regulatory requirements.
In a parting thought, he said he has met some extraordinary people during his career.
"I'd like to thank them for all the time, graciousness, and cooperation they extended to me over the years," Incorvaia said. "I always tried to return the favor by being prepared, professional, and getting the rating right. If that's what I'm remembered for, that's enough."