CHICAGO — New York City-based M.R. Beal & Co. has hired former Fitch Ratings analyst Joseph O’Keefe to promote its Chicago-area banking efforts as it seeks to carve out a larger piece of Midwestern business, especially in a senior manager’s position.

O’Keefe, 55, started at the firm last week as a senior vice president. He will cover Chicago-area issuers and Illinois and seek to expand the firm’s business in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, according to chief president and chief operating officer Stanley Grayson.

“We have a large and growing office in Chicago since it opened in 2005 and in Joe we’ve hired a senior person who has investment banking experience and tremendous rating agency experience,” he said. “With the collapse of insurance, underlying credit is more and more important and understanding the strength and weaknesses of a credit is very important. Someone like Joe will be a valuable resource for the firm.”

O’Keefe joined the ranks of public finance investment bankers in mid-2008 after spending 12 years covering government credits at Fitch and 15 years at Standard & Poor’s. He is well-known to most issuer officials and bankers in the Midwest. 

O’Keefe worked for Ohio-based Butler Wick & Co. for less than a year when Stifel Nicolaus & Co. acquired it but then cut its public finance team. The group, including O’Keefe, landed at Cincinnati-based Ross, Sinclaire & Associates LLC but O’Keefe was laid off over the ­summer.

In his search, O’Keefe said he wanted to stick with banking and sought to join a firm he believed was committed to public finance clients. “This is really a great opportunity to join a growing firm,” he said.

The 22-year-old minority-owned firm has in recent years successfully carved out a larger chunk of local business and served on the team of financial advisers hired by Chicago to work on the proposed Midway Airport lease.

The Chicago office is Beal’s second largest, after New York, although most of its 12 employees work on equity sales and trading and corporate finance. The firm has been on the hunt to hire industry veterans available due to cutbacks and mergers at other firms. The firm has two other offices, in Sacramento and Dallas. 

Grayson and chief executive officer Bernard Beal had been covering Chicago area clients out of New York since the departure of banker Steve Eaddy in mid-2006. Beal ranked 35th last year nationally as a senior manager, after finishing 2008 in the 30th spot, while as a co-manager it ranked 15th last year and 14th in 2008, according to Thomson Reuters.

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