CHICAGO - Veteran Chicago-based public finance banker and financial adviser Bill Morris said he will focus on public service in the nearterm after Colorado-based D.A. Davidson & Co. closed its Chicago office on Friday.
Morris, a former Democratic state senator and Waukegan mayor, was named last week by his longtime friend Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to serve on the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board as the governor seeks to put his stamp on the authority amid various contracting scandals involving firms tied to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"I am going to Europe with my wife Sue and then I am going to focus on public service projects for now," Morris, a senior vice president and manager of the Chicago office, said in an interview late last week. A second banker in the office, Kim DuPree, has joined the Illinois Finance Authority as a fund manager. The office's Kelechi Ukawuba, a licensed associate, is still seeking a position.
Morris, 64, served as financial adviser to Illinois and the IFA in recent years and in the past was a financial adviser to the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and the city of Chicago. The firm ranked fifth in the Midwest advising on 22 issues worth $890 million for the first half of 2009, according to Thomson Reuters. The firm ranked sixth in the Midwest last year on 71 issues worth $1.8 billion and was third in 2007 advising on 85 deals worth $2.1 billion.
Morris grew up in the city of Geneva, a Republican stronghold far west of Chicago, where his parents were organizers of the city's scant Democratic organization. He attended journalism school at Northern Illinois University and worked as a reporter until 1973 when he decided to run for the state Senate, where he served with Richard M. Daley, now mayor of Chicago.
After one term, he ran for mayor of Waukegan, about 40 miles north of Chicago. During his two terms from 1977 to 1985, he steered the city through difficult fiscal times. As fixed-rates shot up, the city was one of the first in the early 1980s in the state to sell variable-rate bonds. His friend, prominent former Chicago comptroller Clark Burrus, who was running the public finance department at the former First Chicago Capital Markets, talked to him about joining the firm after his mayoral term.
Morris landed at the former Continental Bank and when that bank folded moved to George K. Baum & Co.. He went onto work at Dougherty, Dawkins, Strand & Bigelow, which evolved into Bigelow & Co., and focused his attention on smaller, more complex deals and his financial advisory work. Bigelow was sold to Kirkpatrick Pettis in 2000 and in 2005 the firm merged with D.A. Davidson.
As a financial adviser and banker, Morris counts his contributions in advising the depressed suburban town of Maywood on its finances and keeping it out of bankruptcy in the early 1990s as one of his most significant accomplishments, along with working on the consolidation in 2003 of Illinois' conduit agencies into the IFA.
Morris' daughter Tina Smigielski, recently named finance director of Waukegan, followed her father into the public finance business, and has held positions with the tollway and Park District. Morris also has a son, Patrick, and five grandchildren.
"If you work for a firm, you have to make that firm money, but if you can help a local government finance a project efficiently and protect taxpayers, that's pretty cool," he said. "Our business has been very profitable, but it would serve itself well to step back and look itself in the mirror and think about how it can be profitable but still be fair and reasonable."