In 1996 Wall Street trailblazer Muriel F. Siebert had just a small hand in public finance through the brokerage she founded. That changed over steaks at Manhattan's Post House restaurant when a handshake between Siebert, Napoleon Brandford III, and Suzanne Shank launched Siebert Brandford Shank & Co.
"We started the firm over a handshake and it was decided there on the spot that Napolean would be chairman and I would be president," Shank, also the firm's chief executive officer, said in an interview Monday following Siebert's death at a New York City hospital over the weekend from complications due to cancer. She was 84.
Siebert's role was limited to investor and co-founding partner as she let the public finance professionals - Brandford and Shank - shape and run the firm. But her name, reputation, and counsel played a key role in the top minority, and women-owned, firm's growth as a senior manager of billion-dollar plus deals, Shank said.
The firm has since underwritten more than $1.2 trillion in bonds and in 2012 ranked 14th among senior managers nationally, according to Thomson Reuters. No change in day-to-day operations is expected at the firm which is headquartered in both New York and Oakland.
Muriel "Mickie" Siebert's career spanned 40 years in the financial services industry, including roles as analyst, broker, investment banker, and regulator. Services and a memorial celebration were scheduled for Tuesday.
Many firsts defined Siebert's career. She became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967. After incorporating her firm Muriel Siebert & Co. in 1969, she announced in 1975, it would become one of the industry's first discount brokerage houses. She took the post of New York State Banking Commissioner in 1977 and served for five years.
In 1996, Siebert's municipal work was mostly limited to co-manager positions. She reached out to Brandford, who at the time was considering his next step with his firm - Grigsby Brandford & Co. -- struggling under the cloud of bribery allegations involving partner Calvin Grigsby. Grigsby was later cleared of the allegations stemming from business in Florida.
Brandford brought along to the dinner one of his top bankers, Shank, who had recently been elevated to CEO at the firm. By the end of the night, it was decided that Brandford would serve as chairman from his California base and Shank as president from Detroit. Both had been courted by other firms with offers of employment or merger opportunities, but it was Siebert's enthusiasm for their vision that sealed the deal, Shank recalled.
"We really liked her idea of a minority-and women owned powerhouse that could do big deals as a senior manager," Shank said. Both Brandford and Shank are African Americans and their prior firm had been the largest minority owned broker-dealer.
Aside from Siebert's capital contribution, she brought a stellar reputation on ethics and a pioneering background to the table. With Siebert's expertise on the equities side, she let Brandford and Shank run the municipal business while providing counsel. "At that point in her career there was no situation I could present her with that she hadn't faced," Shank said.
Shank said she also appreciated Siebert's personal touch as a mentor and friend. "We would be talking about business and Mickie would say 'wait a minute, how are you?'" and would always inquire after Shank's children and whether she needed anything. "I'm really going to miss her and feel lucky to have developed such a close personal and working relationship with her."
"It has been a great honor to partner with Muriel Siebert for the last 17 years," Brandford said in a statement. "Her lifelong commitment to opening doors for women and minority business leaders led not only to the birth of SBSCO but energized many young women and minority students, who today have unlimited career options that just did not exist when Mickie began blazing the trail."