CHICAGO - In a move that puts St. Louis-based Stern Brothers & Co. among the limited ranks of broker-dealers owned by women, Pepe Prince Finn last month purchased a majority stake from her husband and the firm's president, Terrance Finn, and was named board chairman.

Pepe Finn is a lawyer and former public finance banker who has been on Stern's board since 2006. The shift in ownership was made in conjunction with Finn's decision to step up her role at the firm after sending her youngest of three children off to college. She replaces former chairman Donald Estell, who retired.

Finn's professional career includes working as a securities broker for Merrill Lynch & Co. and as a municipal banker for the former Boatmen's Bank, now part of Bank of America Corp. She became a member of the Missouri Bar in 1987. Her civic activities include terms as a trustee and later board chairman of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.

"Pepe has had a substantial amount of involvement with the firm for several years. With the last child now off to college, she is ready to step into a substantial role. This is something that she and the firm have prepared for for quite some time," said Stern spokeswoman Kimberly Brandt.

The independent broker-dealer had previously barred spouses from holding an ownership stake in the firm, which focuses on public finance banking and the trading and selling of tax-exempt and taxable bonds. Terrence Finn, known as Terry, changed that policy after he purchased the 92-year-old firm in January 2007. He previously had been a part owner of the company.

As Pepe Finn sought to increase her role at the firm, it was first decided that she would take over as board chairman.

"Terry spends most of his time in direct contact with clients, working on the transactional side of the business," Brandt said. "With Pepe taking the reigns as chairman, coupled with her actual role moving forward, it made sense for her to own the majority of the company."

Brandt, who was recently promoted to vice president of marketing and corporate communications, said she could not immediately release more details on the daily business or oversight responsibilities Pepe Finn would take over, as she still must obtain or renew various licenses. Brandt declined to release any additional details on the transaction between the Finns, such as the purchase price or possible tax implications.

Several local banking sources that compete with Stern Brothers praised Pepe Finn's professional and civic reputation and described her as being well-liked and respected.

Finn is increasing her role as the firm steadily grows its ranks. It has more than doubled in size since 2007. It has bulked up by picking up veteran market participants, many often displaced by the market and economic turmoil, especially from the firm's former competitor A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., which was bought by Wachovia Bank NA in 2007 and has since been acquired by Wells Fargo Bank.

Stern Brothers last year hired the father-son institutional sales team of Thomas and John Shapiro to open a second Chicago-area office, while former A.G. Edwards banker Charlie Forrest came out of retirement to open a Los Angeles office in 2007. His son Benjamin Forrest later joined that office as an analyst.

The firm has also added Marvin Anderson, veteran trader David Hubeli, new chief compliance officer Mark Witte, public finance airport infrastructure specialist Terri Smalinsky, and analyst Brian Tournier.

Joining the ranks of women-owned firms could help boost Stern's business among issuers that seek to meet certain minority- and women-owned business participation goals. "It certainly can't hurt, but ultimately you get hired on your merits," said one local source that competes with Stern Brothers.

In addition to St. Louis, the firm has offices in Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Tampa.

Stern rose to 59th place from 69th in 2007 among senior managers nationally and ranks 60th so far this year, according to Thomson Reuters. It ranks 113th so far this year after ranking 119th last year and 72d in 2007 nationally as co-manager.

In the Midwest, the firm ranked 39th last year among senior managers compared to 43d in 2007. It ranks 32d so far this year. In Missouri, Stern rose to 10th place among senior managers last year compared to 20th in 2007. It ranks 15th so far this year.

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