The departure of Joele Frank, a name partner and head of Abernathy MacGregor’s vaunted mergers and acquisitions practice, was not the best start to the year, but the firm appears to have bounced back stronger than many observers predicted, and at the end of 2000 it was acquired by Havas Advertising, giving it access to international markets and cash for expansion.
Abernathy MacGregor continues to rank among the top five firms in the M&A arena (30 last year, representing clients such as Vivendi, Cemex, and Vodafone), while expanding its work in the financial services sector (banking, insurance, hedge funds), and managing several high-profile IPOs (although the number was down from last year, as it was for most firms in that market). The Los Angeles office, meanwhile, is best known for its work in financial services, real estate, and healthcare.
Many firms that specialize in the transactions market are built around a couple of rainmakers. The name partners bring in the business, and a small army of junior people does the footwork. At Abernathy MacGregor, the pyramid is inverted: there are more senior people, and they not only bring in business, they also work on it, and occasionally work on other partners’ projects too, as needed. It’s a refreshing change from the “eat what you kill” mentality of some competitors, and one reason the firm has been able to attract quality senior people like Andy Merrill, who joined from Sard Verbinnen and has helped create a new utilities practice, and Sandy Sternberg, a crisis management expert and veteran of Sitrick and Fleishman-Hillard in the L.A. office.
The firm also handles more retainer clients than many of its transaction-oriented competitors—Bank of New York, for example, has been a client for the 16 years the firm has been in existence, while many emerging technology companies turn to Abernathy MacGregor to establish their investor relations and communications departments and to handle strategic planning on a long-term basis.