Strength In Numbers

By sharing equity with employees and snaring lucrative corporate-bond deals, Christopher Williams has propelled his firm into the big leagues

as Blaylock and Partners (No. 7 on the investment bank list of the be financial 50), which gets its capital from Bear Stearns, or Utendahl Capital Partners (No. 2 on the investment bank list of the be financial 50), which is partially owned by Merrill Lynch, have taken a lot of heat for having such support.

The latest evolution takes Williams Capital overseas. The company opened an office in London last fall to facilitate research and trading in the foreign equity market, and plans to have six full-time employees by the end of the year. The London office will serve as the hub of its international equity and fixed-income trading subsidiary, and make trades in markets throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.

In another groundbreaking move, Williams Capital completed the application process for membership on the New York Stock Exchange. At press time, the firm was expecting to lease a seat, which costs $250,000 a year or more. The move, which will make Williams Capital one of a handful of black firms to gain such membership in the past 26 years, will enable it to cut out the middlemen when making trades and increase its credibility and clout when dealing with major corporations. (See "Investment Bank Overview," this issue.)

As Williams Capital forges ahead, the landscape of the securities industry continues to change. Banks and brokerage firms merge. Global outfits are in great demand. Small investments banks have to join forces or die.

Will Williams Capital ever be on the auction block? "As a trader, you must be open to being acquired," says Williams. And while he has had conversations with several firms, he has yet to see an offer that is too good to refuse.

For the present it seems like Williams will play the role of acquirer. He professes an interest in buying outfits that specialize in asset management, private placements and merger-and-acquisition consulting. All are ways to beef up the business.

From the brink of bankruptcy to full employee ownership and an international presence.

What’s next for Williams Capital?

Don’t blink.

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