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Ken Moelis parts ways with UBS

Some wonder if the high-profile investment banker will launch his own firm in L.A.

March 20, 2007|Tom Petruno | Times Staff Writer

Is Ken Moelis ready to open his own investment banking shop in Los Angeles?

Moelis, considered by many on Wall Street to be Southern California's most powerful investment banker, stepped down Monday as the top deal maker at Swiss financial giant UBS.

His departure had been rumored for the last week or so. Now the speculation centers on what the 48-year-old financier will do next.

A student of former junk bond king Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. in the 1980s, Moelis in the 1990s became renowned for his merger-advisory and financing skills as a deal maker in the L.A. office of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Securities.

His clients have included such business titans as John Kluge, Marvin Davis and Donald Trump.

"He has a wonderful way of assessing a situation," said Stephen Bollenbach, chief executive of Beverly Hills-based Hilton Hotels Corp. and one of Moelis' longtime clients.

Bollenbach said he hadn't spoken with the banker about his plans. But Moelis "could do anything he wants," given his experience and his industry contacts, the Hilton chief said.

Moelis did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Some investment banking industry players said it would be good for Southern California to have a banker of Moelis' stature open his own shop here. Moelis has spent his entire career in Los Angeles but has always worked for banking firms based in New York or Europe.

Steve Lebow, who worked with Moelis at DLJ in the 1990s, said Moelis would have no shortage of potential clients if he launched his own business.

"Kenny would have a very large following," said Lebow, now a principal at venture capital firm GRP Partners in Century City.

Moelis jumped to UBS in 2000 amid large-scale defections from DLJ after it was purchased by Credit Suisse. He became president of UBS' investment bank in 2005.

He is credited with sharply raising UBS' profile as a deal maker in recent years. But Moelis reportedly has wanted the Zurich-based firm to venture further into risk-taking in the global deal arena, such as in lending money for corporate leveraged buyouts.

Moelis wanted UBS to "develop different aspects of our business at a different pace," Huw Jenkins, chief executive of UBS' investment banking arm, said in an interview Monday with Bloomberg News.

Born in New Rochelle, N.Y., Moelis received a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and got his master's degree there as well, at the university's Wharton Business School.

Wharton also is Milken's alma mater.

tom.petruno@latimes.com

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