SAN FRANCISCO — Five years after walking away from his wildly successful investment banking career to defend himself against criminal charges stemming from the collapse of Internet stocks, Frank Quattrone is returning to the role he most relishes: as a counselor to high-tech companies.
Quattrone cleared his name last August when, in a rare retreat, federal prosecutors dropped the case.
The dismissal paved the way for Quattrone's return to public life Tuesday, when he opened Qatalyst Group, a boutique investment bank in San Francisco.
"I really missed the opportunity to advise clients I know well and trust, in the industry that I have lived and breathed for the past 25 years," said Quattrone, 52, who helped steward the companies that powered the dot-com boom, including Amazon.com Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Netscape Communications Corp.
Qatalyst is expected to be received with open arms in Silicon Valley. The firm already has high-profile backers including Google Inc. Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and Intuit Inc. Chairman Bill Campbell, who said: "I think I speak for Silicon Valley when I say that the valley is a better place with Frank in it."
One of the first bankers to recognize the promise of Silicon Valley when his New York brethren still considered it a backwater, Quattrone became a legend for his deep industry knowledge and connections, friends say.
"He was the guy who arrived at your office carrying a canvas bag filled with 400 pages of analyst reports and scruffy notes, wearing his baseball cap askew, just off the red-eye from New York," said Dave Roux, co-founder of private equity firm Silver Lake Partners. "He would go digging through his stuff and would know what all your competitors were doing. He would come up with just the right thing."
Quattrone is getting back in the game as technology mergers and acquisitions have more than doubled since 2003, to $206 billion in 2007, according to Dealogic.
Corporate executives and boards are increasingly seeking seasoned, independent advice to navigate rocky economic shoals.
"It's great to see him back," said tech pioneer Marc Andreessen, who co-founded Netscape and is now working on a social-networking site called Ning. "There's a huge opportunity for his new firm."
A working-class kid from South Philadelphia, Quattrone set out to learn the high-tech industry after earning his master's degree in business administration from Stanford University. He became known for attracting top talent, moving his high-powered team from bank to bank, ultimately landing at Credit Suisse Group in 1998.
Quattrone may have been a big-name banker but he was never a suit, friends say. He won over people with his rendition of the Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon."
During the bull market of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Quattrone oversaw more initial public offerings than any other banker, showering his team with riches. In 2000, he earned an eye-popping $120 million.
Supporters say that preternatural success made him the target of a government crackdown that followed the bursting of the dot-com bubble. Prosecutors accused Quattrone of hindering a federal probe into how Credit Suisse distributed shares of initial public offerings. After two trials, prosecutors agreed to drop the charges.
Quattrone declined to discuss the past. "We're well beyond that now," he said. "Our attention is properly focused on this new opportunity."
Will Qatalyst shake up the competitive landscape?
"My guess is that he will get his unfair share" of business, Roux said. "He's a hustler."