With M&A down some 10 percent in value and five percent in volume in 2012 from the previous year, Harris Williams & Co.'s 60 percent growth in deal value and 50 percent in volume marks quite an impressive feat. The middle-market boutique investment bank completed more than 75 transactions, valued at around $13.7 billion. To put the bank's growth in perspective, consider that competitor William Blair & Co. achieved similar numbers in 2012, but its growth from the previous year, while certainly noteworthy at 31 percent in value and 15 percent in volume, was not as dramatic.
"It was a record year for us by a long shot," says co-founder Hiter Harris.
The company's average deal value for 2012 was $202 million.
Harris Williams' softer points, especially its high employee retention rate, consistency and dedication to quality, helped make it a record year, according to Harris.
The firm, known for hiring and keeping its talented employees happy, grew its headcount by about nine percent in 2012, adding two managing directors to its transportation and logistics group. Since the company was founded in 1991, it has grown to more than 200 employees.
"When you hit complex times, those features really do put you ahead," Harris says.
The firm also has a database that has collected everything over the past 17 years, including contact points and records of conversations.
"I can tell you a conversation I had eight years ago with a PE buyer and exactly what was talked about," Harris says.
The Richmond, Va.-based investment bank primarily works on sell-side M&A transactions. The firm represented Ameriforge Group Inc., a manufacturer of products used in the energy, aerospace and transportation industries, on its sale to private equity firm First Reserve Corp. That deal closed in December.
Another notable deal, according to Harris, was Yeti Coolers LLC's sale to New York's Cortec Group. Yeti makes coolers that are used by hunters and fishermen.
"If you go to any sportsman and say 'what's your favorite cooler?' 99 percent of them will say, 'Yeti, of course," Harris quips.
Harris Williams also worked on Graham-White Manufacturing Co. Inc.'s sale to Faiveley Transport SA, a Paris-based company that designs and maintains railway systems. Graham-White was a fourth generation company headquartered in Salem, Va., that manufactures components for locomotives and rail transit.
The deal was one of several international sales that Harris Williams was involved with, as the bank continues to expand throughout the globe.
For Harris, the closing dinner for the Graham-White deal was especially meaningful.
"We literally had four generations celebrating their family's work for almost one hundred years," recalls Harris. "When you witness that, you realize what we do is more than a transaction. We're in the middle of what could be the most important transaction of these people's lives."