By Marisa Navarro
In the 1992 recession, Lloyd Greif did the unthinkable: He left the position of vice chairman of investment banking at San Francisco-based Sutro & Co. and launched his own investment bank, Greif & Co. in Los Angeles.
After 10 years at Sutro, Greif had reached a point where he no longer felt challenged by his work. Greif attributes this to the loss of entrepreneurial spirit at Sutro’s employee-owned office after Boston-based John Hancock Financial Services acquired it.
Despite the unfortunate economic times, Greif launched the company along with a couple of Sutro colleagues. “When I formed the firm, people thought I had my head on backwards,” Greif reflects. “It was a risky time to start a venture. We were setting up shop while others were leaving town.
“Maybe the world didn’t need just another investment bank, but I thought the world needed another good investment bank.”
Greif designed a firm that would serve middle-market and entrepreneur-owned companies, a sector he believed was underserved by the larger investment banks.
“Look at the Fortune 100, 500 or 1000 companies, and you’ll see that there are not many of them, yet everyone’s going after them,” Greif says. “With entrepreneurs, there are hundreds of thousands of deserving customers. But many times, they’re too small and not glamorous enough for [the bigger investment banks] to serve.”
According to Greif, the middle-market and entrepreneur formula has proved successful, with a total of a billion dollars a year in deals brokered by Greif & Co.
Although Greif & Co. has one office with 17 employees in downtown Los Angeles, its reputation is spreading beyond the West Coast. According to Greif, one-third of deals involve companies from the East Coast, Latin America, Asia and Europe. “Pound for pound on or off Wall Street, we routinely compete with the Goldman Sachses of the world,” Greif says.
Despite a booming economy, middle-market companies continue to be overshadowed by the dot-com and telecom spotlight.
“Internet companies are very much in vogue these days,” he says. “We’re happy assisting more ‘mundane’ companies.”
The mundane—but profitable—companies Greif & Co. assists include City of Commerce’s Smart & Final, Manhattan Beach’s Skechers U.S.A., Inc. and El Segundo’s Bristol Farms.
Greif & Co., however, isn’t simply the home of the shunned. Its creed as “The Entrepreneur’s Investment Bank” requires distinct customer relations. Greif, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s entrepreneur program, knows that entrepreneurs are a different breed, sometimes eccentric but always demanding.
“I knew if we could satisfy that customer base, then there wasn’t a customer we couldn’t assist,” Greif says.