By  on November 15, 2004

NEW YORK — Financo Inc. has named former Merrill Lynch investment banker William S. Susman as president and chief operating officer, WWD has learned.

Susman becomes the second in command at Financo, the boutique investment banking firm focused on the retail and merchandising sectors and led by Gilbert H. Harrison, its chairman, chief executive and founder.

The 40-year-old Susman succeeds Bill Smith, who left last July to partner with venture capitalist Christopher Burch.

Susman will be responsible for directing all of Financo’s advisory services on merger and acquisitions, private capital raising, restructuring and private equity investing. He’ll also contribute to establishing relationships with clients and bringing in business, strategic and financing assignments and executing transactions.

“He was the first person I called after Bill Smith told me he was leaving,” Harrison said. “I called him the next day. He’s known for getting the deal done.”

Susman has over 15 years of investment banking experience, most recently heading up Merrill Lynch’s retail and consumer products investment banking arm, where he advised such firms as Neiman Marcus; Sears, Roebuck; Nike, and Target..

Prior to Merrill, he was a senior member of the investment banking team at Salomon Brothers Inc., where he focused on global transportation clients and was involved in transactions and developing client relationships.

“He’s an experienced deal guy and he knows our industry,” said Hal Upbin, chairman and ceo of Kellwood Co., which on occasion has been advised by Susman.

Asked why he decided to shift from the world of big financial institutions to a boutique banking firm, Susman replied: “I felt after 15-plus years, I wanted the opportunity to work in a more hands-on, entrepreneurial organization, and to really be able to make a difference in a company with a very client-centric culture.”

Susman acknowledged that, after the phone call from Harrison, he didn’t race to join Financo because he wanted some time to reflect on his options, and Harrison interviewed about 20 other candidates. However, Susman added, “I’ve known Gilbert for awhile. We have a shared vision and a common goal.”Among the objectives: “To move Financo to the next level by increasing the number of transactions done on an annual basis and increasing the deal size, while maintaining independence and the hands-on approach,” Susman said.

Harrison said he expects industry consolidation to accelerate. “As larger companies become scarcer, you will see a number of midtier companies up for sale and new companies emerging. We will also see private equity firms becoming much bigger players.”

Given the climate for consolidation, Harrison said he’s beefing up his team. “It’s important for me to bring on young, trained, seasoned investment bankers,” he noted. “Absolutely, we will be hiring at the managing director, director and vice president levels.”

Financo has a total of 25 banking and restructuring professionals, and has assembled a pool of 18 consultants working on freelance assignments, including the recent additions of Hal Kahn, former chairman and ceo of Macy’s East; Gail Cook, former group president at Liz Claiborne; Linda Beauchamp, a former Donna Karan and Susan Dell executive, and Alan Kane, a professor of retailing at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a former retailer.

Another Financo unit, the Mercantile Capital Partners private equity fund for investing in merchandising companies is run by Antoine Treuille and Edward Harrison, Gilbert’s son.

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