Managing director and co-head, global asset management investment banking, Merrill Lynch & Co., New York
Just more than a decade since David Heaton joined Merrill Lynch & Co.'s nascent asset management M&A practice, a number of CEOs pay him the ultimate accolade of trusted adviser.
Getting there took people skills as well as organizational muscle. Merrill's vast resources help get you in the door ... but you can't be a trusted adviser if your relationship isn't personal as well as professional, said Mr. Heaton, who originally joined Merrill in 1992 as an analyst.
Mr. Heaton said his team strives to learn what makes each organization it advises tick. That effort can involve talking on an ongoing basis with 10 to 15 executives and multiple constituencies within a company.
Mr. Heaton is a great resource, who understands my company and provides dispassionate advice on what we really need, said one Boston-based CEO. In a deal-driven industry, several CEOs said Mr. Heaton's willingness to advise them against pursuing certain transactions only buoys their trust in Merrill.
Today, with clients focused on building global franchises, Mr. Heaton said the ability of his New York-based team to coordinate with Merrill investment banking teams in London and Hong Kong, led by longtime colleagues, is an advantage. Longstanding relationships within Merrill help cement the firm's relationships with clients, he said.
Mr. Heaton said his team's six senior executives are working to give younger professionals such as John Erickson, Brian Lessig and Angela Fannon the same leeway to establish relationships with clients that Gregory J. Fleming, now Merrill's president, gave Mr. Heaton and Managing Director Andrew Hoover when he drafted them in 1996 as the practice's first two foot soldiers.
Final words: You have to be honest with clients when you feel they're not focused on the right opportunities. Those are the most challenging conversations you have, but they can be the most useful, Mr. Heaton said.