Money manager launches own firm: Former SBK-Brooks exec opens Liger Securities

May 15, 2006

If David B. Girton isn't already regarded as an innovator in the local investment brokerage community, he should be now.

The 45-year-old Indianapolis native is in the process of launching Liger Securities Corp., the only locally owned black investment firm in the city. But 10 years ago, he accomplished a similar first, when he opened the local office of Cleveland-based SBK-Brooks Investment Corp., then the only black-operated brokerage here.

Make no mistake, though, Girton's credentials far outweigh his designation as a minority-owned company.

"It helps to see that I'm black on paper, but we won't market ourselves that way," he said. "I've never done that. My skin color has never mattered to my clients."

Indeed, Girton has helped underwrite bonds for an impressive array of projects, including the city's $575.9 million purchase of the former Indianapolis Water Co. in 2002. More recently, he and SBK-Brooks partnered with locally based City Securities Corp. on a $200 million bond issue for the Lucas Oil Stadium project, which will be renewed annually for five years.

Girton left SBK-Brooks in February to venture out on his own, with the backing of city and state leaders. The idea is to grow a homespun company, as opposed to an Ohio operation.

He has set up shop on the 39th floor of Chase Tower and is awaiting state approval, and membership to the National Association of Securities Dealers, before he can conduct business. Liger Securities should be operating in about a month. In the meantime, Girton continues to network and stay busy, evident by the two African art pieces he has yet to hang on his office walls.

Municipal finance, retail sales and institutional sales will constitute the brokerage's business activity. Girton envi- sions a staff of 10 to handle retail transactions and a group of three to manage institutional and municipal needs.

The 2,200 square feet of office space he occupies will expand to more than 5,000 in August, once employees begin to arrive. He said a few are notable in the investment community, although he would not divulge their names yet.

Retail stock transactions for individual clients occur daily, hence the need for more brokers in that area. The municipal work is more spotty, however; it happens only when a city or state needs a project financed and hires an investment-banking firm such as Liger Securities to determine a cost and sell municipal bonds to finance the project.

Girton's business plan projects revenue of $1.5 million by the end of the year, which he estimates will increase to more than $1.7 million in 2007.

Bill Mays, a successful black entrepreneur who operates Mays Chemical Co. Inc., believed enough in Girton to lend him startup funding.

"The fact that we don't really have, in this city, an African-American money manager and broker was my motivation for helping him," Mays said. "It seemed to me that it would make sense to have an Indiana firm that happened to be minority-controlled, with the knowledge and skills to get a piece of the action."

City Controller Bob Clifford used to lead the Indianapolis Bond Bank. He estimated Girton, while at SBK-Brooks, participated in 20 percent to 30 percent of the city's transactions.

States, cities and other governmental entities issue bonds to pay off old debt and raise money for capital projects.

The city works to include minority- or women-owned firms on its bond issues. Because SBK-Brooks is one of the few minority-owned brokerage firms with Indiana ties, it receives a fair share of the work. But Girton hopes his new company, Liger Securities, will be just as successful.

"[Girton] would tell me, 'I'm going to start my own firm,' and he's done exactly what he has said he would do, which is admirable," Clifford said. "We try to keep the business local, and he listened to that."

The two may be competing head to head, because SBK-Brooks has no plans to abandon Indianapolis, company CEO and President Eric Small said. Following Girton's departure, the firm moved from its Keystone at the Crossing location to 101 W. Ohio St. downtown.

SBK-Brooks is currently searching for Girton's replacement.

All told, Girton has been in the investment business nearly 20 years. He joined SBK-Brooks in 1994, left for a few years in the late 1990s, and rejoined the firm in 2000. He previously was a broker and investment consultant at the local office of McDonald & Company Securities Inc.

In between his time at SBK-Brooks, he spent just five months at First Allied Securities Inc. According to a state registration report, he was discharged for failing to comply with the firm's requests for documentation and account procedures. Girton dismissed the charges as a "fluke" and maintained he is unsure what occurred.

He is a former board member of Indianapolis Public Schools and has served on the boards of more than a half dozen not-for-profits. In 1993, he was named to IBJ's list of "40 under 40."

"Everything I have done to this point has led me to here," Girton said. "I was not ready to do this 10 years ago, because I would not have had the experience."

Shortly before forming Liger Securities, Girton purchased 51 percent of Samex Capital Advisors operated by Keenan Hauke, a locally based money manager who writes a column for IBJ.

Hauke maintains the Samex office at Keystone at the Crossing and may move downtown to share space with Girton later this year, Hauke said. He hopes the transaction will help him grow his 18-month-old company faster than he could on his own.

"Being able to have access to a good depth of brokers that are going to be able to offer the money management services of Samex is a tremendous opportunity," Hauke said. "The advantage is, we're right here in town together."

As for the name, Liger Securities, Girton said he came up with it while watching the Animal Planet channel on television with his two children. An episode showed a liger, a cross between a male lion and a female tiger, which Girton thought was so beautiful he decided to name his company after it.

And besides, Girton said jokingly, "I've always been accused of being a big cat, anyway."
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