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Stories from the Field: Gary Hall

Stories from the Field: Gary Hall
Public Finance: Valuing a Multidimensional Career Path

Q&A with Gary Hall, Partner, Head of Investment Banking, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., LLC

In this Stories from the Field series, Natalie Cohen, senior fellow, Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets, interviews leaders in the field of public finance to trace their career paths and identify innovative accomplishments from which others can learn. We hope our readers and listeners—whether new to the field or experienced and seeking to advance their public finance careers—will learn more about the area and find inspiration from their innovation.

Gary Hall characterizes his career as “nonlinear,” but it’s been multidimensional in every sense of the word. Hall’s career spans the industry—legal work, government, banking, infrastructure development, trade associations, regulatory associations, and lots of community engagement and volunteer work.

After Hall got his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Howard University, he could have gone in many directions. His grandfather had been an alderman for the Chicago City Council and suggested it was time for Hall to get “a real job.” He went to work for the city in the budget office. He decided to get a law degree and chose Notre Dame, partly because it was close to home in Chicago but not-so-close-to home. In addition, it had a program in international law at the London School of Economics.

Hall did legal work on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) for investor-owned utilities. After working as a lawyer for a while, he realized that spending his days changing a “semicolon to a comma” in legal briefs wasn’t for him.

He managed to land a job as a White House fellow during the Clinton Administration and worked in the Department of the Treasury under Gary Gensler, who is now chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. During this time, the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed. Glass-Steagall kept the operations of commercial and investment banks separated since 1933, following the Great Depression.

The fellowship led him to banking and Bank One Capital Markets, which later merged with JPMorgan investment bank. A banker that had called on him when he worked for the city of Chicago convinced him to get into banking but made him venture into areas where he had no previous relationships. While that made life difficult for a time, it taught him the value of building relationships in the business.

Around that time, state and local governments were interested in completing large infrastructure projects but lacked the resources to do so. Public-private partnerships were born to help tackle this problem. Hall had moved to Seibert Williams Shank, where he and several of the bankers there joined up with former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros (who was secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton). They created American Triple I (Infrastructure, Innovation, Investment).

ATI engages in projects that can be characterized as “off-balance sheet.” That is, projects that are designed and built (and, perhaps, managed) by the private sector but financed for the benefit of a public-sector entity. One example is privatized student housing; another might be a tollway or “managed lanes” that are part of a larger roadway. Hall mentioned that ATI also does large projects that involve multiparty consortia of companies, such as the Jet Blue terminal at JFK airport or a transit system linking Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Hall was able to draw upon his legal and M&A background for these projects.

Hall also chaired the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB), the industry’s self-regulating body. The MSRB built a document repository for industry disclosure and bond documents called Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA)—like the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval (EDGAR) service for corporate finance. During Hall’s tenure, the board wrestled with modernizing the system for the future by moving documents and processes to the cloud to create a smoother interface for issuers, broker-dealers, advisors, and investors. Hall described the advocacy that was necessary to convince broker-dealers to pay for the upgrades.

During this period, the board also developed rules for municipal advisors. As Hall comments in the interview, working on these projects allowed him to better understand the many sides to issues in public finance.

We ended with a discussion about environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues in municipal finance. ESG, according to Hall, is here to stay, despite naysayers, because it is important to investors. When asked what he might have done differently in his career, Hall answered that he wished he’d put more emphasis on creating a repository for ESG information and disclosures in the EMMA system—building a centralized system for the future. ESG in the municipal market is less well-developed than in the corporate market, and many companies and ideas continue to flood an evolving marketplace. This time in history offers recent graduates and early-career professionals many opportunities to bring new thinking to these subjects.

As far as advice to recent graduates and early-career professionals, he stressed the importance of staying in touch with the best people you encounter and work with. Also, as you progress through your career, “chasing growth” will serve you well. Finally, if you want to understand the lingo of finance, watch CNBC.