Suzanne Shank can make competing with the big guys on Wall Street sound ho-hum.

"You can have a lot of bodies, but if you have a good group of people with good connections you can do a pretty good job," says Shank, the 47-year-old president and chief executive officer of Siebert Brandford Shank & Co. LLC, a specialist in underwriting municipal debt.

And why not sound confident? The firm, the largest minority- and women-owned shop in its line of business, expects to be lead manager in issuance of $5 billion in tax-exempt bonds this year, up from $3.4 billion last year. It is capitalizing on the turmoil that knocked Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers out of the picture entirely and sent a damaged Merrill Lynch & Co. into the arms of Bank of America Corp. With talent available, the firm has expanded its ranks in the past year, to 70 people, which Ms. Shank says is comparable to the municipal underwriting groups at the Wall Street giants. More importantly, it picked up business last year when household name firms bailed out of deals in the works.

The firm was launched in 1996, when Ms. Shank, an engineer early in her working career and a Wharton MBA, and Napoleon Brandford III hooked up with Muriel Siebert, the first woman to own a New York Stock Exchange seat. With 20 offices - headquarters are in New York, but Ms. Shank is based in Detroit - the firm ranked 14th last year among senior managers of negotiated issuances of municipal debt and is 11th through August of this year. And it's aiming for the top 10, Ms. Shank says.

Minority- and women-ownership helps Siebert Brandford Shank get into syndicates as co-managers of bond offerings, Ms. Shank says, but doesn't win it lead manager business. State treasurers, county CFOs and the like pick leader managers that they know and trust, she says.

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