DALLAS - Bear Stearns & Co.'s decision to hire Dallas city manager Jan Hart reflects a bold attempt to bolster the firm's ranking in the very competitive bond underwriting business in Texas and the Southwest.

Hart's job will be to haul in new clients and provide technical expertise on municipal government.

The move is part of a strategy to expand Bear Stearns' public finance section and target the 25 top bond issuers in Texas as well as those in other Southwestern states, Bear Stearns executives said yesterday in formally announcing the selection of Hart as an associate director of public finance.

The addition of Hart represents a coup for Bear Stearns, which has lost some of its best-known investment bankers in recent years and which wants to grab a higher market share in bond underwriting, particularly in Texas.

"We could have done no better, said Theodore Strauss, managing director of the Bear Stearns office here. It represents "the acquisition of the best city manager in the United States."

Hart, who has held her current post for about three years and has worked in Dallas city government and finance for 20 years, has developed a large network in the bond and financial industries and municipal government.

"I will be working to solicit new clients," Hart said. "The relationships I have developed with other cities may be beneficial."

The addition of Hart, who will start Nov. 1. comes as the municipal bond market in Texas is becoming more competitive. More national firms are opening offices here and existing firms, including Bear Stearns, are seeking to rebuild market share after the economic slump in the 1980s.

Bear Stearns' ranking and market share in Texas and the Southwest falls well behind its national market share and ranking. The company ranks sixth in the nation in municipal bond volume, having sold $10.1 billion so far this year, and has a market share of almost 5%, according to Securities Data co.

In Texas, the firm ranks 13th, with $321.9 million of municipal bonds sold year-to-date and a market share of 2.6%. That is well below market leaders Goldman, Sachs & Co.; Smith Barney Shearson; and Merrill Lynch & Co., all of which have-market shares in excess of 10% in Texas this year.

In the Southwest, which Bear Stearns classifies as Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, Bear Stearns ranks 16th and enjoys less than 2% market share, Securities Data Co. figures show.

Bear Stearns executives are aiming to double their municipal underwriting business and become one of the top five investment banking firms in Texas and other Southwestern states.

In recent months the firm has has increased its senior public finance staff from two to four, including the addition of Hart.

Hart said she will primarily focus on Texas, one of the top three bond issuers in the nation, as well as other areas in the Southwest. She will be available nationally, if needed.

Hart will handle debt financing and capital needs, joining 65 employed by Bear Stearns in public finance nationwide.

The hiring of Hart follows the loss of some of Bear Stearns' stars in Dallas during the past two years, including Hill Feinberg, the former Dallas office chief who went to First Southwest. Hart will help fill that void.

"Jan Hart is a very capable woman," said Robert Vanosky, executive vice president of Rauscher Pierce Refsnes in Dallas. "She has a lot of relationships with political officials throughout Texas."

Hart, 45, was named the Most Valuable Public Official in government management for 1992 by City & State. Under her leadership, Dallas was named the "Best Managed City" for 1992 and 1993 by Financial World magazine.

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