ATLANTA -- In an apparent coup for William R. Hough & Co., the St. Petersburg-based regional firm has hired veteran public finance banker Richard Montalbano away from Smith Barney Inc.

Montalbano, who had been a vice president and head of Smith Barney's public finance office in Miami, will be a Hough senior vice president and manage the firm's first Miami-area office, according to W. Robb Hough Jr., president of Hough. Montalbano starts his new job Friday.

"For a number of years it's been clear to us that in order to better cover the municipal market in southern Florida, we have needed a local office in Miami," said Hough. "We have now dealt with this by hiring Dick, who we feel is the best-qualified public finance professional in Dade County."

Montalbano said he left Smith Barney to work for Hough because "regional firms are the future of our business."

"I see an expanded role for relationship banking, particularly in Florida, and a firm like Hough will fill that need," Montalbano said.

A spokesman for Smith Barney declined to comment.

Hough said that municipal sales representatives and additional public finance specialists may eventually join Montalbano in Miami, but for the time being Montalbano will be the firm's only securities professional there.

While the primary focus of the firm's new banker will probably be populous Dade and Broward counties, Hough said, Montalbano will also pursue public finance business throughout the state. Montalbano will be encouraged to seek financial advisory as well as underwriting clients, Hough said.

Hough & Co., founded in 1962 by William R. Hough, Robb Hough's father, also has Florida branches in Jacksonville, Melbourne, North Palm Beach, Orlando, and Panama City. Robb Hough became president in April, with the elder Hough continuing as chairman.

Montalbano's move to Hough comes only 16 months after he joined Smith Barney. In May 1993, Montalbano left Kidder, Peabody & Co., where he was a senior vice president, to open Smith Barney's first public finance office in Miami.

During Montalbano's tenure at Smith Barney, the firm served as bookrunning manager, in January, on a $431.7 million Dade County, Fla., offering of water and sewer revenue bonds. The financing included the largest long-dated swap ever done by AIG Financial Products.

In March, Smith Barney's joint-venture partner in the deal, Howard Gary & Co., filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that Smith Barney owed the firm $5 million for work done but not paid for. According to the lawsuit, Montalbano asked Howard Gary to be part of the joint-venture proposal with Smith Barney on the financing.

The case is in arbitration before the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board.

Montablano said his decision to join Hough "has nothing to do with the Howard Gary lawsuit."

Montalbano has been an investment banker for 15 years. Before working for Kidder Peabody, he was a managing director at Shearson Lehman Hutton in Miami.

Previously, Montalbano was a first vice president at Drexel Burnham Lambert for a year, heading up its public finance operation in Florida. Earlier, he worked for Metropolitan Dade County as director of finance.

Some of Montalbano's clients have included Miami Beach, Miami Internatioal Airport, Jacksonville, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, and Homestead, Fla.

In recent years, William R. Hough & Co. has performed strongly in Florida, outpacing other regional firms in the state as both underwriter and financial adviser.

So far in 1994, the firm ranks fourth as senior manager of tax-exempt debt in Florida, with 29 issues totaling $485.1 million, for a market share of 7.8%, according to Securities Data Co. During the same period, Smith Barney ranked third, with 16 deals totaling $931.6 million, a 14.9% market share.

Last year, Hough ranked sixth among senior managers in Florida, with 87 deals totaling $1.63 billion, for a 9.2% market share. In 1993, Smith Barney was third with $2.05 billion of deals, an 11.6% share.

As a financial adviser in Florida, Hough ranks third in 1994, with 21 issues totaling $805 million, for a market share of 6.1%, according to Securities Data. So far this year, Smith Barney ranks 14th as a financial adviser, with three issues totaling $216.5 million, a 1.6% market share.

In 1993, Hough was the fourth-ranked financial adviser in the state, with 24 issues totaling $1.11 billion, for a 6.3% market share. Last year, Smith Barney ranked 21st, with two issues totaling $195.9 million, a 1.1% market share.

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