ATLANTA - Howard, Weil, Labouisse, Friedrichs Inc. plans to hire up to four municipal finance bankers next year to replace three bankers who resigned last week, its chairman John Levert said Friday.

Levert also said the New Orleans-based firm will change its public finance strategy to serve a wider range of issuers in Louisiana.

"We are looking to establish a broader market share by being more issuer-focused, more generalist, and more relationship-oriented rather than deal-oriented," Levert said in an interview. "I want every small parish ... and city in the state to know our people."

"Our parent company, Legg Mason [Wood Walker Inc.], is very committed to retail distribution, and they support us in our effort to be a major supplier," he continued. Legg Mason, a Baltimore-based securities dealer, acquired Howard Weil in 1987.

Levert, who is also Howard Weil's chief executive officer, said that the firm will immediately begin a search to hire a senior banker. Levert also plans to add several junior bankers by the end of 1994 to bring the municipal finance staff at the New Orleans office to between between six and eight.

With the recent resignations, he said, there are currently four public finance bankers at the headquarters office.

Levert also confirmed that Wanda C. Elder, a vice president, had been named interim manager of the public finance department.

"Wanda is very strong on both the numbers and the managing side and my thinking right now is that she will be permanent," he said.

Levert's comments follow the departure last Thursday to Stephens Inc. of David "Buck" Landry, previously Howard Well's head of public finance, and Mark Hattier, who had been a vice president. Officials at Stephens, which is based in Little Rock, said Thursday that Landry will head the the firm's first Louisiana office, which will be opened next month in New Orleans.

Landry had been with the firm since 1986 and Hattier since 1989.

"I left because my goals and objectives fit better with Stephens than with Howard Weil and Legg Mason," Landry said Friday. "As for my approach to the business, I don't feel that being client-oriented and deal-oriented are mutually exclusive - I felt I was doing both at Howard Weil, and I think the numbers bear this out."

Jim Tucker, previously a vice president of public finance, also resigned last week from Howard Weil. Tucker said Friday that he left because "I saw a change in approach coming and felt I didn't really fit into the organization."

Tucker said he plans to remain in municipal finance is considering several offers from other companies, but has not yet made a decision on where his next job will be.

The investment banker joined the firm in October of 1985, and became a vice president of public finance in 1990 after serving as director of research. In 1991, Tucker was named to Global Guaranty's All-American list of municipal analysts.

When ranked according to full credit given to book manager, Howard Weil has maintained a steady position near the top of the list of municipal bond underwriters doing business in Louisiana.

So far in 1993, the firm has ranked fourth on the basis of 21 deals totaling $295.2 million, according to Securities Data Inc. This compares with a ranking of fourth in 1992, with 40 issues totaling $470 million; sixth in 1991, on 19 issues totaling $143.7; and fourth in 1990, with 17 deals for $188.8 million.

The firm has ranked even better in Louisiana when full credit is given to each manager - a measure that participants say may give a more accurate of overall participation in a given municipal market.

So far this year, Howard Weil has ranked first, with 36 issues totaling $1.67 billion, according to Securities Data Inc. This compares with a ranking of first in 1992, with 66 deals totaling $2.16 billion; second in 1991 with 29 deals totaling $736.6 million; and fourth in 1990, on the basis of 20 deals for $517.7 million.

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