A team of 21 investment advisers in St. Louis has quit Firstar Inc.'s Mississippi Valley Advisors unit to form an institutional investment management firm under locally-based First Banks Inc.

Dennis Nahnsen, president of the new firm, Missouri Valley Partners, said they were upset by changes that followed Firstar's acquisition last September of Mercantile Bancorp., which used to own the unit.

"We are going to work with institutions just like we always have. But for us to be successful we need to able to work and act autonomously," Mr. Nahnsen said.

First Banks chairman James Denberg offered freedom that Firstar did not, he said.

The group presented resignations to Firstar at 3 p.m. Monday and opened the new firm, based in Clayton, Mo., on Tuesday morning, said Mr. Nahnsen, who had been a senior vice president and director of marketing for the Firstar unit.

Steve Dale, a Firstar spokesman, said the departures would leave a dent because of the wealth of experience lost. But he noted that Firstar's St. Louis investment management office would still have 27 portfolio managers and 11 certified financial advisers.

Mr. Dale said that the departing group would not be replaced, and that he expects Firstar to keep its clients.

"A lot of these customers that they are banking on have a multifaceted relationship with Firstar," he said. "They turn to us for 401k services, custody service, and commercial lending. We are a value-added shop that handle a lot of their needs."

Mr. Dale added: "We are going to continue to provide service with a strong team and deep bench in St. Louis. These guys that have left are rolling the dice and will have to compete with us now from a smaller, start-up platform."

Mr. Nahnsen said the new firm will target the same institutional clients as Firstar's investment management arm, Milwaukee-based Firstar Investment Research and Management Co..

Besides Mr. Nahnsen, Bob Anthony and Greg Glidden, who co-managed the Mercantile Small-Cap Equity Portfolio, also left Mississippi Valley Advisors. Mr. Anthony will be chief investment officer and Mr. Glidden director of equity research at Missouri Valley.

Other advisers who left Mississippi Valley include Louis R. Jarodsky, Ed Sunder, Tom Dezoert, Gary Hurlbut, Dick Williams and Steve Jones.

Mr. Nahnsen said it was crucial for the group to stay intact. "You can be certain things are going to remain the same," he said. "The key was to keep the team together.

Mr. Nahnsen said the group became concerned last October when Mississippi Valley Advisors became a unit of Firstar Investment Research and Management Co. The combined entity managed $34.6 billion of assets - $25.1 billion from Firstar and $9.5 billion from Mercantile.

Though the group was assured that nothing was going to change, headquarters was shifted from St. Louis to Milwaukee, Mr. Nahnsen said. He said the group was worried about "what the effect could be on our investment process."

In December, Mississippi Valley's chief operating officer, Ralph Webster, 61, was fired. In May its 19 proprietary funds were consolidated into the Firstar family, and the company then said that Mississippi Valley Advisors would go out of existence in September.

That, Mr. Nahnsen said, was when he knew he needed to do something to protect the group.

"At first we were operating separately, but gradually things started to change as things merged into one group," he said.

Mr. Webster joined the group Tuesday as chief operating officer, Mr. Nahnsen said. The group began calling clients, who range in size from $3 million to $200 million of assets, and responses have been very positive, he said.

"We are receiving an outstanding reception and some have verbally said it sounds very likely - very, very likely - that they will come aboard in the next month or two," Mr. Nahnsen said.

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