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  Gary Parr
  Let's make a deal. Gary Parr has created a career out of bringing parties together around the table.  Photo © David Neff

Theory into practice

Analytical and 'people' skills both key, says financial ace Gary Parr '80

By Matt Golosinski

In 2004, for instance, Parr helped broker the $58 billion transaction that merged the second-largest U.S. bank — JPMorgan Chase — with the sixth-largest, Chicago-based Bank One. The move stirred Wall Street and created an entity with some $1 trillion in assets — second only to Citigroup in size.

While those numbers might cause some to blanch, Parr, 50, doesn't blink.

"Does it keep me awake at night? No," says the former co-head of Morgan Stanley's mergers and acquisitions department. "I might be awake at night — because we're working," he adds with a laugh. "There were some all-nighters to get that transaction done. But when it's time to sleep, I sleep."

That's because the Kellogg graduate is among the best at what he does, having developed a rainmaker reputation over a 27-year career that started with him handling insurance industry mergers at First Boston. In 1988, Parr was part of a group of stars that formed the advisory firm Wasserstein Perella, co-founded by Joseph Perella and Bruce Wasserstein. (Today, Wasserstein is Lazard's chairman and CEO). Parr moved to Morgan Stanley in 1993, and among his roles oversaw its M&A division, until Wasserstein recruited him to Lazard in 2003. He was one of the standouts the firm assembled between 2002-2004 to bolster its merger advisory strength in advance of a May 2005 IPO.

"Gary is one of the world's outstanding investment bankers with a wealth of experience and strong client relationships," said Wasserstein in announcing the hire.

And those relationships matter, Parr says.

"Relationships are critically important in this business," he says, recalling his longtime connection with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, and another with Kellogg classmate Tom Wilson, today CEO of Allstate. Other Kellogg peers have turned out to be professional colleagues or clients. "This is a network that has value," Parr says.

Expertise also matters, especially since many deals fall apart before they reach the finish line. Plus, some studies indicate that more than half of all mergers fail. The ones that succeed do so for many reasons, but fundamentally because of an underlying strategic rationale, Parr says.

Even when the strategy is sound, mergers demand superb implementation to blend two cultures, he adds. Timing and larger market considerations can still dictate the outcome, and many mergers also involve more than the obvious numbers.

"My job is not just about finance," Parr says. He points out that in negotiating the deal there are often issues involving various constituents, including employees and the local community.

"If you have unhappy employees, that's going to show up in the stock price," explains Parr, who has been involved in several other recent transactions. He advised Mellon Bank in its merger with Bank of New York and led the team that advised the New York Stock Exchange in its 2006 reverse merger with Archipelago Holdings, a historic move instrumental in taking the NYSE public. 

"There is an energy associated with implementing an important merger," says Parr. "That still excites me. It's like solving a puzzle in coming up with solutions to complex transactions."

Parr credits the Kellogg School for providing some of the foundation for his success. The MBA degree is "clearly valuable for most people," he says. In addition to the value of the network, the experience gives students a chance to mature. It also provides exposure to "a breadth of disciplines and learning that you won't get on any one job."

He advises graduates to join the best company they can to get exposure to senior industry leaders. "That's a big deal," Parr says. "I was very fortunate to be around some of the best in the business, and I just learned."

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