After spending four years in court, the tech banker is back with a new firm and a string of big deals.
Forget Gordon Gekko: The biggest comeback kid of 2010 is Frank Quattrone. The star technology banker, who spent years battling charges that he improperly handed out IPO shares in exchange for business, suddenly seems to have his hand in every big deal in Silicon Valley. His new firm, Qatalyst Partners, advised data-storage firm 3Par (PAR) on its sale this summer, igniting a bidding war that led to a $2.4 billion purchase by Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). Qatalyst client Netezza (NZ) scored a $1.7 billion offer from IBM (IBM) in September. The data-storage business
Isilon Systems and the website registrar Go Daddy have reportedly enlisted Quattrone to help find buyers. “To be able to get its share of assignments at its size is pretty incredible,” says Alan Denenberg, an M&A lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell who worked with Qatalyst during its formation in 2008. “Everyone has noticed.”
Quattrone, 55, has long been a fixture in the world of tech. He and his team moved from Morgan Stanley (MS) to Deutsche Bank (DB) to Credit Suisse (CS), leading giant IPOs for companies like Cisco (CSCO) and Amazon (AMZN). Famous for his gilded Rolodex and massive take-home pay, Quattrone, who declined to comment for this story, was the industry’s undisputed dealmaking king — until federal investigators charged him in 2003 with blocking an investigation of Credit Suisse’s IPO practices (he advised his co-workers to clean up their files). He was convicted a year later and banished from the securities industry, but the decision was overturned on appeal in 2006. The Securities and Exchange Commission lifted a ban on him, and in 2007 all charges were dropped.
Less than a year later Quattrone emerged with the fervor of a man unbound. He announced that he was starting a new merchant-banking firm, Qatalyst Group, and issued a press release endorsed by bigwigs like Intuit (INTU) chairman Bill Campbell and Google (GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt. Qatalyst started off slowly, advising web-marketing firm QuinStreet on a lukewarm IPO and Palm on its buyout by HP, but business heated up in the spring after Quattrone snagged top M&A banker George Boutros, his longtime colleague, from Credit Suisse.
The timing couldn’t have been better: Tech giants like IBM, HP, and Oracle (ORCL) are racing to create one-stop shops for their corporate customers, offering everything from software to hardware to services. To fill holes in their portfolios, they’re looking for the kinds of midsize companies that Qatalyst mainly represents.
Qatalyst’s edge is Quattrone’s deep understanding of the tech sector, which enables him to see possible deals (like data-storage company 3Par and HP) that less wonky bankers might miss. “Their focus gives them an advantage,” says Paul Ferri, a venture capitalist who sits on Netezza’s board.
It doesn’t hurt that Quattrone may feel he has something to prove. “He’s looking for some vindication,” says Geoff Yang, a partner at venture firm Redpoint Ventures. Industry consolidation, deep expertise — and a deeply determined founder? It’s the stuff great comebacks are made of.