A ‘Natural Partnership’
Mike Matty says the talks with Chris Milne began roughly two years ago.
And as they often do in such cases, these discussions were somewhat intermittent in nature and came in varying degrees of intensity.
“With those first preliminary talks, you talk, then you stop talking about it for a little while, you revisit it … it’s been percolating for a while,” said Matty. “Half the time, it’s just … you grab dinner or you grab a beer and chat about business more than anything else, primarily because the companies are so similar and dealing with the same issues and you want to see how they’re dealing with these issues. And then, the talk would turn to ‘are we still thinking about this, or are we not thinking about this?’”
‘This’ was a proposed acquisition of Northampton-based Gage-Wiley & Co., which Milne served as president and CEO, by Springfield-based St. Germain Investment Management, which Matty has led for a number of years now. And eventually, the talk led to a deep dive and a decision to go forward.
The combined company has close to $2.4 billion in assets (Gage-Wiley had nearly $800 million), and four offices overall — St. Germain has a second office in Lee, and Gage-Wiley has a second office in Plymouth. This means it has much-needed size at a time of increased — and more complex — regulation, but also a small-enough size to remain nimble. Just as important, it now has nearly two centuries of time in the investment-management business.
Indeed, Matty joked that Gage-Wiley was a little on the young side in comparison to St. Germain, with the former being only 87 years old and the latter 96.
“I realize they’re a fairly new upstart, since they only started in 1933,” said Matty, who then turned serious and called this a “natural partnership.”
Natural because the companies are so similar — they both were started in Springfield, they’ve both remained locally owned and privately held, and they have similar operating philosophies.
Milne agreed. He actually initiated those talks two years ago, not thinking they might eventually lead to this union. Like Matty, he said the early discussion was focused on simply how to do business in a changing environment.
Eventually, though, it became clear that coming together made far more sense than staying apart and competing with each other.
“It’s a case where one plus one equals three,” said Milne. “It seemed like the right thing to do at the right time and for the right reasons; the similarities and compatibility were just too good not to get married.”
The name ‘Gage-Wiley’ will remain over the door of the facility in Northampton, and Milne will serve as managing director, because that brand is well-established, and it made no sense to change it, said Matty.
“I realize they’re a fairly new upstart, since they only started in 1933.”
“There’s a lot of good will built into that name and client relationships built up over time,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s very strong name, and we have no intention of disrupting things and taking all that away from them.”
Thus, in many ways, that office will operate much like October Mountain, St. German’s subsidiary in the Berkshires — a firm with its own name and its own staff, but with a bigger organization behind it.
“Very little, if anything, will change,” said Matty. “From the Gage-Wiley client standpoint, their statements look almost identical to the way they looked before — there just happens to be a new line that says ‘securities offered through St. Germain Securities’ on it. The phone number is the same, they’re talking to the same people … from the client standpoint, it will be almost invisible.”
Beyond the size and wealth of experience the combined firm now boasts, however, it also has what Matty described as a deeper pool of talent and expertise that it can bring to the table to better serve investment clients.
Elaborating, he said the teams at the respective companies bring experience in different areas that will complement each other effectively.
“We bring to the table for them a fixed-income expertise that they didn’t have, and we also bring more resources on compliance, legal matters, and human resources,” he explained. “And that comes with being a bigger company and having to tread these waters for a longer time with more people — we’ve had more experience at it.”
Meanwhile, Gage-Wiley brings different elements to the table, starting with some operational processes and ways of doing things that are in some ways better than those at St. Germain, Matty noted.
Gage-Wiley also brings an expertise in what is known as ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing, a mindset that is growing in popularity, especially among the younger generations.
“Many people are looking to invest according to their ethics,” said Matty, noting that years ago the acronym for this philosophy was SRI — socially responsible investing.
But there is a difference, he went on, adding that SRI was mostly an exclusionary approach — ‘here’s what we’re not going to buy’ — while ESG is more of an inclusionary approach.
“People will say, ‘here’s a company I want to see a change at — I’m going to buy some of its stock, see if I can be a shareholder activist, and see if we can make some changes from within,’” he explained. “It’s a more comprehensive approach than the old SRI.”
And the team at Gage-Wiley, based in Northampton, has developed an expertise in this realm that St. Germain did not possess.
It does now, though, because of this ‘natural partnership’ that Matty described, one that brings nearly two centuries of local ownership together under the same umbrella — if not the same name and same roof.
As noted, this union gives the combined company more size and the important element of flexibility. But it also provides something else — stability and staying power during an ongoing time of consolidation within this industry.
“We’re going to stay independent,” Milne said. “And we’re now the perfect size — we’re not too big, and we’re not too small, and we’re not going anywhere.”