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Dealmakers of the Year

These M&A pros make things happen.
By Jeff Bounds |
Dealmaker of the Year

Brent Earles 

Allegiance Capital Corp.

Sometimes a career in mergers and acquisitions just comes to a person. Sometimes, the person comes to an M&A career. And then there’s Brent Earles. 

A senior vice president at the Dallas investment bank Allegiance Capital Corp., Earles has worked in industries ranging from telecommunications to software, has published 15 books with sales exceeding 1 million copies,  and is involved with his wife, Jane, in everything from humanitarianism in Kenya to youth equestrianism, including breeding and showing Arabian horses. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Earles kept busy at his day job at Allegiance last year. Working with a partner at the firm, Senior Vice President Fred McAllister, Earles helped execute a recapitalization of a Mesquite firm called Future Telecom, which provides construction services to the telecommunications and energy industries. 

Last year, Earles also represented Grapevine’s Insight Merchandising Inc. in its sale to New York’s Hudson Ferry Capital. (Insight, which designs and manufactures custom fixtures and displays for retail stores, has since merged with Vira Manufacturing.) 

Along with five other deals involving companies based outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Earles helped shepherd a total of seven mergers and acquisitions to fruition in 2014. The total enterprise transaction value of those deals: $150 million. 

“We market clients and sell them,” he says. “There is nothing to me quite like marketing a company.”

In his copious spare time, Earles likes working outside, such as gardening, as well as spending time with his family and going to Texas Rangers games. “I’m a little ho-hum fuddy-duddy,” he says.

Dealmaker of the Year

Susan Harriman

IMS Inc.

Sometimes one has to hit rock bottom before the climb to success can truly begin. Susan Harriman knows this from experience. 

Harriman started as a mergers and acquisitions banker in 2007—right on the edge of the great bust. When the economy cratered in 2008, every deal she had on contract got canceled. 

If that wasn’t enough, Harriman was going through a decade-long custody case, and then found herself sick with cancer—all while trying to feed three children, all under the age of 10.  

“I was destitute, both financially and emotionally,” she says. “I told my doctor to just let me die.” 

But Harriman’s cancer surgeon, Dr. Zeck Lieberman, wasn’t about to let her go that easily. In addition to helping kill the cancer, Lieberman gave what Harriman calls “amazing insights” into focusing on the things that matter in life. 

Lieberman noted that Harriman had a knack for matching people up, whether in marriages or business deals. “Why do you do this for free?” he asked her. “Start charging for it.” 

That was the genesis of the Dallas-based investment-banking boutique Harriman now runs, Plains America Capital Partners (with trades cleared through Houston-based IMS Securities.) 

The Plains America formula is simple: Focusing on industries that larger banks ignore, and helping clients grow their businesses.The approach has enabled Harriman to build a thriving sell-side shop whose 2014 work included helping make happen the acquisition of Dallas-based The CounterSource by Houston’s Royal Baths. 

“We regularly knock out 80-plus hour weeks, so we have been busy the last four years in a row,” Harriman says. “We are blessed to be starting out 2015 even busier.”

Dealmaker of the Year

Douglass Rayburn

Baker Botts

Many people dislike complex stuff. For Douglass Rayburn, complexity just comes with the territory. 

A partner in the Dallas office of Baker Botts, Rayburn is a lawyer who frequently spearheads work on mergers and acquisitions in the energy industry. Oil and gas firms are infamous for having complicated structures with interlocking parts, and the deals they do can make one’s head spin. 

Take the 2014 combination between a pair of interwoven Dallas pipeline companies, which together we’ll call Crosstex Energy, and Oklahoma’s Devon Energy, whose primary mission was getting oil and gas out of the ground, removing impurities, and refining the stuff to both prepare it for use and to separate out component gases like propane. 

The resulting business has not one, but two inter-related Dallas components. One, called EnLink Midstream Partners LP (NYSE: ENLK), is what’s known as a master limited partnership, meaning, among other things, that it regularly pays the partnership equivalent of dividends to shareholders. It also owns much of the stuff that the business uses to make money, such as pipelines. The other, EnLink Midstream LLC (NYSE: ENLC), is the general partner of the business, meaning it’s essentially the mothership. 

That may sound intimidating to handle, but not to Rayburn. “It was just managing the complex,” he says of getting the $5 billion deal done. 

Still, the transaction work in the energy space keeps him busy. He makes time on weekends for his 13-year-old son, but the Memphis, Tennessee, native conceded in a recent interview that he “used to play golf” and “hoped to go skiing” soon. “There just isn’t a lot of free time,” he says.

in-house corporate acquisitions/development director of the year

David Mcguire

Trinity Containers LLC

Throughout David McGuire’s career, success has made him something of a pinball. Between October 2012 and February 2015, he handled the mergers and acquisitions work of Dallas-based Trinity Industries Inc. (NYSE: TRN), an old-school manufacturer of heavy industrial equipment such as freight railcars, inland barges, and highway guardrails. 

In 2014, McGuire’s work included spearheading Trinity’s acquisition of two different makers of cryogenic containers that store industrial gases. The powers that be at Trinity were pleased enough with McGuire’s performance that they named him president of Trinity Containers LLC, a $200 million business unit that makes steel pressure containers for propane and other fuels. 

Making fuel containers is a bit afield from McGuire’s undergraduate work in journalism at the University of Kansas in the late 1970s. For that matter, so was his first gig working in sales at a distributor of school supplies called Hoover Brothers Inc. “I could spell balance sheet, but I couldn’t read one,” he says. 

In true pinball fashion, McGuire at age 26 found himself running the fourth-generation business after its previous president passed away. He wound up spearheading the 1995 sale of that company, which led to a series of interesting gigs that included running a $125 million, Cleburne-based maker of outdoor apparel and doing investment-banking work. 

“I like to stay opportunistic,” he says of his new Trinity job in steel pressure containers. “I see a lot of mergers and acquisition roll-up opportunities in that space.”

in-house corporate acquisitions/development director of the year

John Rexford

Xerox Corp.

During its heyday, Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., or ACS, was essentially in the business of handling jobs for other companies that those clients had to perform to stay in business but either didn’t want to deal with or simply couldn’t manage on their own.  ¶ That included everything from running their computing systems to taking care of payroll, finance, accounting, and a range of other functions. 

You might think of John Rexford as the ACS of mergers and acquisitions, albeit for Norwalk, Connecticut-based Xerox Corp. (NYSE: XRX), which bought ACS in 2010 for about $6.4 billion. Working out of Dallas, Rexford is the guy who directs the buying and selling of businesses for Xerox. In 2014 his group did four purchases, on which Xerox spent a total of about $350 million. “It was a long, involved process,” says Rexford, who joined the old ACS in 1996 and never left. 

This year, Xerox will likely spend nearly $900 million on acquisitions, up from roughly $500 million in prior years. “We’re putting more capital into action in that program,” Rexford says. 

When he’s not sorting through 750-odd leads on possible Xerox deals, Rexford’s No. 1 priority is spending time with his family, including his wife of 28 years, Georganne, and his 25-year-old son, who lives in New York City.