Stratford Shields is a Managing Director at Loop Capital Markets (a Chicago based firm) in the Public Finance Investment Banking group covering major clients in the Midwest and Northeast. Before becoming a public finance banker, he worked in government as President of the State Controlling Board and Deputy Director of the Ohio Office of Management and Budget.
Walk our readers through a typical morning routine for you.
I start my workday early, so my morning routine is spent at the office before everyone arrives and the work begins. I devote a large part of it thinking and strategizing about each of the major clients that I cover. I focus on delineating the unique and innovative financing strategies that I can bring to them and that they can really benefit from. This cross-disciplinary work really allows me to think outside the box and try to find a solution for one client based on something that has worked with another. Of course, this routine changes when I am traveling and visiting clients.
What is a healthy habit you keep that enhances your productivity?
I read a lot in order to remain up to date on current events. This not only satisfies my own curiosity about what is going on here and in the world, but it also helps me keep up with my clients. I would not be able to be as productive and creative if I did not spend a significant amount of time reading multiple news sources. I also stay on top of several online and web services that help me do the same.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self?
It would definitely be to not pay too much attention to pessimists and naysayers and do not be afraid to think outside the box. Always look for better ways to do something – just because there is one way that has always worked does not mean that there is not a better method to do something. Lastly, you will have failures in life. The most important part is to get back up and keep on going.
How do you stay organized throughout the day and complete the tasks you need to complete?
What has helped me stay organized and remain on task is definitely my attention to detail. Paying attention to what the client really needs as well as understanding what it takes to give them that has been a trait that has always helped me remain productive. Also, I have found that following up with clients on ideas has helped me remain focused and has enabled me to keep track of the finer details.
Also, what helps me complete tasks is constant communication with my clients. Most of my ideas come from talking to them about the ups and downs of their ideas, which I also consider to be a crucial part of my every day.
What drove you to bring your entrepreneurial dreams to life?
During my role as the Head of Public Finance at Morgan Stanley, I had the chance to work with the CFO of Ohio State University at the time and help him make his privatization ideas come to life on a project that would serve as an example and inspiration for many others to come. He wanted to streamline the University’s operations as well as raise money for its endowment. After careful consideration of the University’s assets and its size, I realized that it could privatize its parking system as it was essentially the same size of the City of Pittsburgh’s parking system that was also trying to privatize its parking system.
Fast forward 18 months in 2012, and the University entered into a 50 year concession with LAZ/QIC for an upfront payment of $483 million. The money was used for several purposes to help advance the University, and it was also put into its endowment to benefit student scholarships and research. The Ohio State University parking privatization was the first major university privatization.
A number of subsequent university parking privatization transactions followed, including those by Northeastern University, Eastern Michigan University, to name a few. Ultimately, this approach of thinking outside the box has helped me establish the first major university privatization, and it is this type of thinking that has always helped me and that I keep implementing to this day.
What is a piece of advice you would give to someone expanding their business?
It is really important to know your clients. Try to really understand who they are and find out why they would want to do business with you. This is especially important for a smaller firm, as not everyone is naturally inclined to do so. So if you are a smaller firm, one of the most important steps is to find who among the clients has second thoughts about doing business with you due to your size and just cross them off the list. In other words, remain realistic and do not try to enforce things that you want but that are not realistically obtainable. Ultimately, you want to do business with clients who value your ideas.
What is an obstacle you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur and how did you work through it?
Being good at what you do requires you to understand both yours as well as the market’s limits. As such, I had to learn how to spend my time and when to stop pursuing transactions that are never going to become real. I also had to learn how to remain realistic with my clients. This requires communication and tact as I am telling my clients politely and realistically to give up something and move past it. It is a piece of advice that not everyone takes lightly, so learning how to deliver it very important. Of course, this is second to realizing when an idea has stopped having a realistic future.
What is a financial idea you’ve been brainstorming that you can share with our readers?
The municipal business market is incredibly fragmented and bringing in consolidation is a great business opportunity. As such, I believe that buying smaller financial advisory firms in the municipal business and then consolidating them would be an immense success. It is realistic, too, as there are only three major national players within that municipal market sector. Also, the change in rules for municipal advisors under Dodd-Frank has ensured that most municipal entities have advisors. However, the market remains fragmented, and there is great opportunity in that.
On a separate note, the wave of the future lies within privatizations with universities and major health care systems. Many of these organizations are open and willing to ideas and innovations as means to streamline service delivery and financing.
Is there a software or web service that you use as an organization tool?
I use several, and I read about them on a regular basis. They help me keep up with my clients and help them optimize ideas and bring them to life.
What’s a book you would recommend to our readers?
A classic that is still relevant today, 30 years later. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis. It is a fluid narrative that covers the history of financial markets in the 70-80s, the rise and fall of Salomon Brothers, and Lewis’ very own personal experiences within the firm.