GRAND RAPIDS — Acquiring fellow middle-market investment banking firm BlueWater Partners LLC gives Cascade Partners LLC a significant market presence in West Michigan.
The Southfield-based Cascade Partners has long wanted to expand into Grand Rapids as part of an overall growth strategy, said Managing Director Rajesh Kothari. Purchasing BlueWater Partners “proved to be a fantastic way to do it by getting a great team of folks who have been in the community forever, which was important,” he said.
“This really solidified our desire and goal to be in Grand Rapids. It gives us people on the street in West Michigan all of the time,” Kothari told MiBiz. “We wanted to grow, they wanted to grow, and it made just good sense. And culturally, there was a good fit. We think it’s going to bring a lot of great added resources to the clients that we’re serving in West Michigan and throughout the Midwest, which is where a majority of our client base is.”
A middle-market investment banking and private investment firm with locations in metro Detroit and Cleveland, Ohio, Cascade Partners opened a Grand Rapids office about a year ago, “but didn’t really have it staffed yet,” Kothari said.
All of BlueWater’s staff, including Managing Partner Matt Miller and his father, founder and Managing Partner Ronald Miller, joined Cascade Partners and will continue to work out of McKay Tower in downtown Grand Rapids. Ronald Miller, who formed BlueWater in 2001, will become a managing director for Cascade Partners and run the restructuring practice, a service the firm gained with the acquisition.
“It’s all about finding the right people. We want to be in Grand Rapids and we found the right people,” said Kothari, who has ties to Grand Rapids and once served on the board of trustees for Priority Health.
Adding a restructuring practice to Cascade’s existing buy- and sell-side M&A and financing services “makes the firm’s toolkit pretty unique,” Kothari said. Cascade can now help “organizations figure out how to improve their operations through our restructuring work and performance improvement, or realizing the value through an exit or helping build value by doing acquisitions,” he added.
Cascade Partners also gets increased depth in serving industrial, manufacturing, distribution and service companies, which have been a key focus for BlueWater.
The transaction for BlueWater closed on Feb. 27. Terms of the deal were undisclosed. The Grand Rapids operations will take on the Cascade Partners name, Kothari said.
Dickinson Wright PLLC served as BlueWater’s legal adviser in the transaction. Giarmarco Mullins & Horton PC advised Cascade Partners.
Matt Miller told MiBiz that BlueWater Partners in 2018 began weighing how to grow the firm, continue to innovate, “provide more opportunities for our employees … (and) deliver more for our clients.” The strategy included considering acquisitions to grow in Detroit and other markets, he said.
“We were really looking to grow our team, add depth to our team, broaden our reach and expand our resources in terms of research, analysis, technology. This accomplishes all of those things,” Miller said. “This checks all of those boxes. We just did it in a different way.”
As part of a long-term succession plan, the sale to Cascade Partners also gives BlueWater a “deeper, wider bench” to access international investors and buyers for sell-side clients, Miller said.
The acquisition came together as executives at BlueWater Partners started thinking a year ago about alternatives and “really decided that exploring a sale was probably the best alternative, assuming we found the right fit,” Miller said. The partners then put together a “short list” of firms that “we felt made sense” and could offer that alignment, he said.
As BlueWater partners talked with professionals in their networks, an attorney introduced Miller to Kothari. They began talking and found that their values and the two firms’ cultures “meshed very well,” Miller said.
“It turned out to be a great answer,” he said. “Our values actually line up very well.”
After buying BlueWater Partners and solidifying the firm’s position in the Grand Rapids market, Cascade Partners in the years ahead may look to expand elsewhere in the Midwest, possibly in Indianapolis, Ind. and Minneapolis, Minn., Kothari said.
“We continue to look at growing across the Midwest,” he said.