Drexel Hamilton expands, hiring banker and Army veteran Phil Culpepper

BY SourceMedia | MUNICIPAL | 06/13/22 04:00 PM EDT By Yvette Shields

Chicago-based public finance banker Phil Culpepper has joined veteran-owned Drexel Hamilton LLC to lead a banking push into the Midwest and other regions as co-head of public finance.

Culpepper is taking on a role that marries his banking and issuer-side experience with his pride in military service.

Culpepper served seven years in the U.S. Army as a non-commissioned officer holding the rank of sergeant. He was a squad leader and scout sniper. Drexel Hamilton is a New York-based fully veteran-owned firm where many of its leaders and professionals also qualify under veteran service-disabled criteria.
?I've always felt a need to serve,? Culpepper said. ?I went from the military to working in government in a sector that I really believe does a service for citizens and that gives me purpose. I?ve enjoyed my 12 years at Ramirez and learned a lot there but I was ready for a new challenge.

?Anyone who knows me knows how I identify with my time in uniform and how much a part of me it is and so this opportunity to work with a group of veterans was very appealing,? Culpepper said. ?I look forward to using the leadership skills I've learned in the military and in state government and at Ramirez to help Drexel in the coming years.?

Culpepper, 47, joined Drexel Hamilton last week as a senior managing director and co-head of public finance alongside Thomas Mead. Culpepper was a managing director at Samuel A. Ramirez & Co.

He began his finance career at the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority before being tapped in 2007 for the role of Illinois debt manager.

He later moved to the Illinois Housing Development Authority where he was deputy executive director and chief of staff. He made the leap to the banking side in 2010. Culpepper got to know one of Drexel?s managing partners John Martinko through his brother, who served with Martinko in the Army in the Middle East.

With the new addition the firm has three public finance bankers: Culpepper, Mead and Roger Anderson. Culpepper envisions adding to the banking team over time and enhancing quantitative capabilities to continue building the co-manager business with an eventual aim of doing senior manager work.

Being a veteran-owned firm opens doors and helps win spots on deals but there?s competition among a handful of veteran and disabled-veterans certified firms, so good issuer coverage among a broader number of borrowers is the goal, Culpepper said.

Culpepper will work alongside Mead to build the client base in the Midwest, California and Texas. Mead is a United States Army and Vietnam-era veteran. The firm also expects to do some hiring on the sales front adding to a municipal team of about a dozen, said Anthony Felice, a managing partner.

With many co-manager jobs under its belt, Drexel Hamilton sole managed its first deal in the municipal market space last December ? as placement agent for Miami-Dade County, Florida?s $10.85 million of special assessment revenue bonds for the Ojus Sanitary Sewer Special Benefit Area.

Drexel Hamilton was founded by Lawrence Doll in 2007 with to provide meaningful employment opportunities to disabled veterans and serve as a training ground for veterans in the finance field.

In 2011, it received its new issue license, just after Mead joined the firm.

At the beginning of 2018, the ownership of the firm changed as the founder sold most of the company to the veterans who had come up through its ranks. The leadership cut some professionals and overhauled operations and since then net capital has grown with most earnings reinvested in the firm, Felice said.

Felice, Martinko, and Daniel Boyle, all service-disabled veterans, are the managing partners. More than half of the firm is made up of veterans, many with service-disabled status.

The mission remains the same: provide a professional home and training ground for veterans, especially those with disabled status.

?It?s rare we find someone who is not only trained in the areas of banking and led coverage in the Midwest for an unbelievable shop like Ramirez but is also a veteran. With that combination of experience the stars aligned,? Felice said. ?We see munis as something we haven?t put a lot of resources into over the last couple years and bringing Phil is will accelerate that.?

The firm also views Culpepper?s hiring as providing a succession plan when Mead retires down the road.

?Tom started the municipal business at Drexel and has done great things and taught a bunch of people but the thought is to have a succession plan in place,? Felice said.

?Phil did an amazing job building Ramirez's Chicago presence over the past decade, I expect he will do much the same thing running Drexel's practice,? said Culpepper?s friend and competitor Omar Daghestani, a managing director at Stifel. ?Phil's service in both the military and as an issuer makes this a phenomenal next step.?

At Ramirez, Lorraine Palacios, a managing director, has taken over Culpepper?s territory, said Ted Sobel, head of public finance at Ramirez.

"I will miss Phil and wish him the absolute best and look forward to working with him in his new role,? Sobel said. ?Lorraine is a phenomenal banker with existing relationships in the Midwest.?

Culpepper grew up in the small southern Illinois city of St. Elmo where military service came onto his radar during high school. An admired teacher had shared his military service with Culpepper and asked him what his plans were after graduation.

?He said if I wasn?t ready for college then the military was a good option to help you grow,? Culpepper remembered. He joined the Army at 17.

After basic training, Culpepper was among an elite few selected to attend Army sniper school at Fort Benning in Georgia. His marksmanship had been honed with the pellet gun he?d made use of on snapping turtles in a nearby wildlife preserve pond as a kid.

After seven years, Culpepper felt it was time to get a college education. He received a bachelor?s degree in economics at Loyola University in Chicago and had landed internship at the toll authority that turned into a job offer even before graduation.

Culpepper, who lives in a western Chicago suburb with his wife and 11-year-old daughter, remains a good shot for recreational purposes but says he doesn?t have much time for the sport due to the demands as assistant coach of his daughter?s softball team.

In general the bond market is volatile, and fixed income securities carry interest rate risk. (As interest rates rise, bond prices usually fall, and vice versa. This effect is usually more pronounced for longer-term securities.) Fixed income securities also carry inflation risk and credit and default risks for both issuers and counterparties. Unlike individual bonds, most bond funds do not have a maturity date, so avoiding losses caused by price volatility by holding them until maturity is not possible.

Lower-quality debt securities generally offer higher yields, but also involve greater risk of default or price changes due to potential changes in the credit quality of the issuer. Any fixed income security sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to loss.

Before investing, consider the funds' investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. Contact Fidelity for a prospectus or, if available, a summary prospectus containing this information. Read it carefully.