Integrity and trust are everything in banking, and for Tom Gallo, having both is how he has built a short-term municipal bond business from scratch in the fifth decade of his illustrious career.
As he celebrates 50 years in the bond industry this year, Gallo, managing director in U.S. Bank’s Municipal Products Group, has been reflecting on the importance of reputation when doing business in the financial sector. Especially because he joined U.S. Bank in the wake of the financial crisis, when the industry’s reputation overall had taken a significant hit.
Working with municipal clients – such as cities, states and other government entities – while representing a bank recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies, has been the key to his team growing its short-term remarketing portfolio from zero to $11 billion.
“We built our book on our reputation,” Gallo said. “Being at U.S. Bank puts you in a preeminent position, because of the quality of our people, ratings and sensitivity to risk.”
When the bank approached him in 2010 to start a short-term muni desk, he asked the hiring manager, “Why do you want to hire a 64-year-old man?” Their response, he said, was, “Your experience.”
Alex Wallace, Tom’s manager and head of the bank’s Public Finance Group, said Gallo was “the right hire at the right time,” because he was well known in the industry and a seasoned veteran. Plus, he was a perfect match for the bank’s culture and the business model they were creating for the bank’s municipal bond business.
“We put a premium on experience and not just ordinary experience, but experience with changing, volatile markets. And experience with bond investors and issuers,” Wallace said. “Tom is a guy who has a lot of friends in this industry, and it’s hard to put into words the goodwill he has earned. He serves as an ambassador for the bank every day.”
At the time U.S. Bank hired Gallo, the short-term bond market was shrinking, and downgrades to banks and issuers forced a lot of short-term bond issuers out of the market, he said.
“Over the past eight years, Tom has methodically and tenaciously led us into the top 10 of municipal remarketing agents. The performance and stability of his team has positioned us for continued gains in market share,” Wallace said.
Gallo has seen incredible change in the municipal bond sector since 1968, including major industry consolidation and increased complexity of products and government regulation.
In the early 1970s, for example, the municipal bond market didn’t have the diversity of short-term debt products that exist today. Gradually, he said, the municipal market adapted and created products that matched the innovations in the corporate bond market.
And the number of firms working in the municipal market has decreased significantly, he said.
“I recall a deal I did in 1983 when I was running the short-term desk in Merrill Lynch,” Gallo said. “It was a $3.9 billion deal for the state of New York. Of the 150 participants in that deal, only 15 are still in business under their original names.”
Still, the competition is stiff, especially from the giant banks operating in the sector. Gallo says his team uses the bank’s “sweet spots” – broad and deep relationships, a strong balance sheet and high ratings – to create bond remarketing opportunities.
After 50 years in the business, Gallo said he would have solid advice for his younger self. “Be a lot more patient than before,” he said. “And the clients and firm always come first, yourself after that.”
Now, at 72 and eight years into his U.S. Bank career, Gallo said he hasn’t set a date for retirement.
“I think about retirement, because I’d like to spend more time with my wife, children and grandchildren,” he said. “But I still love what I do and I really respect the bank. I’m having too much fun to stop now.”
Story by Heather Draper and photo by Dan Chapman of U.S. Bank.