FINANCIAL AMBULANCE A new investment banking firm offers first aid for victims of the high-tech shakeout.
By - Eleanor Johnson Tracy

(FORTUNE Magazine) – WALL STREET'S newest investment banking firm is out to be the volunteer ambulance corps for the walking wounded of Silicon Valley and points east. Named Needham & Co. for its president, George A. Needham, 42, the firm landed its first fee last June by finding a buyer for Verbatim Corp. of Sunnyvale, California (fiscal 1984 sales: $170.8 million). Eastman Kodak paid $175 million for the troubled maker of floppy disks, and Needham pocketed enough on the deal -- some $200,000 -- to pay the rent for 18 months on its New York headquarters. Resuscitating high-tech wrecks is a timely specialty; Needham already has 13 clients looking for the kind of help it gave Verbatim. But the company also provides a full range of services, from institutional brokerage to investment banking, for two remarkably disparate groups of customers: high-tech newcomers making such equipment as microwave components and specialty materials -- it won't touch makers of personal computers -- and midsize industrial companies in the Northeast. That market includes some 500 companies with capitalization ranging from $20 million to $200 million. In these lines of business, Needham & Co. is facing powerful and well-established competitors. George Needham's dream of founding his own firm dates back to 1976 when, as a vice president at First Boston Corp., he underwrote the public offering of Amdahl Corp. He put the dream on hold when First Boston made him head of its new high-tech business. But in 1984, when such clients as Verbatim began getting into trouble, he decided the moment had come. Along with a former colleague, Raymond H. Godfrey Jr., 41, now executive vice president, he recruited David K. Townes, 46, a 12-year financial analyst with Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb, and James Sepenzis, 48, who put in 20 years in institutional sales for Smith Barney. The four pooled $600,000 and raised $3.4 million from 35 outside investors. Needham opened its doors in June, and the boss's former employer, bearing no grudge, gave the new firm a small role in underwriting a $66-million offering of First Boston stock. All told, the company has participated in 30 underwritings so far and says it has been profitable from day one. Apart from practicing its specialized brand of medicine, the company hopes to compete partly by charging low fees. By focusing its business narrowly, it expects to make do with a much smaller staff than competitive full-service firms. Salaries are pitiful compared with those of typical investment bankers. The top officers each make $60,000; George Needham gets less than 10% of his take at First Boston. Says Needham, ''We're going to be the People Express of the brokerage business.'' All 21 employees, including the office receptionist, are getting equity in the firm.