Aryeh Bourkoff occupies a unique spot in the growing world of boutique investment banking. In 2012, Bourkoff launched New York–based LionTree Advisors, which focuses on the technology, media and telecommunications sector, because he saw TMT companies shifting away from big banks and toward trusted individual advisers.
LionTree, where his former UBS colleague Ehren Stenzler is managing partner, has kept busy. In early 2013, founder and CEO Bourkoff advised cable giant Liberty Global on its $23.3 billion purchase of U.K. mobile provider Virgin Media. He set things in motion by inviting two key principals — Liberty Global CEO Michael Fries and James Mooney, chair of the target company — to dinner at his home in New York.
Bourkoff and his small team orchestrated the cross-border deal, which closed that June and saw Liberty Global move its headquarters from Denver to London, out of a cramped rented office on Madison Avenue. “I said at the time, ‘This must be the record for the biggest deal to be done in the smallest space,’” recalls the analyst-turned-banker, who has spent his whole career in New York.
Since then LionTree, which now occupies larger digs nearby, has worked on more than 30 transactions with a combined value of $200 billion. Bourkoff relishes dealmaking as much as building a business, and he’s active on both fronts. Besides recently advising Charter Communications on its pending $90 billion acquisition of fellow U.S. peers Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, he spent the summer in London, where LionTree recently opened an office. “We opened in London at the request of our clients,” says Bourkoff, 42. “We want to mirror their growth as they see more M&A opportunities overseas.”
During his 14 years at UBS, Bourkoff established himself as a top adviser to some of the world’s biggest media companies, developing a strong relationship with Liberty Global chairman John Malone. In 2008 and 2009, Bourkoff represented Charter on its restructuring and Malone’s Liberty Media on its restructuring and Liberty Global on its $530 million rescue of U.S. satellite broadcaster Sirius XM Holdings, a deal that would reap $12 billion for Malone. With Stenzler, who was co-head of U.S. M&A at UBS before moving to LionTree, he advised Comcast Corp. on its $13.8 billion takeover of NBC Universal in 2011 and Sony Corp. when it led a consortium that paid $2.2 billion for EMI Music Publishing the following year.
Born in Palo Alto, California, Bourkoff spent much of his childhood in Baltimore before returning to the West Coast to earn an economics degree at the University of California, San Diego. In 1995 he joined Salomon Smith Barney’s New York office as a high-yield research analyst. Two years later he moved to CIBC World Markets Corp., where he worked as a senior cable and telecom high-yield research analyst before joining UBS in 1999. In his fixed-income analyst role at UBS, he was comfortable talking to executives about their company strategies, and they appreciated his analytic skills. When the firm asked Bourkoff to become an equity analyst at his clients’ request, he combined both jobs. In 2005 he was the first sector analyst ranked No. 1 for equity, fixed income and hedge funds by Institutional Investor.
Bourkoff’s double duty gained him more exposure to chief executives; realizing that he liked discussing strategy, he decided to become an investment banker. He joined the TMT investment banking group in 2007 and was named joint global head of the division just two years later. In 2011, Bourkoff won another promotion, to vice chairman and head of Americas investment banking, and took a seat on UBS’s global investment banking executive committee.
His background as an analyst gives him an edge in understanding a company’s capital structure and the fundamentals that drive share prices. Every Friday at LionTree, which has fewer than 50 employees, Bourkoff assembles his staff for a brainstorming session on the future of the TMT sector. These meetings give the firm’s bankers plenty of ideas to discuss with clients.
Just as interested in the people side of the business, Bourkoff enjoys building networks. In 2009 he advised Liberty Global on its acquisition of No. 2 German cable operator UnityMedia, then owned by private equity firms Apollo Global Management and BC Partners, for roughly $3 billion. Bourkoff got to know then–Apollo senior partner Eric Zinterhofer, now a founding partner of Searchlight Capital and chairman of Charter, and BC Partners co-chairman and managing partner Raymond Svider. The latter’s London-headquartered firm has retained a 12 percent stake in St. Louis–based broadband provider Suddenlink Communications, which Bourkoff advised on its pending $9 billion sale to Luxembourg-based telecom and cable conglomerate Altice this year.
“Because of his background, Aryeh has a deeper understanding of the industry than traditional bankers,” Svider says. “Add to that the fact he has the relationships with all the important CEOs, and I don’t think there is a banker in the U.S. who comes close to Aryeh in his field.”
During the first half of 2015, LionTree ranked seventh for global TMT M&A after advising on six deals worth a total of $103 billion, according to Dealogic. That’s a dramatic improvement over the same period last year, when it placed 100th. But Bourkoff doesn’t have much time for league tables. “Rather than just focusing on the next transaction, we take a longer-term view with our clients,” he says.
As part of its efforts to pick the industry’s future winners, LionTree has launched LT Growth, a division that advises and makes selective investments in growing media businesses. Every year the firm hosts Media Slopes, a small gathering in Deer Valley, Utah, that has attracted rising entrepreneurs as well as established names like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Bourkoff believes LionTree is well positioned for TMT’s next M&A wave. Since the financial crisis the big media players have favored share buybacks over major tie-ups, he says, and now it’s time for them to focus on innovation. “We’re in the middle of a wave of horizontal mergers between companies in the same industry,” Bourkoff remarked at a recent cable summit in Amsterdam. “What I think you’ll see is companies starting to go outside their core businesses to extend their growth profile and diversify their asset base.”