An Interview with Ted Brandt, Investment banker and founder of Marathon Capital- an energy and infrastructure focused boutique investment bank.

Ted Brandt is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Marathon Capital, a Chicago-based investment banking boutique specialising in the global Energy and Infrastructure markets. Before founding Marathon Capital, Mr. Brandt held various senior management positions within large non-bank finance and leasing companies including GE Capital, Dana Commercial Credit, and Transamerica. During these 15 years, Mr. Brandt had start-up responsibility for leasing units, hands-on turnaround assignments, and opportunities to create and execute a variety of manufacturer vendor programs. He also actively worked on the buying and selling of specialty commercial finance units during this time.

More about Marathon Capital

The firm provides financial advice in the areas of corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, structuring and raising of corporate capital, project debt equity, tax equity, as well as restructuring/ recapitalization, bankruptcy and workout situations in the global Energy and Infrastructure markets.

Recent noteworthy transaction

  • Exclusive advisors to Middle River Power on their acquisition by Goldman Sachs Renewable Power (August 2020. Solar segment).
    Marathon Capital, LLC announced it advised on the successful sale of the High Desert Solar Project (“HDSI”) on behalf of Middle River Power, the operating and development platform of Avenue Capital, to Goldman Sachs Renewable Power. HDSI is a 100 MWAC solar and 50MWAC battery storage project currently under development in San Bernardino County, California. HDSI executed a 15-year power purchase agreement with Clean Power Alliance for the Project’s full energy output, resource adequacy and ancillary attributes, for delivery in August 2021.
  • Exclusive Financial Advisor to AYPA Power on their acquisition by Blackstone (March 2020. Energy Technology and Services segment).
    Marathon Capital, LLC announced the acquisition of NRStor C&I L.P. by funds managed by Blackstone Energy Partners from Fengate Asset Management and Lake Bridge Capital, Inc. Fengate managed this investment on behalf of the LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada.
  • Exclusive Financial Advisor to Heelstone Energy Holdings, LLC, after an investment by Ares Management (August 2019. Solar segment).
    Marathon acted as the exclusive financial advisor to Heelstone Energy Holdings, LLC during the investment in Heelstone Energy Holdings, LLC by Ares Management Corporation’s (NYSE: ARES) Infrastructure and Power (“AIP”) strategy. Heelstone Energy Holdings, LLC has rebranded with the investment to Heelstone Renewable Energy, LLC (“Heelstone”) reflecting its commitment to the development of clean and sustainable power.
  • Exclusive financial advisor to Centrica, on their acquisition of SmartWatt (July 2019, Energy Technology and Services).
    Marathon Capital, LLC (“Marathon”) announced the successful acquisition of SmartWatt by Centrica plc, an international energy and services company. SmartWatt, is a leading energy services and solutions company with a national presence (14 offices and projects across 48 states). SmartWatt improves energy systems for commercial and industrial customers and also serves MUSH (municipal and state governments, universities and colleges, K-12 schools, and hospitals) and federal clients.
  • Exclusive financial advisor on Nestle’s investment in 7X Energy Inc (December 2020. Renewable energy segment).
    Marathon Capital acted as the exclusive financial advisor to Nestlé on its investment in a solar project owned by 7X Energy, Inc., a leading utility-scale solar developer, owner, and asset manager. Nestlé is the sole tax equity investor in 7X’s 250 MWac Taygete I Energy Project, located in Pecos County, Texas. In addition to its tax equity investment, Nestlé will purchase 100% of the renewable electricity attributes generated by the project’s energy production.

The case for renewables- A market with lots of players :

5 key lessons from this interview

1. Why start a boutique investment bank such as Marathon Capital? where do you feel they sit in the bigger ecosystem of banking and how has their role changed?

Since the financial crisis boutique banks have taken increasing market share from bulge bracket firms, which were the hardest-hit by post-GFC regulation  For multiple consecutive years, boutique investment banks have maintained the trend of continuing to capture market share and fees at a disproportionately high rate for their size. And because specialty advisors do not offer competing products, many investors prefer specialty firms, which they view as unbiased in comparison with full-service advisors, boutiques in general also have a more coherent culture and I think more and more bankers are seeing the attractiveness of these types of firms’.

2. What makes Marathon Capital unique when compared against other players in the Global Energy and Infrastructure market?

‘There are two main things which makes our strategy stick. Firstly, we are Geographically Broad: Marathon’s relationships encompass key potential investors in broad geographic locations in North America, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Approximately 50% of our completed transactions in the last 12 months involved parties and counterparties where HQ’s are non-U.S based- energy and infrastructure projects are all over the globe and we refuse to be a firm that passes up on opportunities by putting catchment areas around our own HQ. Secondly, we are focused on Decision Makers for ESG Investors, Marathon’s focused distribution relationships are with key decision makers for investments in ESG, renewable and/or power sectors. Our more generalist competitors’ relationships are typically nonsector specific as their relationship managers are responsible to distribute all types of investment opportunities, not just renewable ones.

3. How do you grow a boutique investment bank such as Marathon in way that is sustainable and doesn’t negatively effect the unique culture that you’ve created at the firm?

‘It’s all about the people you hire. A lot of business is done via relationships these days and its critical to hire the kind of people who you think represent the brand well. Sector knowledge and expertise is also very important. Marathon has selectively hired experienced professionals focused on expanding advisory capabilities across products, segments and geographies, while expanding its platform and junior banker programs in Chicago to support the growing and evolving enterprise and train junior bankers in a way that is in line with the firms values- we started the Junior Banker Programme in 2011. As a result, we’ve seen substantial revenue expansion.

4. What trends have surprised you in the energy sector in which you specialise?

‘This is the first time in my career where i’ve noticed what amounts to lower cost of capital for ESG type of deals and a higher cost of capital for non-ESG energy related type of deals. ESG deals are becoming bigger and more popular certainly’.

5. What do you think about the trends in sustainability and energy, do you think there will be major trends in the coming decades and what are your future outlooks for it?

‘ well I think coal has no future. Nuclear- I think there’s a real question as to whether the utilities are going to continue investing lots and lots of money into new technology. In Nuclear, the variable costs are low but the fixed costs are just so high- that to make a nuclear plant profitable — without subsidies the nuclear plants are probably going to be taken down (and we can see this throughout plants in the US). You’ll get general growth in the energy sector which is correlated with GDP growth and general demand but you’re seeing roughly all the coal and eventually all the Nuclear energy go away. So I think the story’s going to be that on-shore wind, off-shore wind and solar as well as natural gas- will be the story for the next 10–15 years and that trend is there. I think you also have to look at what’s going on in transportation. We’re seeing electronic vehicles take over gas powered vehicles so I just don’t know where oil id going to be in terms of demand — other than through plastics and bi-products over the next couple of years. I think the prospects for oil are weak and the prospects for electricity in particular clean electricity are strong’.

Final words of advice from Ted…too all the budding LSE entrepreneurs…

‘It would boil down to one thing. Get into something early and get into something that looks like it’s going to grow. My impression after being in both mature markets and living in immature growing markets, is that in growing markets- it’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot easier to grow, and it’s a lot easier to make money in markets that are moving upwards, growing, have high margins and high prospects. In growing markets, everybody you talk to has high expectations, everyone’s positive. In mature markets, everyone is negative and everyone looks at it like it’s a game of musical chairs- and a few chairs are going to get pulled out each week and month- leaving people depressed and anxious about their deal making prospects. The innovation and the whole attitude in mature markets is just much worse’.

A final quote from Ted.

‘ If you think about the first wave of firms that have gone towards low emissions- it’s been the high tech companies….this industry (renewable energy) has a positive future and it’s only just getting started and as technology improves- so will the prospects of the clean energy industry.

Huge thank you to Ted Brandt for this insightful interview- will definitely be advising my M&A friends to jump into this sector! And thank you for reading.

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Aalia Shah

LSE MSc Finance student. Interested in pioneering technologies, the VC industry. Snippets of my thoughts, along with interviews with industry leaders.