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Sykes buying Tampa's GunnAllen Financial

TAMPA — A local investment group led by John Sykes, founder and chairman emeritus of call center operator Sykes Enterprises, announced a deal Thursday to buy a controlling stake in GunnAllen Holdings Inc., parent company of Tampa's GunnAllen Financial.

Sykes, 72, will become chairman of the board and hopes to expand GunnAllen into a full-service financial services company along the lines of Raymond James in St. Petersburg.

Sykes will name four of seven members of the reorganized company's board. Gunn founder Rick Frueh will stay on as chief executive, though Sykes didn't rule out management changes in the future. Layoffs could occur at the firm's headquarters at 5002 W. Waters Ave., but they "won't be significant," Sykes said.

GunnAllen, a $140-million private company founded in 1986, employs about 260 in Tampa. It also manages a network of 750 to 800 brokers in more than 30 states. It recently faced fines of $750,000 and various lawsuits connected to sales and investment practices of some former brokers. Sykes said the legal troubles "allowed us to established a fair value price" for GunnAllen during months of discussions.

"There's always a worry when you go into these things," Sykes said. "When you look at my history I love to build things, work with companies that can do better, companies that need something I can bring."

Sykes grew his namesake company to a giant though the acquisition of nearly 40 call center firms in the U.S. and Europe and 31,000 employees.

Since retiring in 2004, Sykes has invested in various deals, including helping found Tampa's NorthStar Bank in 2007. He also chairs NorthStar.

Looking to grow in its competitive industry, GunnAllen has been eager to find a wealthy partner to invest capital, Frueh said. Neither Sykes nor Frueh disclosed how much Sykes invested.

"I really get to add a group of board members with proven management experience," Frueh said. "The ability to retain and attract the best people is determined by your ability to grow the organization."

Subject to the approval of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the deal is expected to close in 30 to 60 days.

Both Sykes and Frueh cited Raymond James as a model to aspire to. Among the nation's 335 independent financial services firms, Gunn ranks 22nd and Raymond James ranks second.

To reach than goal, Sykes plans to strengthen management and oversight of GunnAllen and then relinquish the board to other hands. "I want to work myself out of a job," he said.

Sykes buying Tampa's GunnAllen Financial 09/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 9, 2008 1:45pm]
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