It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day

Starting with CEO Mike Busch, celebrating his 3rd Anniversary at the helm of Urban Futures, the firm is putting out a series of interviews highlighting the people behind the company and the talent driving the success of the firm. John Phan and Russell Sager will be featured next.

What is your background and experience?

I joined Urban Futures following a 16-year career in municipal government as a finance director, deputy city manager, and assistant city manager.  During my municipal career, I was also involved in the leadership of a few professional organizations.  Specifically, I was the President of the Municipal Management Association of Southern California (MMASC) and Chair of Cal-ICMA.  I joined Urban Futures 10-years ago as a financial advisor and management consultant focused primarily on budget stabilization and fiscal recovery plans, strategic planning, and municipal advisory services.  I have worked on over 100 financings and several financial and organizational restructurings.  I was promoted to President in 2011 and acquired the firm in 2014—ever since then, I have made every effort to take the firm in a new direction.              

As it is today, what services does the firm provide?

We now have five divisions, all of which are related to helping municipalities and districts thrive and meet community needs while achieving the best financial position.  Our Public Finance Group and Isom Advisors support the issuance of debt for capital projects or cash flow savings; the Analytics & Compliance Group provides services related to continuing disclosure, arbitrage rebate, and utility rate studies; the Public Management Group offers strategic planning, special studies, and performance improvement services; and the Sustainable Communities Group provides economic development and real estate advisory services, including Redevelopment winddown and formation of Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFD’s).

What successes have you seen since you became President?

We’ve grown tremendously in key areas, including the recruitment and retention of top talent, moving up in rankings each year to now being the #2 advisor in California based on number of bond issues, expansion into other states, and adding over 200 new clients.

What would you say has contributed to those successes?

Our people.  Our values.  Our clients.

Our people:  By hiring the top professionals in our field, the talent here is second to none.  Our uniquely diverse staff (made up of former finance officers and general counsel to public agencies as well as public finance bankers) understands our client’s perspective like no other firm.  This diversity of talent has also enabled us to build out our five distinct divisions and serve our clients with expertise in multiple facets.  Our goal is to provide solutions for whatever challenges our clients encounter.  

Our values:  When I became President, it was important to me to establish a firm culture with the core values of commitment, excellence, passion, and results.  By being transparent about these values, we have attracted like-minded individuals that work collaboratively towards the success of our clients and our firm.  I have every expectation that each of my staff members will serve our clients with integrity and honesty and provide services unmatched in our field—on time and within budget.  We accomplish this through our shared passion for improving communities.  

Additionally, our firm prioritizes community involvement beyond what we are hired to do.  In recent years, we have contributed to the following causes:

  • $5,000 annually to the Coachella Valley Boys and Girls Club;
  • $1,500 to the VFW located in the City of Azusa to replace a destroyed flag pole;
  • $1,500 to the City of Azusa military banner program;
  • $2,500 in annual scholarships to young women in the Lake Elsinore/Murrieta area for those families that can’t afford the travel cost or equipment for softball; and
  • $1,500 to CCMF to create the Mark Curran Scholarship Fund.

Our clients:  Many of our colleagues in the industry know us as advisors on bond deals. However, our clients know us to be much more valuable than solely managing the bond issuance process. Often, the most challenging piece is helping clients get to that point of a bond financing kickoff call. That includes working with distressed cities and advising them through major financial or political challenges, helping highly solvent cities maintain their position, and everything in between. Because we work with such a wide variety of municipalities, we take best practices from some and apply them successfully to others. We stand with our clients through thick and thin, and we do what’s right for them every time. As a result, our clients trust us implicitly, and they have been our best advocates for new business.

What are you most proud of accomplishing at Urban Futures thus far?

As a team, we have accomplished so much that it’s hard to pick just one achievement.  Let me share a few:

  • We are the only municipal advisory firm to be assigned the lead role in helping a city through its bankruptcy process;  
  • UFI was the FA on the first successful post ABX1 26 and AB 1484 tax allocation bond refinancing;
  • We continue to be a leader in our industry.  We were the top FA firm for tax allocation bonds prior to the elimination of redevelopment.  We are the number one ranked K-12 municipal advisory firm in the state, 5-years running. And, we continue to move up in the statewide rankings (currently ranked #2) having successfully closed over 170 transactions in 2016; and
  • I think we are redefining the role of “financial advisor” to include a comprehensive understanding of public finance and not just bonds.  Our team has extensive experience with budgeting, capital planning, budget and service solvency forecasting, debt management and municipal operations.      

Ultimately, I’m most proud of the team that we have built.  Since I took over, we have added people with exemplary analytical skills in their specific areas of expertise.  The people that we’ve brought on have not only the technical capabilities and diligence that we needed to up our game, but also the ethics that I talked about earlier.  

What’s in store for Urban Futures?

Right now, California cities are facing severe challenges with CalPERS and with decaying infrastructure.  In response, we are going to have increased focus on our public finance and fiscal impact analyses services.  We’re also going to add more people to give us an even deeper bench to help cities, agencies, and special districts through these challenges.

As a firm, we are getting better and better every year.  As I mentioned, we are now ranked #2 in our field in California, and we have our sights on becoming #1.  We also have our sights on expanding beyond California.  We intend to get there by not following any other organization’s model, but by trailblazing. You’re going to see a lot more from Urban Futures in the upcoming months and years.  It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day.

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