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MOVES-Greenhill hires ex-MS banker Porretti for activist investor defense

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON, April 25 (Reuters) - Greenhill & Co. has hired former Morgan Stanley banker Alfredo Porretti to build up the investment bank's business of defending companies against activist investors, a source said on Thursday.

Porretti will join Greenhill as a managing director, heading the New York-based firm's shareholder advisory practice. At Morgan Stanley, where he worked for nearly three years, he was an executive director. Previously he worked in the shareholder advisory group at Lazard and before that as a lawyer.

Representatives for Greenhill and Morgan Stanley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Like rivals Moelis & Company, Evercore, Lazard and Centerview Partners, Greenhill concentrates on defending companies from investors who are pushing management to perform better and calling for strategic reviews, spin-offs and returning capital to investors by buying back shares.

Activism defense has evolved into a must-have business for most Wall Street banks even as the work can be time consuming and not terribly lucrative. It is seen as a conduit to better paying mergers and acquisitions work.

Greenhill, which was founded more than two decades ago by veteran Morgan Stanley dealmaker Robert Greenhill, is run by Scott Bok, who trained under Greenhill at Morgan Stanley.

Among its recent work, Greenhill is currently advising Gannett, the newspaper company that owns USA Today, as it seeks to fight off MNG Enterprises Inc., the hedge fund-owned media company that tried to buy it and says it could run it more efficiently. MNG scaled back its request for board seats on Thursday and no longer wants control of the board.

Greenhill has clients in the United States and Europe. Porretti speaks Italian and French and has previously worked to defend European companies against activists.

The bank has hit some rough spots over the last years as deals slowed and its stock has dropped 45 percent in the last four years. In 2017, Greenhill and Bok helped engineer a partial leveraged buyout when they injected $20 million into the firm.

Morgan Stanley was ranked as the top adviser to companies targeted by activist investors publicly for the third straight year in 2018, according to Refinitiv data.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)