After wrapping up his final deal, Wisconsin Capital Finance Director David Erdman is packing up an office filled with three decades of paperwork as his tenure with the state winds down and he makes the leap to the private sector at Baker & Tilly Municipal Advisors LLC.
There’s also a “retirement” party to attend Thursday ahead of his official last day Friday, July 1. He starts as a managing director at Baker & Tilly’s municipal group, which is part of Chicago-based Baker & Tilly US LLP, on July 5.
Erdman recently hit the mark where he qualifies for a full pension from the state’s fully-funded retirement system.
Now be brings to the private sector his knowledge as both head of Wisconsin’s debt issuance and as an advocate a broad range of best practices through his work on the Government Finance Officers Association’s Debt Committee and with the National Association of State Treasurers.
“I love what I do and probably could do it for another 33 years,” Erdman said. “After being an issuer for 29 years, it’s going to take a while for that to go away and I leave with mixed emotions. I’m sad leaving a great staff but am looking forward to this new opportunity and challenge. It’s an impressive shop and I’m excited to work with them and be a part of future growth.
“I have strong opinions that benefit an issuer and municipal advisors have a fiduciary responsibility to the issuer,” Erdman said. “This gives me an opportunity to extend that voice to other areas to benefit issuers and the municipal market place.”
The capital finance role is a civil servant position that insulates it from shifts in political winds so Erdman’s tenure, like Frank Hoadley’s before him, continued under Republican and Democratic administrations. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, followed Scott Walker, a Republican, into office in 2019.
The civil servant status leaves Erdman free to do work for the state at Baker Tilly, unlike political appointees or elected officials who have temporary bans on such work.
Erdman said he spoke to a handful of firms and Baker Tilly was one of them. The firm does work with his office and Erdman and Vicki Hellenbrand, the public sector practice leader, have known each other since their college years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Brad Elmer, who previously worked in the state capital finance office, joined the firm in 2015.
“With his passion for working with state and local governments and his incredible depth of knowledge of municipal securities, Dave brings tremendous value to our current and future clients,” Hellenbrand said.
Erdman will focus on expanding the firm’s practice in the Midwest as well as joining the national large issuers’ team working on larger, more complex deals.
“Dave brings an excellent working relationship with many of the regulatory agencies that could have potential impacts on the municipal market, along with extensive experience with multiple types of credits, fixed rate bonds, variable rate notes, and completion of large, complex transactions,” Hellenbrand said.
The firm also expects to capitalize on Erdman’s experience on environmental, social and governance matters and the federal infrastructure bill. “Both ESG and infrastructure funding will be major components of public finance in the coming years,” Hellenbrand said.
Baker Tilly has more than 80 registered advisors in offices in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In 2021, the firm ranked 11th among financial advisory firms nationally credited by Refinitiv with 382 deals valued at $6.5 billion, and ranking seventh on competitive deals alone.
The firm previously known as Virchow, Krause & Co. was started by Ed Virchow in Waterloo, Wisconsin, providing audits to canning companies. Its national presence as an accounting, consulting and advisory firm has grown through a series of mergers, acquisitions and hires.
The firm continues to keep an eye out for opportunistic hires, Hellenbrand said.
Erdman’s voice — which followed a legacy set by Hoadley and grew in tone on issues from disclosure and transparency to collaboration — will also shift from issuer organizations to advisory associations like the National Association of Municipal Advisors.
“Dave became a leading voice very quickly for the municipal issuers in this country and Dave doesn’t just represent Wisconsin. He really is dedicated to focusing on best practices not just that can apply to large issuers, but small issuers and very infrequent issuers too,” said Emily Brock, director of GFOA’s Federal Liaison Center.
Brock also called Erdman an important voice in sharing issuer concerns with key regulatory bodies and points to his work on the GFOA’s disclosure industry working group. It pre-dated COVID-19 but the pandemic’s initial toll on finances pushed many finance teams to focus on liquidity and delivering essential services.
“Dave really zeroed in on disclosure and the need to look pandemic disclosure,” said Brock, who considers Erdman a friend and mentor. “It really uplifted our brand” as it provided a framework for both issuers and the Securities and Exchange Commission as they considered pandemic-related disclosure policies.
And while the advisory business is competitive, Brock said Erdman has a long list of contacts from his various roles at GFOA that included leading training session he takes to the private sector.
Erdman, a lifelong resident of Wisconsin, joined the Department of Natural Resources in 1990 and spent four years working with municipalities using the Clean Water Fund Program. In 1994, he moved to the capital finance office where he worked under Hoadley, a staunch issuer advocate with a national voice. He was named deputy in 2010. The state hired Kevin Taylor to fill Hoadley’s shoes when he retired in 2013. Two years later Taylor left and Erdman was elevated to the top spot.
Erdman counts involvement in the preparation of legislation, disclosure, sale, issuance, refunding, and other monitoring of nearly $51 billion of state obligations since 1994. The state earned several upgrades over the past year — one from Kroll Bond Rating Agency to AAA — but he points to state policies and economic health instead of taking credit.
Erdman sees ESG, and diversity, equity & inclusion, or DEI, as front and center issues for issuers and the market.
An issuer must follow various rules and guidelines on finance teams, but Erdman also believes issuers have room to maneuver. After naming the team for a recent state bond refunding, Erdman decided it would serve as a good vehicle to act on DEI goals and the result was a team led by women.
Evolving best practices on ESG will remain on the front burner over the next two years, Erdman predicted. The GFOA has best practices guidelines but he sees more additional work being done on that front on designations.
“It’s a big dog with so many angles” from credit impact to disclosure, Erdman said. “This is something that regulations isn’t going to solve. We need work collaboratively and collectively on it.”
The rising interest rate environment will also add to debt management challenges, an area that Erdman said he hopes to provide guidance on since he’s been through past cycles. Disclosure also will remain a key topic.
“There’s always room for continued improvement in content and timeliness,” Erdman said
Erdman is staying put, for now at least, in Stoughton, which is just outside Madison, where he serves as an advanced emergency medical technician for his local community.
Erdman’s last deal was a $134 million general obligation-backed floating rate note sale, the state’s first for that credit.
The rate is linked off the SIFMA index with the initial rate set at 1.39%. The deal establishes a “playbook” for using floating-rate debt for the GO credit which the state could turn more as a way to manage the rising interest rate environment. Goldman Sachs ran the books with Loop Capital Markets as co-senior manager.
Erdman said to do the job well one has to surround oneself with “good people” both in the industry and in the neighboring desk.
“The biggest lesson I learned was to watch and learn from other debt managers and municipal advisors – Frank Hoadley and Ben Watkins are just a couple debt managers that were instrumental in my career,” Erdman said, referencing his former boss and Florida’s debt manager.
Erdman leaves behind a staff that includes Deputy Capital Finance Director Aaron Heintz, Katherine Miller, Jessica Fandrich, Andy Behm, Joe Adomakoh, and Peggy Mravik. His replacement is expected to soon be named.