Daniel Rowe has the dream job for someone who majored in economics, has an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and ground out a career on Wall Street. He is the CEO and managing director at Sword Rowe & Company, a successor firm to the investment bank founded by William Sword Sr. in 1976.
But that’s not the total picture of who Rowe is. He does, indeed, have a degree in math/economics from Ithaca College, but he also earned a music degree there. When he graduated in 1995, he spent the first decade with one foot in finance and one in the music industry.
That was just fine with William Sword Jr., who valued people with multi-faceted interests. In fact, he was noted for offering part-time employment to, for instance, Olympic rowers. As long as you got your job done, he didn’t care when you did it.
“I started working for Bill Sword because I could work part time and make a decent amount of money,” Rowe says. “He was incredibly supportive of me and my pursuits. Then I found the work was really interesting and I was pretty good at it.” He shifted his focus to full-time finance and was promoted to senior vice president, then to managing director.
When Sword met an untimely death on October 29, 2012, felled by a tree during Hurricane Sandy, the Sword family held a conclave to decide who would be in charge. They tapped Rowe. In August of this year he moved the firm from 34 Chambers Street to 90 Nassau Street, where he rents space from Rosemark Capital. The founder of Rosemark, Chris Kuenne, is one of the investors in Sword Rowe & Company.
Rowe had a history with the company going back to 2003, when he was hired as a part-time consultant. He was promoted to senior vice president in 2008. Along the way he launched Sonibyte, a digital audio solutions provider that produced, for instance, podcasts of magazine articles from such clients as Time magazine, CondeNet, and Kiplinger. In 2011 Sword gave Rowe the title of managing director.
In 2012, when Rowe’s third baby was imminent, Rowe and Sword struck a personal and personnel deal. Over the summer months, Rowe would take over while Sword traveled to North America’s great golf courses, living out his golf dreams. Then Sword would cover for Rowe until the baby slept through the night. Just as Rowe came off his paternity leave, Sword was killed.
November was a whirl. Rowe crammed to pass the two-day FINRA licensing exam and struggled to help keep the company afloat, all while grieving for Sword, who had been like a father to him, as well as a mentor.
“My dad and Bill Sword were very similar in certain ways. My dad knew that it wasn’t about money, that he needed to be happy. They really enjoyed their work and took a lot of pride in it. To this day, the most important thing is being able to go to work and be excited about it, that is a gift that I have.”
“The same things made us tick; Bill Sword and I shared a lot of ideals. He was religious but did not wear it on his sleeve. He was really devoted to his family and also to his work,” Rowe says. “That is why this path I have taken in the last year makes sense — he and I had such a strong connection, that I feel comfortable being a steward of his life’s work and his business.”
Though the name of the firm has changed, Rowe emphasizes that it is definitely not a new company. “We are continuing on, after four decades, in the spirit of the founders — both Bill Sword Sr. and Bill Sword Jr.,” Rowe says. “We have a fairly simple premise — to do business with honesty and integrity, with personal relationships. We are continuing the legacy of what was started before — focused on trust and accountability.”
To the former firm’s endeavors (mergers and acquisitions and raising capital for money managers) the firm has added “merchant banking,” something not likely provided by larger, less personal institutions. “If you make your fee at the close of a transaction,” Rowe says, “you might overlook how the deal affects the client in the long term. If you care about your relationships with clients and investors, you will take the long-term perspective and not push to close that particular deal. You have confidence that your commitment to the relationship will bring other opportunities.”
He cites, as an example, the launch of a music publishing company. His client was an executive at another music publishing company but wanted to go out on his own. Rowe helped develop the business plan and then assemble $27.5 million from a handful of individual investors, plus an independent record label and two music publishers. Sword Rowe made its first foray into merchant banking by putting in a small investment.
Merchant banks have capitalized businesses for centuries; today’s most well-known merchant bank is Allen & Company. Less popular in the 20th century, merchant banking is more valued now.
“The music publishing firm is the template,” Rowe says, “to work with businesses and entrepreneurs to help them capitalize their endeavors and also participate in the investment. We will be doing business with these people for five, ten, or fifteen years — we aren’t off to the next thing.”
The music part of his resume, Rowe says, is what differentiates him as a boutique investment banker. “I have wound that creative part of my life both into entrepreneurial energy and domain expertise.”
Many think that professional training in music leads to excellence in math, and Rowe says that musical creativity contributes to nuanced problem solving. “Creativity is a different way of thinking from writing a spread sheet. It’s what has driven me as an entrepreneurial problem solver. Coaching a company or management team is so driven by interpersonal relationships, things you can’t calculate. Combining that with rigorous, more academic thinking is what makes a good advisor. My ability to understand complex nuances and apply strategic linear thinking is why I have been led into this career.”
Rowe (rhymes with “how”) is from Fairfield, Connecticut, where his mother, a Westminster Choir College alumna, is a church organist and choir director, and the “most supportive person on the planet,” Rowe says. “She was a resource, someone you could call on at any time, willing to pick my rock band up at three in the morning.” Having grown up as a singer in her choirs, he plays a handful of different instruments but says his skill is as a “musical thinker,” i.e. composer, arranger, and producer.
His father left his job teaching high school French to be a carpenter and builder. His two younger siblings went into medicine, but his father did not discourage him from going into music. And when he needed money, his father could always find a job for him.
In his 20s he kept two separate resumes. “I was juggling two careers, stepping back and forth between two worlds. People who knew me on one side did not know me on the other. I was really splitting time,” Rowe says. He was the controller for a firm that managed such artists as George Clinton and Kool and the Gang; he also was a digital and audio engineer. Then he worked in finance for a record company.
In 2003, the same year he started working for Sword, he met and fell in love with folk singer-songwriter Charlotte Kendrick and helped launch her career. He produced and played bass on her three albums, and they did a self-booked 40-date tour across the country (U.S. 1, July 10). Sometimes compared to a young Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kendrick writes lyrics telling personal, intimate stories with universal messages. In one song, she thanks her husband for all the things you do “like humoring my mother on the phone” or “ordering an omelet so I can have a bite/ and still have my waffles too.”
“Singing together is very intimate. We are really blessed with this wonderful gift of being able to do that together,” Rowe says.
Now that Rowe and Kendrick have three children under the age of 5, they count their infrequent gigs as couple’s time. Sometimes they do a gig at the Princeton farmer’s market. Bill Sword liked to sit in Hinds Plaza and listen to the duo while eating lunch.
“If my wife weren’t a musician, I am certain that I would not be playing music. But at this stage in life we are able to multi-task,” Rowe says. “ I do it for my soul food and at the same time I am spending time with my wife. I feel very blessed.”