Davis, Frist say hello to Cressey & Co.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 1:28am

One of Nashville’s largest law firms is losing a leader but local health care entrepreneurs are getting a beefier source for private equity.

Ralph Davis, chairman of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis for the past four years, is leaving to become a partner in Chicago private investment firm Cressey & Co. with former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

The change was effective yesterday and Davis will transition out of the firm by March. Waller’s partners elected John Tishler, a corporate restructuring and bankruptcy attorney, to fill out the two years left in Davis’ term. Tishler joined the firm in 2000 and has been involved with several high-profile bankruptcy cases, including representing large creditors in the Service Merchandise bankruptcy.

“We’ve had great years under Ralph,” Tishler said, adding that the firm will continue to position itself as a regional and national health care firm.

Davis has been a partner at Waller since 1995 and has focused on mergers and acquisitions primarily in health care. His work has included representing Cressey and affiliated companies.

Cressey is a spin-off of equity-investment firm , Thoma Cressey Bravo, which has invested in technology and health care companies. Nashville-based Essent Healthcare is part of that firm’s portfolio.

The company’s investment strategy is “buy and build,” that is, buy companies infuse cash to expand quickly through organic growth or select acquisitions.

Bryan Cressey and Peter Ehrich, both partners in that firm, continue as partners in the new firm, which will focus on investing in middle-market companies in the health care industry.

They along with Davis and Frist will have to raise a pool of equity to use for investing and buying. A Cressey spokesman declined comment on possible fund raising or target levels.

Mike Collins, managing member and chief executive officer of 2nd Generation Capital, said Cressey’s entry into Nashville bodes well for the city.

“This is a new advantage for Nashville,” Collins said.

Typically, private equity firms have a representative here or someone who comes to town and calls on companies. With Cressey setting up an office here, Collins said that combines a well-known name in the private equity business with two people who have strong credentials.

“They are going to be a formidable team,” he said.

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