Sword, Rowe & Company CEO Daniel Rowe T’09 is blending his love of music into a successful career with the boutique merchant bank.
If you had told a young Daniel Rowe T’09 that someday he would own and run an investment bank, he would have fallen over laughing. That’s because Rowe knew from an early age exactly what he wanted to be: a rock star. He sang, mastered numerous instruments, and even played in the same rock band for 15 years.
While he never ended up headlining stadiums, Rowe has blended his passion for music seamlessly into a successful business career as managing director and CEO at boutique merchant bank Sword, Rowe & Company in Princeton, N.J., a post he assumed much sooner than expected after the sudden, tragic death of his mentor in 2012. As his career proves, being a banker doesn’t have to mean giving up your passions; it often means adding new ones along the way.
Rowe entered Ithaca College in 1991 with a single-minded focus on music, but he took economics on a lark and was surprised by how much he enjoyed it. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in music composition, he decided to get a second in economics, if only because he could.
While pursuing a music career in his 20s, Rowe found his knack for business paid the bills. He worked as the controller for a company managing bands like KC & the Sunshine Band, George Clinton, and Kool & the Gang, and then in the finance department of a record label. At age 29 he met folk singer Charlotte Kendrick, who became his girlfriend. He spent two years helping launch Kendrick’s career, producing her albums and touring the country together.
“I knew Charlotte and I were going to get married,” says Rowe, “and it is difficult having two musicians in one family—in most cases it doesn’t economically work.” That’s when he got the perfect side gig with his future firm, then called Wm Sword & Co., to work on financial models. Soon, he was freelancing for the firm nearly full time, and discovering that he actually enjoyed the creative elements of his work. (He and Kendrick still perform together, although these days it is more likely to be at a preschool fundraiser for one of their three children.)
Never having studied finance formally, Rowe decided to go to business school. He comes from a long line of Dartmouth graduates, and on a visit to Tuck, he fell in love with the place. At 34, he was “the old man” in his class, but Rowe credits his age and experience for allowing him to make the most of his time in Hanover.
“Tuck filled in the holes in my knowledge and gave me a different level of confidence,” says Rowe. “Prior to Tuck, for better or worse, I felt outgunned walking into a room of Ivy League bankers. Tuck just levels that. I now knew I could play in that league.”
After graduating, Rowe soon became a managing director at Wm Sword and began building clientele and executing his own deals. He was heir apparent to take over the business eventually, working closely with the owner of the firm, William Sword, Jr., when Sword was tragically killed by a falling tree during Hurricane Sandy. It was a stunning loss for the family and touched off an always-difficult unplanned succession. Rowe bought a majority stake in the business, and remains close with the Sword family, who are still part owners.
He has maintained core segments of the 38-year-old business, including mid-market advisory work and classic investment banking for private companies. Sword, Rowe & Company also helps businesses raise capital from private equity firms and strategic investors, and separately helps investment managers from private equity firms and hedge funds raise their own investment funds from large institutionals.
Where Rowe has made significant changes is to expand into merchant banking. The firm now makes strategic, long-term investments of its own capital into some of the companies it advises, rather than just acting as an agent to broker deals. Its first such deal was to invest in Atlas Music Publishing as part of Atlas’ launch and initial capitalization. The industry is no coincidence — Rowe focuses on deals in music, media, and entertainment.
Rowe has grown the business from five professionals to about 15 while still taking pride in the boutique qualities of personal attention, integrity, and individual relationships. “The goal isn’t to create a giant organization. It’s to create an excellent organization.”