CHICAGO - Chicago-based William Blair Co. is making a big push into the Texas market, snaring a five-member banking team from Robert W. Baird Co.

The Texas team is led by Ajay Thomas, who will take over the firms public finance banking group and help guide a national expansion.

Thomas joined the firm last month as a managing director and head of public finance investment banking, the firm announced Friday. The other banking additions made simultaneously include John Hall, Kirk London, and David Tiffin, who joined the firm as directors, and Peter Lamar who is a vice president. Hall will work from San Antonio and the other four from Austin.

The banking leadership appointment frees up current public finance banking chief Tom Lanctot to focus on his responsibilities as head of debt capital markets, a position he took over last year after the retirement of longtime head James McKinney.

We look forward to leveraging the talent of the new team and Ajays leadership capabilities at a time of great growth in our public financing business, Lanctot said in a joint interview with Thomas on Friday.

Debt capital markets includes public finance banking, underwriting, municipal and corporate sales and trading, public-private partnerships, and other groups. Thomas will report to Lanctot at the independent and employee-owned firm.

The firm also recently launched a Detroit area office, hiring Brodie Killian as a director in public finance. His charge is to expand the firms work on public education and community college issues in Michigan and nearby states.

Killian brings issuer and banking experience to the table. He previously worked as superintendent of business and operations at Plymouth Canton Community Schools and held positions in advisory and banking work at Morgan Stanley, Stifel Nicolaus and Raymond James Associates.

The move into Texas and Michigan marks the firms latest growth spurt as it seeks to broaden its platform and reputation as a regional firm into a national one. This spring, the firm opened a Los Angeles office with veterans from the former De La Rosa Co. led by Christopher Tota, who now serves as head of municipal bond trading at Blair.

Market participants said the Texas hires represent a coup for Blair, because Baird has a larger national presence. Thomas established a Texas presence for Baird in June 2012, leaving Raymond James Associates after its merger with Morgan Keegan Co. and bringing with him many of the bankers now also making the move to Blair.

With Thomas at the helm in Texas, Baird made significant inroads in school finance in the state, specializing in soft-put bonds that gave districts more flexibility over the full maturity of an issue. The team also has solid relationships in general municipal sector.

Lanctot said the firm was attracted to the Texas team to fill dual needs. It gives them a solid entrance to Texas and larger southwest market, while providing the firm with a well-respected public finance banking manager.

Ajay and I have known each other for a while and have a good rapport and Ive admired the success hes had in Texas and beyond, Lanctot said. We needed someone to succeed me and take us to the next level.

Thomas said the decision to move to Blair wasnt driven by dissatisfaction with Baird, but by the opportunity to take on a national leadership role. He and his team said a big selling point for them is the old-school, client-first culture at Blair.

The William Blair culture really matches with our Texas client base and this is a unique opportunity to build a platform nationally, Thomas said, adding he believes the team and firms beliefs about client services resonates far and wide outside Texas.

Totas hiring added to his opinion that the firm is in a growth mode and attracting veteran market professionals who agree with the firms national goals.

Baird ranked eighth so far this year among senior managers on Texas issues leading nearly $1.5 billion and finished last year in ninth place in Texas and overall in the Southwest, according to Thomson Reuters data. Baird recently worked as co-manager with Citi in a $100 million variable-rate negotiated deal for San Antonio Independent School District.

William Blair was ranked 28th among senior managers last year in the Midwest and is 26th so far this year. Nationally, it ranked 26th last year and is 36th so far this year. Nationally Baird ranks 12th so far this year and finished last year in 12th place, according to Thomson Reuters.

The change provides additional opportunities, according to other team members. While Baird tended to favor competitive deals in Texas, Blair will allow the banking team to pursue more negotiated issues, Tiffin said.

I had talked to some headhunters about William Blair, and the more I heard about them, the more intrigued I became, said Tiffin, who specializes in K-12 public school and community college finance.

Hall said Blairs new platform will give the Texas team more flexibility in pursuing business.

It was just a tremendous opportunity for us, Hall said. One member of the Texas group did not join the five in making the move.

The new additions bring the firms banking group to about 20 with the wider municipal group including sales, trading and underwriting totaling about 45 in offices that now include Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, San Antonio, Hartford, and Detroit.

The firm remains in expansion mode on all fronts, Thomas and Lanctot said, to bolster existing offices and to enter new markets. Thomas said he expects this year to announce the hiring of a prominent underwriter with several trading hires also on the horizon.

Blairs expansion comes as volume has shrunk and market participants have long speculated that layoffs loom at firms across the country.

Lanctot said the firms leadership is committed to its efforts to establish a more national presence and to expand in areas with good growth prospects.

William Blairs partnership culture and no external debt allows us to manage the business for the long-term, he said. Historically, the firm has taken market share during short-term market dislocations by making targeted strategic hires that share our client centric focus.

Its too soon to outline any league table goals, he said.

Baird said its in the market to replenish its lost staff.

Baird remains committed to providing high quality bond underwriting services in Texas, and we are actively recruiting additional talent in the market that is a good fit for our business, Keith Kolb, director of Bairds public finance group, said in a statement.