NEW YORK Chris Ventresca, JPMorgan Chase's (JPM.N) co-head of North American M&A, still remembers the banker he worked for on his first deal as a young associate back in 1994.
It's easy. The banker, Henry Harnischfeger, is still at JPMorgan and doing deals.
Such stability while many rivals have been walloped by crises, JP Morgan bankers said, has helped place their firm in the lead in the rankings of deal advisers this year.
"Keeping our focus on clients externally while others may have had more distractions or more volatility in terms of their people -- that's probably our greatest strength over the years," said Ventresca, 45, a Princeton electrical engineer who started out at JPMorgan in 1988 as a computer programer and never left.
The firm has jumped to the top spot in U.S. league tables from No. 5 last year, racing ahead of archrivals Morgan Stanley (MS.N) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N), according to Thomson Reuters data through September 22.
JPMorgan has advised on $353.5 billion worth of deals involving U.S. companies so far this year, compared with about $295 billion each for Morgan Stanley and Goldman.
JPMorgan strengthened its position further late on Wednesday as United Technologies Corp's (UTX.N) lead adviser on a $16.5 billion deal to buy Goodrich Corp GR.N.
The deal also helped the firm edge past Morgan Stanley to the No. 2 spot globally in league tables, the data shows.
In the United Technologies deal, the bank had a relationship with the company that goes back more than a decade.
Besides being the M&A adviser, JPMorgan is also the lead bank in a $15 billion financing for the deal and advised the company on other issues including selling shares and credit ratings.
"We surround these transactions," said Jim Woolery, co-head of North American M&A. "We not only come at them from a strategic advisory and board perspective, but from a capital markets perspective as well."
Still, competition for M&A business is fierce -- Goldman is currently the No. 1 M&A bank globally.
League table fortunes are also fickle. At a time when deal activity is down, a few big deals can skew rankings from one year to the next.
Over the last few years, however, JPMorgan has firmly held on to a spot among the top three M&A advisers, data shows.
The bank received a further boost early this year, when a management reshuffle saw it bring on Woolery, 42, from the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
The reshuffle has led to initiatives such as greater focus on building board relationships at client firms as directors become more active after the financial crisis.
The bank is looking to hire selectively to boost its takeover defense and technology practices, as well as grow aggressively in the middle-market and emerging markets, the bankers said.
A big focus is tapping JPMorgan's commercial bank relationships, they said.
Woolery said he and Ventresca spend a fair amount of time helping other divisions -- such as capital markets, private banking and escrow -- sell services as part of a JPMorgan culture to get people to work together.
"That comes back to us five-fold," he said. "The M&A team doesn't hide the ball from leveraged finance or FX; we work together as a team. A lot of people talk about that but actually executing on that is hard. It comes straight from the top here."
(Reporting by Paritosh Bansal, editing by Matthew Lewis)