Alum Profile: Kenneth Buckfire
It's no secret that the City of Detroit is facing serious financial challenges. Addressing such complex problems requires the very best counsel, which is why Detroit has turned to Kenneth Buckfire (Honors Economics and Philosophy, 1980). Kenneth A. Buckfire is CEO, Managing Director and co-founder of Miller Buckfire, a subsidiary of Stifel, that delivers strategic advice on complex financial issues, with a focus on corporate restructuring. Miller Buckfire became a wholly owned subsidiary of Stifel, a full-service brokerage and investment banking firm, in December 2012. Miller Buckfire was chosen in January as the investment bank to advise the City of Detroit on its financial restructuring. “It was a honor to be selected and is an extraordinary professional challenge,” says Mr. Buckfire. Miller Buckfire has represented more than 100 companies in diverse industries, restructured approximately $210 billion of debt, advised on over $15 billion of mergers and acquisitions and raised more than $41 billion in financing.
Mr. Buckfire received his Honors B.A. in Economics and Philosophy from the University of Michigan in 1980, followed by an M.B.A. from Columbia University in 1987. During his first year at Michigan, he lived in Honors Housing in East Quad. He fondly recalls the “intellectual intensity of the Honors seminars” and the “opportunity to work with senior professors in a small group.” Mr. Buckfire found his complementary studies of Economics and Philosophy helped him develop a framework of critical analysis: “I owe a lot to the Political Philosophy course taught by Professor Railton. It taught me to look for the fundamental assumptions underlying political and economic systems of thought. Economic theory stresses market and structure analysis, but does not, at least as an undergraduate discipline, highlight the underlying assumptions, which are inherently moral and political.”
Mr. Buckfire began his career in corporate restructuring somewhat unexpectedly. “It was an accident,” he states candidly. He worked on the restructuring of Braniff Airlines in 1983 and found it extremely challenging and fascinating. “Afterwards,” he says, “I was lucky to work for the only banker on Wall Street in the 1980’s to specialize in restructuring and who developed many of the original techniques.” Prior to founding Miller Buckfire, he was Managing Director at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, serving as Co-Head of the firm's financial restructuring group. Before joining Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, he was Senior Vice President at Lehman Brothers, Inc.
Mr. Buckfire considers himself lucky to have found a professional career that has been intellectually stimulating, as well as making a tangible impact. “Every company and situation is different, the learning curve has never flattened out, and we make a real difference by assisting companies repair their balance sheets and allow them to stay in business.” In one of his many professional success stories, Mr. Buckfire advised Calpine Corporation (named "Most Outstanding Mega Turnaround of 2008" by the Turnaround Management Association) in its January 2008 reorganization. He maintains, “If your work isn’t making the world a better place, find something else to do.”
Mr. Buckfire not only makes a difference in his professional work, but also is actively involved in supporting the arts and education. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York, is a trustee of Orpheus Orchestra, and is a member of the Weil Cornell Medical College Dean's Council. His philanthropic support of the Honors Program has been steadfast and generous. He created the Kenneth Buckfire fifth year scholarship program in 2007, giving exceptional students the opportunity to extend their studies for an additional year. Mr. Buckfire also provided the crucial founding donation for the Honors Summer Fellows Program in 2010, creating a unique interdisciplinary summer research experience for senior thesis writers. He also serves on the board of advisors Zell-Lurie Institute at the University of Michigan.
Mr. Buckfire brings both sharp intelligence and humanitarian concern to every challenge he tackles. The LSA Honors community is very proud to count Kenneth A. Buckfire among our Honors alumni. The advice he lives by is at once simple and revolutionary: “Always be learning. Never settle for the status quo. Try to anticipate and lead change and not react to it.” His response when we asked what’s next for him professionally? “Ask me after we finish advising Detroit.”