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Four Breakaway Advisors Leave Merrill for HighTower

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RIA firm HighTower announced Tuesday that it was expanding once again with a breakaway advisor team, the Simmons Wilkes Group, formerly affiliated with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

Based in Portland, Maine, Edward Simmons, Gibson Wilkes, Blake Wilkes and Michael Simmons join as managing directors and partners at HighTower. Previously, the Simmons Wilkes Group spent more than 30 years combined at Merrill Lynch.

“The Simmons Wilkes Group brings an impeccable reputation with deep industry experience, and we are proud to welcome them to our firm,” said Mike Papedis, HighTower’s managing director of business development, in a statement.

HighTower, a Chicago-based RIA serving high net worth and institutional clients, in the last year has attracted a raft of brokerage teams from major wirehouses to partner under its RIA umbrella. The firm’s standard approach, as led by Elliot Weissbluth (left), is to bring in a wirehouse team looking for the benefits of independence and partnership. The firm also has offices in New York and San Francisco.

Simmons, senior vice president of investments at Simmons Wilkes, joined Merrill Lynch in 1987 and holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University.  He was a Barron’sTop 1000 Financial Advisor in 2010 and 2009, and the Simmons Wilkes Group was among Barron’s Top 50 U.S. advisor teams in 2009.

Gibson Wilkes, first vice president of investments, has been in the financial services industry since 1983 and joined Merrill Lynch in 2000. She was chosen as a Barron’s Top 1000 Financial Advisor for 2011, ranking No. 5 in the state of Maine.

At HighTower, in addition to her role as an advisor, Wilkes will assume a leadership role on the Group Investment Solutions (GIS) Steering Committee.

HighTower has appointed several advisors to the steering committee for its GIS division.  The steering committee governs the decision-making process for the GIS division, which coordinates HighTower’s investment offering, investment consulting and research offering capabilities. 

Joining Wilkes on the GIS Steering Committee are Pamela Rosenau as co-chair, Michael Bapis, David D'Amico, Larry Gilbert and Justin Towey.  Matthias Paul Kuhlmey, head of GIS, is also co-chair of the steering committee. 

Read about HighTower’s partnership with a UBS breakaway wealth management team and its tuck-in of a Morgan Stanley broker to an existing RIA firm at

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