A top institutional and family wealth advisor from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney has joined HighTower, the Chicago-based national registered investment advisor, providing the RIA with a foothold in the Southwest. James Pupillo, 54, managed $2.5 billion at MSSB’s Graystone Consulting. Now he has opened a new office in Scottsdale, Ariz., effective last Friday. Joining him are partners Brian Hein and David Brasfield. Pupillo is among the largest advisors in terms of AUM to join HighTower, says Michael Papedis, the RIA’s executive vice president of business development.

HighTower likes to recruit top names from wirehouses. Advisors from that channel often have large assets and prominent reputations that help the RIA promote itself to other potential recruits. Launched in 2008, HighTower reports about $20 billion in assets; last year eight of the nine advisor practices who joined its network hailed from Merrill Lynch, UBS Wealth Management Americas, or MSSB. The firm usually offers cash and equity in HighTower to advisors who join; the cash can help cover retention bonuses that advisors received from their wirehouse employers and often must repay if they leave.

Pupillo, a 25-year industry veteran, started at E.F. Hutton and later worked at Smith Barney; he was based in Scottsdale before signing up with HighTower. “He’s carried a lot of business cards, but at one firm throughout,” Papedis says. Pupillo was unavailable for comment; in a statement from HighTower, Pupillo said he looked at several vendor platforms that would support an independent practice, before settling on HighTower—“It represents the very best of breed solutions, supporting sophisticated independent advisors and harnessing the competitive power of Wall Street for the benefit of our clients,” Pupillo said in the statement.

Papedis says Pupillo’s presence at the firm will help market it to other advisors in the Southwest. “This is exciting for HighTower. Jim Pupillo is going to lead us out into the greater Phoenix market with our first office in all of Arizona,” he says.