"I just think you are going to have a rocky time here," he said.
Performance suffered, too. The companies Brown took public returned a negative 7 percent last year, compared with a return of 157 percent in 1999.
Many of the executives believe that the Bush administration will be an ally. The new president advocates increasing the amount of money investors can put into retirement plans. That would serve Price and Legg Mason well. Both are expanding their 401(k) businesses. Bush "tends to favor things which are very favorable for saving and investment, and that is very good for our industry," Roche said.
Whether the economy sags or strengthens, Legg Mason and Price plan to expand their money management businesses overseas.
Last August, Price snapped up the remaining 50 percent interest in Rowe Price-Fleming International that it didn't own from its British partner, Robert Fleming Holdings Ltd., for $783 million.
"We are not looking for any big merger overseas, but we are looking for organized growth by hiring people and expanding the business," Roche said.
Legg Mason acquired Perigee Inc. last year, Canada's ninth-largest institutional investment manager. It had bought Johnson Fry Holdings PLC of London in 1999, to establish a foothold in Europe's rapidly growing mutual fund industry. "We are trying to grow the business at all levels with probably a little more emphasis on global expansion looking for global distribution in a broader market," Mason said.
The mutual fund industry's performance suffered last year because of the stock market's volatility. But that didn't stop investors from pumping a record $291.4 billion into stock funds in the first 10 months of the year.
Mason and Roche hope that the money continues to flow as investors seek the help of professional money managers.
"I think this is still a very good long-run business," Roche said.