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T. Rowe Price employee reaches 50-year milestone

Dorothy "Dottie" Jones was on her fifth job in six years that spring day in 1960 when she rode the elevator up to the 28th floor of the Matheson Building on Light Street and sat down behind her typewriter.

The new assistant at T. Rowe Price & Associates in Baltimore was just 24 years old and keen to use the steno and shorthand skills she'd learned in night school to type her bosses' letters, keep track of client accounts and handle other paperwork. But she knew nothing about how financial firms worked. She doubted she'd last long enough to get a promised vacation package.

Five decades later, the manual typewriters, carbon copying paper and hand-calculating of investment values are long gone from the Price offices, now in an Inner Harbor tower. But Jones never left. She hit the 50-year-mark this month, becoming the firm's longest-tenured employee ever — and an anomaly in almost any workplace.

In an age when the typical worker sticks with an employer just over four years, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jones is hardly typical.

"She's kind of our Cal Ripken," said Brian C. Rogers, the firm's chairman and chief investment officer, referring to the Oriole Hall-of-Famer's record-setting streak of consecutive games played and long loyalty to a single team.

"I never actually got to the point here where I was dreading coming to work," said Jones, 74, who grew up in Anne Arundel County, lives in Pasadena and has no thoughts of retiring. "You have to enjoy your job, and it was never a drudgery. I always look forward to getting up and coming to work."

As manager of regulatory reporting in the legal department, she supervises 10 people and has been known to gently yet sternly prod employees, from the rank-and-file to top executives, to turn in required disclosure forms on time. She oversees the company's code of ethics and supervises the monitoring of employees' financial holdings and transactions.

Her group handles reports to regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission — which began operations in the throes of the Depression in 1934, just two years before Jones was born.

"I think Dottie makes us all feel like rookies, no matter how long we've been here," said Rogers, who rose from junior money manager in 1982 to board chairman. "How do you stay in an organization that long in today's world? I'd say it's a remarkable statement about her and about her staying power and determination."

Rogers described Jones as detail-oriented and precise, an important attribute for someone overseeing the submission of many complex regulatory filings.

She has "zero tolerance for excuses, and in a very nice way is demanding with high expectations," he said. "In her position, she has cajoled and chastised virtually all of us at some point over compliance issues."

Last week, some 75 T. Rowe Price associates gathered at an anniversary party to pay tribute to Jones' longevity. Among her many gifts was a signed photograph of Cal Ripken Jr. on which the baseball great wrote: "50 years is quite a streak. Keep it coming."

Also last week, she became the first employee ever to be honored with a specific resolution from the board of directors. Price chief executive James A.C. Kennedy introduced her at the annual meeting by noting that she joined the company when gas was about 25 cents a gallon and the firm had just introduced the New Horizons Fund, its second mutual fund.

Such a long tenure has become increasingly rare in the modern workplace.

The median tenure that wage and salary workers reported with their current employer was 4.1 years, according to a 2008 survey. That was about the same as a dozen years earlier, when the median tenure was 3.8 years, but older workers reported staying longer. Those over 65 in 2008 had a median tenure of 10.2 years.

"Those of us in the baby boom or cusp generation, we stay places longer, but we don't stay the same lengths as our parents," said Gaye van den Hombergh, president of Winning Workplaces, a nonprofit based in Evanston, Ill., that helps companies make improvements in the workplace. "And the Generation X'ers are moving even more frequently."

Van den Hombergh said she believes rising turnover can be blamed on rising job dissatisfaction, and pointed out that workplace dissatisfaction is at an all-time high: Only 45 percent of those surveyed are happy with their jobs, according to a recent Conference Board report.

Also, today's employees also have more career and job choices than in the past and are apt to feel less corporate loyalty amid a constant flow of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies, Van den Hombergh said.

At T. Rowe Price, Jones said she has always felt challenged by new responsibilities and added that the firm has continued to treat its workers well as it mushroomed from 40 employees in Baltimore when she started to 5,000 worldwide. The company also has moved its headquarters from Light Street to a Pratt Street building facing the Inner Harbor.

Jones developed an allegiance to the firm early in her career — the kind of loyalty she says is rooted in her upbringing and her personality. One particular moment stands out. She recalled that soon after she started with the company, founder Thomas Rowe Price stepped off the elevator near her desk. Price saw someone unfamiliar walk by and asked an office mate of Jones' for the woman's name.

‘She's just a temp,' came the reply, Jones remembered. "And Mr. Price said, ‘Around here, no one is just a temp. Everyone is a part of the family, and we need to know her name.' "

Jones never intended to work for a financial firm, had never paid attention to stock tables in the newspaper. She wanted to be a teacher, but plans changed after her mother fell ill and she needed to help care for three younger sisters. Just days after graduating from Glen Burnie High School in 1954, she went to work as a secretary for Swift and Co., a meatpacking company in Brooklyn, earning $40 a week.

"I had to be there for my family," taking on the cooking and other tasks, she said. At night, she and one of her sisters took stenotype courses at the Baltimore Institute, thinking they would be court reporters. They gave up that idea on the advice of the school's owner, who told them, "You girls are too nice. You don't want to be in a courtroom. You don't want to be in that environment."

Jones worked for a series of companies in secretarial jobs, and when one employer planned to move out of state, she began what would be her last job search. She answered a newspaper ad for a position at T. Rowe Price.

Despite her lack of financial knowledge, Jones said her learning curve in 1960 wasn't nearly as steep as it would be today because the business was less complex. Investors had only a few types of securities to choose from, primarily common stocks and bonds. Price had just two mutual funds, the Growth Stock Fund and recently minted New Horizons Fund.

Jones recalls typing up what was referred to as the economic trend report, a 10- to 12-page compilation of indices, sometimes working on deadline as Mr. Price stood over her shoulder, waiting to dash out the door and head to Penn Station to take the report to clients in New York.

When the firm created a separate compliance department in 1979, Jones became one of three people to staff it and has worked there since then. Before computers, Jones recalls spending 70 to 80 hours running calculations and adjusting figures, a task that's now completed in a few minutes.

Jones' sister, who studied to be a court reporter with her, eventually followed her to Price and worked there for 32 years before retiring in 1998. Though no other employee has reached the half-century milestone, many have been at the firm for decades, including Elayne Flomenbaum, who just marked her 48th year and now works at the firm's Owings Mills campus in the financial institution services department, where she checks trades and documentation for institutional clients.

If any of them have a mind to break Jones' streak, they might well have to work for many more years.

"I've never thought about not working," she said. "I've seen people just stagnate. I'm not a person who can sit in front of a TV or sleep late. That's wasting your life."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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