Longtime Legg Mason executive remembered by colleagues

Even into his 90s after four decades on the job, Ernest C. "Ernie" Kiehne looked forward to his workday at Baltimore-based money manager Legg Mason Inc.

Even after his eyesight began to fade, Kiehne made it into the office. A driver hired by famed investor Bill Miller picked him up at home and dropped him off at the company's Harbor East headquarters each morning, four days a week.

On Monday, his driver didn't come. His office sat empty.

"The world is different when he's not there," said Miller, who describes Kiehne as a mentor. "It's an absence that resonates not only with me but with the whole organization."

Colleagues and friends will remember the Baltimore native they describe as eternally optimistic, generous, intellectually curious and unflappable at a memorial service Wednesday at Divinity Lutheran Church in Baltimore. Besides his wife of 64 years, Nancy, Kiehne is survived by his son, Chris; daughter, Barbara Younger, and five grandchildren.

After spending Friday with his wife and son, Kiehne died in his sleep. He was 92.

The day before, Kiehne was at work doing what he loved: poring over balance sheets and following stocks on the Bloomberg machine on his desk that provides real-time market data.

In some ways, Kiehne's life already has been memorialized.

On a wall in the offices of Legg Mason Capital Management, Miller's investment shop on the 18th floor of Legg's corporate tower, is a tribute to Kiehne created when the company moved there last year.

It has the look of the baseball Hall of Fame, with a framed No. 90 jersey, given to Kiehne on his 90th birthday by the Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr. A plaque describes Kiehne as a journeyman player who "arrived at work every day with a competitive drive to perform at the highest level."

"He was a first-rate investment professional," said Legg Chairman and Chief Executive Mark R. Fetting, who first met Kiehne in the 1980s. "Even more appealing was just his character and grace as a person. And he had this infectious enthusiasm for life."

Kiehne also had made a mark as a philanthropist.

In particular, he devoted more than 50 years to the United Way of Central Maryland, where he served on the investment committee and had contributed more than $10,000 annually since 1997. Kiehne only missed three committee meetings in his 37 years of service, United Way officials said.

The organization recently named him this year's Volunteer of a Lifetime, a recognition the group will present posthumously in September, said United Way CEO Mark Furst.

In a two-hour interview with The Baltimore Sun in late July, Kiehne was sharp and articulated a signature positive outlook on his profession, the markets and life. He described himself as "lucky and fortunate," from meeting Nancy — "It was love at first sight" — to surviving battles while serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II to landing his job at Legg.

"This is what he wanted to do. He loved work, he loved his family, he loved baseball, he loved the Ravens," Chris Kiehne said. "He was completely alive every day of his life, every minute of his life until the day he died."

Kiehne was almost 50 years old when he joined in 1967 what was then Legg & Co., the Baltimore brokerage, as director of research.

Never mind that he had no formal training in the business. His experience included many years at Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., where he worked as a lineman, held various management positions and oversaw the modernization of the company's billing processing system.

But Kiehne was smart, inquisitive and had a knack for picking stocks, said his longtime friend John Seifert, a former Legg stockbroker who recommended his client for the job.

"He had a mind that could have done anything," Seifert said. "He learned quickly. He was optimistic by nature."

Kiehne said stock-picking was a hobby then. He had bought his first stocks through Legg & Co. after returning to Maryland from World War II.

Kiehne went on to become a founding manager of Legg's flagship Value Trust fund, helping the firm build a name for itself.

Former Legg Chairman and CEO Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, who worked with Kiehne for 38 years, said Kiehne was the logical choice to run the mutual fund. Besides being head of research, Kiehne put together the firm's annual list of stock recommendations released every Thanksgiving.

"His recommendations had proven to be pretty strong," Mason said.

Kiehne and Miller co-managed the fund from its inception in 1982 until late 1990. The fund gained 16.6 percent during that period, according to Morningstar Inc.

Kiehne said he was proud of the fund's performance during his tenure and even more so of Miller's famous streak of beating the Standard & Poor's 500 Index for 15 consecutive years beginning in 1991.

"Bill had that streak, and the odds were a million to one," said Kiehne.

Kiehne was born on Mother's Day in 1918 and grew up in Forest Park. He graduated from the Johns Hopkins University's business school in 1940.

During his service in the Navy, Kiehne received a commendation for "his cool and meritorious performance of duty" during an attack at sea on Oct. 13, 1944, according to an article in The Baltimore Sun.

While on leave, Kiehne met his wife in December of that year at a friend's home in Catonsville. Nancy Kiehne said she was enthralled by his stories about mermaids he had seen at sea.

"It could have been sea lions but they were just like mermaids. But maybe not," Kiehne said when telling the story of how he met Nancy.

Nancy Kiehne thought she would never hear from the "darling man" she had met, but he wrote.

"I got a letter not too long after that," she said. "Our correspondence was a romantic correspondence during the rest of the war years, and I actually have all his letters."

Kiehne and his wife were animal lovers and adopted 30 cats and dogs over the years. That sensibility informed his charitable activities. He volunteered at several organizations, including Animal Rescue Inc., Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. He also volunteered at Divinity Lutheran Church.

When Kiehne wasn't following companies and reading about world affairs, he studied his other passion, the Orioles. He followed the baseball team's farm system, analyzing players' performance and evaluating their potential.

That kind of analysis was a "natural outgrowth of a mindset of finding companies that are going to do better than people think they will." That, in turn, made Kiehne a successful manager and investor, Miller said.

Kiehne said he continued to work for a few reasons: "First, I like to be busy," he said, adding: "I think I could contribute, and I certainly keep everyone positive."

As a veteran investment strategist, Miller said, Kiehne contributed his insights on the economy and his wealth of knowledge about the market at weekly investment meetings at Legg Mason Capital Management. This week's meeting was canceled.

"His personal example of optimism and integrity, long-term thinking, looking for opportunities and equanimity in the face of pressure sets a tremendous example for our younger analysts and portfolio managers in the right way to go out about their profession," Miller said.