PUT DOWN THAT COPY OF Who's Who. If you want to know who's powerful in Baltimore, the best place to start is the board of trustees at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It is almost certainly Baltimore's most exclusive club. Unlike any other non-profit institution in town, admission to the hospital board represents a statement in itself. "It signals you have arrived in Baltimore," says Marcella Schuyler, senior vice president and general manager of Manchester Inc., a placement firm for executives.

Peer down the board's roster. Baldwin, Peck, Bunting, Mason, Disharoon, Hoblitzell. If those names aren't recognizable, the institutions they head -- or once headed -- traditionally have numbered among the pillars of Baltimore commerce. Mercantile. Signet. Noxell. Legg Mason. Monumental. MNC.

Throughout its 102-year history, Hopkins Hospital has had no trouble drafting the stars of the Baltimore business firmament to its cause. Board members cite altruism as their central motivation in serving. Some of the more candid members cite another important consideration as well.

"If you ask what three things in Baltimore are known worldwide, Hopkins Hospital would be one of them," says J. Stevenson Peck, the retired chairman of Signet Bank/Maryland. "When you go around the country and say you're on the Hopkins Hospital board, everybody's antenna goes up."

If board members provide the hospital with a formidable brain trust, their skills as rainmakers cannot be overlooked. The families of some board members -- Harvey M. Meyerhoff and Henry Rosenberg, for example -- have contributed millions of dollars to the hospital. Other board members, who do not command a mother lode themselves, have access to great wealth by virtue of their positions. They know that the hospital fully intends them to use those connections on its behalf.

"We're expected to participate personally and to interest other people in the campaign," says Mr. Peck, who boasted that the board's participation is one reason Hopkins Hospital and University were able to far exceed their goals in their recently ended five-year fund-raising campaign. They had hoped to raise $400 million. When they stopped counting, they had more than $650 million.

The fund-raising capacities of members provides one explanation for the near homogeneity of the board. Its ranks include 26 men and three women. (One of those women is on the board by virtue of her position as president of the hospital's women's board.) Only one of its members, Theo C. Rogers, president of A&R; Development Corp., is black.

"One of the questions women and blacks ask is why they aren't on boards," Ms. Schuyler says. "The reason you're not on the board is that you're not in a position to give substantial amounts of money."

Still, isn't the makeup of the board terribly out of sync in a city that's predominantly black? "Yeah, I guess if 'you want to count that way,' " says Robert M. Heyssel, the hospital's president. "But, again, an attempt is made to get people who will be real contributors to the board because of their own skills."

The board's racial composition demonstrates an important point about the board. It is not intended to reflect the city's demographics. It is designed solely to serve the hospital's interests.

All board members are from Baltimore, primarily for the sake of convenience, Dr. Heyssel said, but also to provide the hospital with board members with links to local officeholders and communities. Still, there's no representative from Hopkins' own East Baltimore neighborhood, an area that has often criticized the hospital for its perceived highhandedness toward its neighbors.

"We have never taken the position that we choose someone to represent a particular area or group," Dr. Heyssel says. "When somebody comes on the board, they have a fiduciary responsibility to that board, not to some other business or other activity, so even if we chose somebody who represented a certain interest, they could not behave that way on the board."

The near homogeneity of the board extends beyond race and sex and geography. Aside from Hopkins Hospital officials and Anne M. Pinkard, the director of the Jacob and Annita France Foundation, all other board members are businessmen or partners in bluestocking law firms. There are no engineers or scientists or social workers. For that matter, there are no public officials either.

That lack of diversity is no coincidence. "You typically will find the institutions where business people are on board tend to be the best run and tend not to be run in deficits," says board member Raymond A. Mason, CEO of Legg Mason. "They also tend to be the best institutions."

MICHAEL OLLOVE is a news reporter for The Sun.

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