Personal ties link Alex. Brown and JMIAnother...


Personal ties link Alex. Brown and JMI

Another in a continuing series on the importance of maintaining bridges:

When Charles Noell of Alex. Brown Inc.'s corporate finance department helped bring Texas-based BMC Software public almost a decade ago, he helped make a multimillionaire out of BMC Software's founder, John J. Moores.

Mr. Moores left the company about a year ago and lured Mr. Noell away to help run a new venture capital firm. Today, Mr. Noell is managing general partner of JMI Equity Fund Inc., a $30 million fund that looks for promising technology companies. (He also manages Mr. Moores' sizable personal portfolio as president and chief executive of JMI Inc., the parent company.)

A few months ago, Mr. Noell persuaded a former Alex. Brown colleague, Harry Gruner, to come aboard and help him invest the venture fund's money. Working out of offices in New Enterprise Associates' St. Paul Street headquarters, JMI has quietly invested in three software companies since last summer and is close to signing a deal with a fourth.

So far, none of the deals has involved a Maryland company. But the fund, run jointly in Baltimore and Houston, with some help from executives in California, is searching for local candidates.

"We are actively looking at several [companies] in Maryland, and I think if we get lucky we'll have some news" within a month or two, Mr. Noell says.

"Clearly if there's something close by -- in the Baltimore-Washington area -- does that make it easier?" Mr. Noell adds. "Sure."

Martha Roach to run Agency Insurance Co.

After four years at the helm of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, Martha "Marty" Roach agreed this week to head the Agency Insurance Co., a small but growing auto insurer in Linthicum.

"[They] offered me the opportunity to run a small company, and it was something that I wanted to do," Ms. Roach said yesterday.

When she joined MAIF as executive director in 1988, Ms. Roach found a company with a $12.8 million deficit (for 1987), Marylanders outraged at the high cost of auto insurance and an angry legislature breathing down MAIF's neck.

Last year, the company had a $118.3 million surplus. It has reduced rates three out of the last five years, and the General Assembly has generally been a loyal fan of Ms. Roach.

As for the other critics, well, Marylanders still are upset about high insurance costs, but you can't move mountains.

The MAIF board will meet March 26 to name a successor.

Odds are that deputy director David Trageser will be appointed acting commissioner while the board initiates a search for a permanent replacement. Ms. Roach, a former acting insurance commissioner, plans to stay at MAIF until April 13.

A rejuvenated USF&G; sees better times ahead

USF&G; Corp. is "going on the offensive," says its chairman and chief executive, Norman P. Blake Jr., a man fond of battle and sports analogies. He told a group of Baltimore security analysts yesterday that the insurer's three-year restructuring is all but complete and that the company is ready to move forward this year with new products and aggressive marketing.

The extensive cost-cutting and realignments already have had their effects. USF&G; earned $35 million last year (but recorded a loss of 16 cents a share because of dividend payments), after having lost $175 million in 1991.

Yesterday, the chief financial officer, Edwin Pickett, said the company's first-quarter earnings would be even brighter than expected, partly because of an extraordinary gain from the effects of several accounting changes. A charge for the value of retirement benefits will cost USF&G; at least $50 million. But the company will add to its books some portion of a $500 million tax benefit from the company's losses in prior years.

Those changes, however, won't affect the company's operating earnings.

Analysts expect the insurer to earn 5 cents a share in the quarter that ends March 31. But Mr. Pickett called that estimate "a little conservative."

Former Chubb official resigns from USF&G;

Changes in the executive suite:

* John Roblin, hired from Chubb Corp. in March 1991 to head USF&G;'s information systems, has resigned. Although he officially remains with the company until the end of March, Mr. Roblin has left his job as senior vice president for information services, according to a spokeswoman, Kerrie Burch-Deluca.

"He had been brought in to do a rethink of the [information services] function, and to realign information services with the business lines," Ms. Burch-Deluca said. "And that's what he did."

Although the strategy Mr. Roblin helped design hasn't been implemented yet, he chose to leave, she said. The information services division has been shaken by layoffs in the last several months.

Mr. Roblin could not be reached for comment.

* First Union Corp. is moving fast. The Charlotte, N.C., banking company last month announced it will buy the First American Banks in Virginia, Maryland and Washington. This week, it named Hugh Calvin Long II, until now the Augusta City president of First Union National Bank of Georgia, to head the company's metropolitan Washington operations. Those operations will be a unit of First Union National Bank of Virginia.

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