In 1973, after spending seven years as a Wall Street investment banker, Charles Baum chucked it all and moved his family to Baltimore, where he joined his wife's family's business: scrap metal.
But when his father-in-law sold United Iron & Metal in 1992, Mr. Baum's Wall Street friends lured the Princeton University graduate into another unlikely business.
From his office overlooking the scrap yard in West Baltimore, Mr. Baum now serves as chairman and chief executive officer of the Morgan Group Inc., the nation's biggest mover of manufactured homes and recreational vehicles.
By computer, telephone and fax machine, Mr. Baum oversees a company that just reported profits of $2.2 million on sales of nearly $102 million in 1994. In 1993, the company transported more than 85,000 manufactured homes and 72,000 recreational vehicles, as well as the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, across American highways.
Since its founding in 1936, Morgan has been based in Elkhart, Ind., but Mr. Baum says he has no intention of moving to Elkhart.
Nor does he plan to move the company closer to him. His family is here. The families of the 350 full-time Morgan employees are already settled where they are. He sees no reason to uproot anyone.
So the 52-year-old native of Montgomery, Ala., remains firmly rooted in a comfortable office decorated with photographs of his wife and two children.
Mr. Baum says he didn't know anything about trucks or recreational vehicles in 1992, when Mario Gabelli, an old Wall Street friend, called to propose he take over management of one of Mr. Gabelli's holdings, the Morgan Group. Mr. Gabelli, best known for his family of mutual funds, had bought Morgan in 1988 in a leveraged buyout and wanted Mr. Baum to take the company public.
Mr. Baum agreed to take the top spot only if he could bring in an old college friend, Philip Ringo, who had run other transportation companies, to manage Morgan's day-to-day operations.
Mr. Gabelli agreed, and Morgan sold 1.1 million of its 2.7 million shares to the public in July 1993, wiping out the buyout debt and raising an acquisition kitty of nearly $8 million. Mr. Gabelli holds a majority of the voting shares.
Mr. Ringo, who quit another job and moved to Indiana at his friend's request, said he's been taking care of Morgan's business details -- lowering the accident rate of the 1,250 independent truckers who contract with Morgan, improving the computer system and winning new customers -- while Mr. Baum focuses on boosting the company's stock price and diversifying the business.
Morgan's stock, which was offered at $9 a share 19 months ago, dropped to $7 last year. The shares closed yesterday at $8.50, up 37.5 cents.
As for the other part of his job, Mr. Baum says he's trying to figure out different ways for Morgan to earn money. For starters, he says, he'd like to move Morgan into areas that aren't so dependent on the ebb and flow of orders from customers.
"We want to get into areas with repetitive income," he said. His top idea right now: trailer parks. Or, as he prefers to call them, "manufactured housing communities."
Mr. Baum points out the opportunities: "There are 24,000 of these communities, and only five publicly owned" companies that own parks, he notes.
So in five years, will Mr. Baum be leading Morgan to become the McDonald's of the nation's trailer parks?
Mr. Baum shrugged his shoulders.
"Who knows? Five years ago, I didn't know Morgan existed," he said.