George J. Collins, president and chief executive of T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., said yesterday that he will leave the company in 12 months to fulfill a dream that he has cherished for years -- to sail around the world in an international yachting race.
The announcement didn't surprise those closest to him, who have known for years that Mr. Collins has a passion for sailing and competition.
"If there is a leaf on the ground blowing, he has probably quickened his step to see if he can beat it to where it is going," said Maureen Collins, Mr. Collins' wife.
The 55-year-old Mr. Collins broke the news at the company's annual meeting before about 150 employees and shareholders, who packed a room on T. Rowe Price's 12th floor.
The Baltimore-based company, which employs 2,300 people across the country, had just completed a record-setting year.
T. Rowe's assets that it manages totaled $19.8 billion in 1985 and soared to $75 billion last year. Revenues have risen to $439 million from $85.2 million, and net income has grown to $75 million from $8.5 million.
"I decided now is the time to do it [race]," Mr. Collins said. "This is the ultimate test of skill and endurance."
The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
"I will open up [the meeting] to questions before I start crying," Mr. Collins said in a somewhat unsteady voice.
Mr. Collins, who joined the company in 1971, will step down in April 1997 as president and CEO, a position he's held since 1984. He will be re-
placed by George A. Roche, T. Rowe Price's chief financial officer. James S. Riepe, who oversees the marketing and operation of the company's mutual funds, and M. David Testa, director of the firm's equity division, also will run the company with Mr. Roche.
"I think the company is in very good hands," said Richard K. Strauss, an analyst with Goldman, Sachs & Co. "You have a very strong management team. That will continue to be the case."
Mr. Collins has been paid handsomely for his efforts. He owns more than 3 percent of T. Rowe Price's stock, which was worth some $52 million when the market closed yesterday, and he received a $1.3 million bonus last year on top of a $325,000 salary.
Mr. Collins will not only be co-skipper in the Whitbread race, but he also will lead a syndication to raise $2.3 million to finance his boat.
The race is a grueling event that covers 36,000 miles and lasts nine months. Run once every four years, the Whitbread will next begin in September 1997 in Southampton, England, with 20 to 25 boats from around the world.
"This is not something for the faint of heart," said Mark Fischer, who heads a Baltimore advertising firm and has sailed with Mr. Collins for five years. "This is not something for the out of shape. It is a tough, tough grueling race."
Mr. Fischer said racers must do everything from enduring the equatorial sun to "dodging icebergs." Mr. Collins, he said, is up to the task.
In 1994, Mr. Collins, who has been sailing since he was a teen-ager, bought a racing boat called a Mumm 36.
Unlike many racers who own their boats, Mr. Collins doesn't only steer, but also will hang over the edge with other crew members to keep the vessel trim when making a turn.
"If it's a long race and he's hiking on the rail, he'll be hiking harder than anybody else," Mr. Fischer said.
Mrs. Collins said her husband has an unquenchable desire to compete. He sails several times a week and often races on Wednesday nights.
She learned of his love of sailing while on their first date on Long Island Sound when the two were teen-agers. Instead of having planned a romantic sail together, Mr. Collins had arranged for separate sailboats.
"This was not my idea of a date," she recalled. "He said, 'This one is yours, that one is mine, and I will meet you out there.' I didn't know the first thing about tacking or sailing. I fell over. I think I went home. He assured me that I didn't."
Her husband's decision to leave T. Rowe Price and race in the Whitbread didn't surprise her, Mrs. Collins said. "It never seemed odd or unusual to me," she said.
And it surprised few of his close associates at T. Rowe Price.
"It has been something we all have been ready for," Mr. Testa said.
Mr. Collins actually attempted to break the news to T. Rowe Price's board of directors nearly a year ago, but when he started to discuss it, the directors had already moved to another subject. He waited until the fall during a breakfast meeting when he brought it up again.
"They didn't know what the hell to make of anything," Mr. Collins said. "All eyes popped up from the plates."
Pub Date: 4/13/96