Alex. Brown's future Baltimore landmark: One of the city's oldest continuous firms loses its independence.


BY ACQUIRING Alex. Brown Inc., one of the most honored names in the commercial history of Maryland, Bankers Trust New York Corp. is taking ownership of an exceptional investment house that has been raising venture capital since its founding in 1800. From the financing of the B&O; as the nation's first railroad company in the 1820s to the underwriting of entrepreneurs of cyberspace, Alex. Brown has been a leader.

Alex. Brown has been an immense benefit to its hometown. Only a few weeks ago, it moved into a downtown skyscraper that had been standing vacant since it was built on speculation. Long ago, it insured the city's position as a major seaport by promoting the rail and road infrastructure to the West that offset its location 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The firm handled the public offerings of such local companies as Black and Decker, McCormick and Rouse -- all leaders in their respective businesses -- and underwrote important public works projects, including the first Bay Bridge.

How Baltimore and Maryland will fare when newly named BT-Alex. Brown becomes a subsidiary of a large New York bank is unclear. But Bankers Trust will benefit greatly.

Commercial banks, especially the big money-center outfits in New York, have been given the green light to acquire securities companies. A merger-mania is under way. Alex. Brown can give Bankers Trust a leg up on its competition in underwriting stock offerings. It has developed relationships with some of the nation's leading high technology entrepreneurs and has led a number of the most successful public offerings of the past two decades. Bankers Trust would have to work years to develop such business from the ground up.

From early indications, it appears that Bankers Trust will allow Alex. Brown to continue to operate as a separate entity in Baltimore. That is essential to this city's position as a financial center, if it sets a pattern for such tempting local takeover targets as T. Rowe Price and Legg Mason. It would permit the company to continue its underwriting and asset management activities for its current clients, especially its niche in developing long-term relationships with small companies ranging from computer software to specialized retailing. If Bankers Trust wants the merger to work, Alex. Brown should be left to do what it has been doing so well these past two centuries.

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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