TWO CENTURIES. That's how long Alex. Brown has been operating in Baltimore.
Not many other businesses in any U.S city can make such a claim. To mark the occasion, the firm is kicking off a celebration today that acknowledges its longevity, commemorates its Baltimore roots and reaffirms its commitment to keep its headquarters here, even though it is now a subsidiary of Deutsche Banc, the world's largest commercial bank.
It is astonishing that Alex. Brown was able to remain an independent investment banking house until 1997, when Bankers Trust of New York acquired the firm. By then, most similarly sized investment firms had merged with others or been acquired by banks or insurance companies.
Alex. Brown survived because it adapted to the world's changing conditions. When it was founded by an Irish linen merchant, the Industrial Revolution had yet to begin. Alex. Brown and his family soon expanded their business from shipping into trade financing and underwriting new businesses such as the B&O; Railroad.
As the nation grew, the firm expanded its underwriting horizons. Alex Brown also underwrote public projects such as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.
In the past three decades, it has focused on helping to finance cutting-edge technology, health and software companies, including Microsoft and America Online.
Baltimoreans worried that with the loss of independence, the firm's presence would diminish over time, to the city's detriment. When Deutsche Banc purchased Bankers Trust last year, the anxiety about Alex. Brown's future in Baltimore were heightened.
The 200th anniversary celebration is intended to reaffirm Alex. Brown's appreciation of its integral role in the city's commercial, social and philanthropic life.
The firm's generous $5.5 million in gifts to local nonprofit organizations to erect buildings, finance education programs and sponsor art exhibits attests to its sincere commitment.