Alex. Brown name all but gone


Alex. Brown, one of Baltimore's most recognizable and important corporate names for two centuries, has been all but eradicated by parent company Deutsche Bank AG.

The German bank said yesterday that it had legally renamed the Baltimore investment bank - and virtually all its other U.S. operations - with the Deutsche Bank brand name, a marketing move aimed at creating global consistency across all its businesses.

On Monday, the Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown investment banking and institutional securities businesses were renamed Deutsche Bank. The brokerage operation known as Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown Inc. became Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.

The bank's wealthy-client unit is the last business to retain the Alex. Brown name.

"What we're basically doing is putting our whole portfolio of businesses and having all those in the U.S. renamed as Deutsche Bank - as they are everywhere else [globally]," said Marc Lingnau, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank in New York.

Even though the announcement had been expected since last fall, it was still viewed with a mixture of sadness and ire.

"How wasteful to let 200 years of established ... outstanding performance in the financial industry slide under the waves," said Jim Hardesty, president of Hardesty Capital Management, a prominent Baltimore money-management firm. "Scrapping 202 years of goodwill doesn't make a great deal of business sense to me."

Hardesty was an insider of sorts. His first job after graduating from Gilman School - before attending Georgetown University, where he was a classmate of future President Bill Clinton - was as a mailroom worker in Alex. Brown & Sons' former location at 119 E. Baltimore St.

For Deutsche Bank, however, the switch makes substantial sense. The company listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in October, and believes that a consistent brand identity is the only way to build on the momentum that listing helped build.

That's why all Deutsche Bank's U.S. investment banking and institutional securities businesses have "relinquished the marketing name of Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown," the bank said.

Also, effective April 15, the private banking business known as Bankers Trust Private Banking will adopt the global brand name of Deutsche Bank Private Banking.

There are two minor exceptions to the marketing makeover.

The first involves the bank's private client business - largely a money manager for wealthy clients - which retains the Alex. Brown title. Even so, it has been renamed Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown, a division of Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.

And, the Baltimore headquarters building will remain known as The Alex. Brown Building, Ling- nau said. The bank said it has about 1,100 employees in the Baltimore area.

Thomas Schweizer Jr., an Alex. Brown executive until his retirement three weeks ago, said it's significant that the local company's name remains on the building, and on the wealth-management unit, which he managed for 13 years.

"It's not a loss for Baltimore," he said. "It's a significant gain."

The demise of the Alex. Brown name rings down the curtain on what is believed to be the oldest continuously operating investment bank in America, according to experts. Founded in 1800 as Alex. Brown & Sons - the name it carried throughout most of its history - the firm initially was a linen trader on Gay Street before it evolved into an important investment bank and brokerage house.

In its formative years, the firm helped finance the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, some pioneering electric utilities and the city's first water system.

Later, the company built on its reputation by taking companies public. Among them: Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Starbucks Coffee Co. and Outback Steakhouse Inc.

But times changed, and so did the company. Bankers Trust Corp. acquired the local firm for about $2.5 billion in September 1997. Less than two years later, in June 1999, Deutsche Bank bought Bankers Trust - and Alex. Brown - for more than $10 billion.

In recent years, amid the internal uncertainty created by the ownership changes, there have been large-scale departures by employees and executives. One of them, former Chairman Mayo A. Shattuck III, had saved the Alex. Brown name when Deutsche Bank executives wanted to kill it in 1999.

News of the pending departure of the Alex. Brown name surfaced again in October. Deutsche Bank, on the same day it became listed on the Big Board, disclosed that "Alex. Brown" would be dropped to "create greater brand consistency globally and to strengthen its corporate identity."

Just a week ago, The Sun reported that the trustees of the Alex. Brown & Sons Charitable Foundation were giving away half their $21 million in assets in anticipation of the Alex. Brown name receding.

Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the loss of the Alex. Brown name will be a blow to Baltimore, but not one that the city can't survive.

"It's never a good thing," Hutchinson said. "For me to try to spin this and say this is not a bad thing for Baltimore would be wrong. But is it permanent damage? The answer is no."

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