A.B. "BUZZY" Krongard, the former investment banker and CIA spymaster, can break boards with his hands, trained with police SWAT teams and studied martial arts with a personal kung fu master. He's not somebody who finds pleasure being out of the action.
So, three months after he was pushed aside as the No. 3 man at the spy agency in a corporate-style shake-up, Krongard, 68, has agreed to become nonexecutive chairman of the board of PHH Corp., a big fleet management and mortgage loan company about to be spun off from its parent, Cendant Corp. He'll have an office at PHH's operations in Sparks.
Why wouldn't Krongard take a deep breath and enjoy retirement, especially after the pounding the CIA's top brass took over the past two years?
"I need the money," Krongard deadpanned. "I went to Las Vegas and bet it all on red and black came up."
The real reason: "What am I going to do, sit there and watch the sun rise and set? I have worked my whole life. I love working. It is good for your soul, your mind, your body."
Money isn't an issue for Krongard. He made millions running Baltimore investment bank Alex. Brown and a bundle selling it to Bankers Trust. His wife, Cheryl Gordon Krongard, 49, is trying to unload her house in the Hamptons for $75 million - making it, according to Forbes magazine, the most expensive home listing in the country. Friends joke that Krongard "married up" when the couple, both widowers, wed in July 2004.
Cheryl Krongard is as high-powered as her husband. She is a director at US Airways and Educate Inc., the Baltimore company that provides educational tutoring services. She was a partner at Apollo Management, a New York leveraged buyout firm in New York that owned Educate until recently.
The couple visits her place - which has an 18-hole U.S. Golf Association-rated golf course and a grass tennis court a la Wimbledon - but reside in Krongard's 15,000-square-foot Georgian home in Baltimore County, called Torch Hill, which is being remodeled. It's a short drive from Krongard's home to PHH's offices in Sparks.
Krongard isn't sure how many hours a week he will work.
"Whatever it takes," he said.
Nonexecutive chairman is a key position at corporations since new regulations call for outsiders to head corporate boards.
Krongard will be responsible for leading all board meetings, serving on several committees, including the executive and compensation, setting meeting schedules and agendas and managing information flow to the board from the company's officers.
His job, he says, is to "represent the interest of the stockholders" and to "render any assistance the board can offer to help the company prosper.
"You know, motherhood, apple pie," Krongard said.
PHH officials declined to comment about Krongard's position, noting the pending spin-off, but Cendant disclosed his pending role deep within a recent regulatory filing.
The company has had strong ties to Baltimore since it was founded here in 1946. It still runs its fleet management business out of Sparks, where it employs 1,000 people.
Obviously, Krongard brings plenty of experience to PHH.
"He's the most organized person on the face of the earth," said Thomas Schweizer Jr., a former Alex. Brown colleague and president of Brown Advisory Securities LLC in Baltimore. "He is also a terrific problem solver."
"Buzzy is strong and decisive, he is a no-nonsense guy," said James W. Brinkley, chairman of Legg Mason's brokerage arm, who also will become a director at PHH. "I think he will be an active nonexecutive chairman."
PHH is a nostalgic name that reminds people here of a time when the city had many independent headquarters, such as USF&G;, Noxell, MNC Financial and Alex. Brown. The company was swallowed when it was sold to HFS Inc. in April 1997. In less than a month, HFS merged with CUC International to form Cendant.
There is probably little chance PHH's entire operations would ever move back to Baltimore. Most of its employees work out of the New Jersey office in Mount Laurel, where its mortgage operation is located.
It's also something Krongard has little to do with, he said.
"That's an executive decision," Krongard said. "That is not something I would get involved in."
Bill Atkinson's column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 410-332-6961 or by e-mail at bill.atkinson@balt sun.com.