Price meeting is short, good news

The Baltimore Sun

James A.C. Kennedy strode through the bright lights to the microphone yesterday at the start to T. Rowe Price Group Inc.'s annual meeting. It was his first as president and chief executive officer, having taken over Jan. 1 after the retirement of Chairman and President George A. Roche.

If he was nervous, it didn't show. Then again, Kennedy, 53, has worked for the company for 28 years, most recently as director of equities. And he also couldn't have had less to fret about if he had scripted the event himself.

The formal business of the Baltimore-based asset management firm lasted all of 10 minutes. No debate or dissension in approving nine board members, 2007's nonemployee equity plan and the appointment of KPMG LLP as the company's independent accounting firm.

Kennedy provided a 12-minute presentation about last year's performance: record cash flows, revenue, earnings and stockholders' equity. The company also increased its dividend again, continuing a 20-year streak.

Then came the shareholders. Annual meetings typically are the one time a year they can gather, vote on important issues and query executives in person.

There were several dozen people in the room at the Hyatt downtown.

The first comment discussed how well the company was performing.

Someone asked whether the company was exploring opportunities that emerge from efforts to curb global warming. Yes, Kennedy said, but in a measured manner. Another inquiry was if executives are considering outsourcing all research to India. No, Kennedy said, because the company needs its 105 analysts "on the ground" all over the world, including India, so they can see the companies they are researching.

"We certainly had a tail wind," Kennedy said after the meeting of the company's performance.

He said shareholders shouldn't expect much of a shift in direction with him in charge. If there was something he thought needed changing in the past three decades, "I spoke up. So will you see a dramatic change? No. Will we evolve? Yes."

Kennedy acknowledged that not all meetings would go like yesterday. Energy prices, some overheated markets worldwide and overextended consumers could tamper with things.

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