Baltimore Sun's Business and Civic Hall of Fame honoree: James A.C. Kennedy
Jun 10, 2016 | 6:24 AM
During a long career, the Nebraska native helped shape T. Rowe Price into a global investment powerhouse and an indispensable part of Baltimore’s business community
When James A.C. Kennedy took a job as an equities analyst at T. Rowe Price in 1978, it was a relatively small regional investment house. When he retired as president and CEO 37 years later, it was a global financial powerhouse, managing three-quarters of a trillion dollars in client assets. No one person is responsible for T. Rowe’s rise during those years, of course, but it would be hard to find any who deserve more credit than he.
An Omaha, Neb., native and Princeton graduate whose first love was railroads, Mr. Kennedy came to Baltimore after a stint in General Electric Co.’s financial management training program and business school at Stanford. He was something of a reluctant corporate climber, having refused repeated entreaties before finally agreeing to move into management as head of research in charge of the firm’s analysts. But he used the same diligence he employed in researching stocks to find and nurture strong talent — and to weed out those who weren’t performing. “One of Jim’s great accomplishments is that so many of our great investors came in when he was director of research or equities,” said Brian Rogers, T. Rowe’s chairman. “Bringing in great people is one of his key legacies.”
Bringing in great people is one of his key legacies.
Brian Rogers, T. Rowe's chairman
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He has also been a crucial keeper of the “T. Rowe Nice” culture. The firm isn’t flashy and has resisted untold temptations to act that way over the years, sticking to a balanced, disciplined approach to managing money. Mr. Kennedy helped keep the company from swooning over the tech bubble of the late 1990s, and he took over as CEO right as the financial crisis was decimating the industry. Under his watch, the firm’s assets under management doubled, and so did its stock price. He both held his employees to a high standard and fostered T. Rowe’s collegial atmosphere.
Mr. Kennedy and his wife, Maureen, are major supporters of Teach for America in Baltimore, where she has served on the board for a decade. Not only has Mr. Kennedy helped raise substantial funds for the organization, said its executive director, Courtney Cass, but he has been generous with his time. The Kennedys are known to invite new TFA teachers to their home for dinner and marathon pingpong sessions, and Ms. Cass said he has been an invaluable source of advice. “Even when he was CEO and obviously had a lot of demands on his time and big decisions to make, Jim would always make himself available for me to pick up the phone and get his guidance,” she said.
Mr. Kennedy has also played a crucial role as a member of the Downtown Partnership’s executive committee. He was instrumental in T. Rowe’s staying in its downtown offices when its lease was up in 2004. A decade later when the lease was up again, downtown boosters were increasingly nervous about the shift of activity toward Harbor East and about the addition of Harbor Point to Baltimore’s landscape. Again, Mr. Kennedy kept T. Rowe rooted in place. “T. Rowe put down a flag and announced to the Baltimore region that this would remain the key employment location,” said Downtown Partnership Executive Director Kirby Fowler. It’s hard to imagine that downtown would be Baltimore’s fastest-growing residential district without T. Rowe’s stabilizing presence.
Like his company, Mr. Kennedy isn’t flashy. But during a long career, he not only helped build one of the indispensable institutions of Maryland’s corporate community but he also cemented the intersection of Light and Pratt streets as the center of Baltimore’s business universe. Neither his company nor his city would be the same without him.