In the mid-1960s when Alvin Bernard “Buzzy” Krongard played midfielder for the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club, regarded at the time as the most dominant post-collegiate lacrosse team in the nation, he took comfort in hearing the defender bark out the ball’s location from behind his back. He didn’t have to turn around to recognize the voice of his tall teammate, the fellow Princeton University grad whose job it was to batter any opposing player who dared enter the crease. As reliable as the dawn and a tough as nails, the guy was fearless. And Mr. Krongard should know; he was a future National Lacrosse Hall of Famer. But the guy behind him? That guy was crazy tough.
“You could always count on him to do his job,” recalls Mr. Krongard who would go on to become chairman and CEO of Alex. Brown & Sons, the investment banking firm before a stint as executive director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 2000s. “He’s the most unchangeable person you can imagine. I think the game of lacrosse defined him more than anything else.”
That revered and feared college All-American defender was H. Furlong Baldwin or “Baldy” as he’s called by his friends. And those who have known him chiefly for his banking skills might have trouble imagining him in lacrosse pads instead of his trademark pinstripe suit. But what they would recognize is his toughness, hustle and reliability. Those qualities helped the college history major lead a U.S. Marine Corps platoon after Princeton, which he fondly recalls as a kind of business school, and to climb the corporate ladder from check counter to CEO of Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Company. No figure was more dominant in the banking scene in Baltimore in the second half of the 20th century. And his influence spread to politics, to nonprofit fundraising, to Johns Hopkins Hospital and just 17 years ago, at the age of 71, a turn as chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market.
“We had a job to do in running the Mercantile, and I had a lot of fun doing it, and I like to think we created a corporation that was important to Baltimore and I think we did it well,” recalls Mr. Baldwin. “It was important that we had a bank that stood for something that represented the city well.”
Homegrown Mercantile dominated the commercial lending business in a manner that seems hard to imagine today. But under Mr. Baldwin, it also evolved into a bank holding company, acquiring much smaller banks across the state that benefited from the Mercantile’s largesse. But rather than turn these small institutions into regional clones, he gave them independence with their own governing boards, a win-win for all involved. Colleagues say this kind of strategy reflected his ability to analyze not just profit but people.
“When he commits, it’s 100%,” marvels Charles “Buddy” Jenkins, the influential Ocean City business owner who not only got to know Mr. Baldwin when Mercantile acquired what is now Peninsula Bank on the Eastern Shore and still regards him as his best friend and sometime waterfowl hunting partner. “He’s a great analyzer of people and he is candid and doesn’t use an excess of words. Baldy has never been a bull-[explective]-er.”
Maryland Secretary of Health Bobby Neall, a former state delegate, senator and Anne Arundel County executive, proudly describes him as a mentor. One of Mr. Neall’s early jobs was in commercial lending at Mercantile and when he left public office, he ended up at Johns Hopkins where his longtime friend and adviser served at various times as chairman of the board of trustees for The Johns Hopkins Hospital, The Johns Hopkins Health System and Johns Hopkins Medicine. Mr. Neall calls him the “Babe Ruth of the Baltimore business world.”
“Back in the day when Baltimore wasn’t a branch office city, there were a dozen or more business leaders who promoted the city and state. He was among them, probably first among equals,” Secretary Neall recalls. “He is a gifted business man and leader. He has always had the ability to connect with people. It is just magic.”
Needless to say, Mr. Baldwin has never been one for flattery or attention, but at the age of 88, he’s perhaps a bit more willing to talk about his glory days and support for Baltimore businesses, charities and cultural institutions like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It pains him to see his beloved Baltimore struggling in recent years but he refuses to believe it’s ever beyond hope. One more telling detail about the man-to-see of Baltimore: He’s never touched a drop of alcohol. Intoxication is not his thing. The “Merc,” as it was known before it’s sale to PNC Financial Services Group in 2006, was his thing.
“Somebody had to be the lead, and we took the lead. We wanted to be the lead,” he insists. “If you were truly going to be the hometown bank then by God you had to stand up and act like that. We had a strong feeling of what was important — education and hospitals. And we had a strong feeling about our hometown responsibility.”
Oh, and that lacrosse career? The defender who flourished at Gilman School and Princeton and Mount Washington was voted by his peers into Mount Washington’s all-time team and helped represent the U.S. in the world championships. “I am honored and flattered and everything else to be in the [Lacrosse] Hall of Fame, but I’m more proud to be on Mount Washington Club All-Time Team with Baldy,” Buzzy Krongard admits.
H. Furlong Baldwin
Hometown: Cheriton, Virginia
Current residence: Cheriton, Virginia
Education: Gilman School (1950); Princeton University, Bachelor of Arts in history (1954)
Career highlights: U.S. Marine Corps (1954-1956); Mercantile Bankshares Corporation (1956-2001), chairman and CEO (1976-2001); Nasdaq Inc., chair (2002-2013)
Civic and charitable activities: Chair: Johns Hopkins Medicine, chair; director/trustee: Johns Hopkins University, Washington College, Gilman School, Maryland Historical Society, Virginia Historical Society, USF&G, Constellation Energy, Seaboard Coastline Industries, CSX, Conrail, St. Paul Companies, W.R. Grace, Mt. Vernon Mills, Offit Bank; Association of Regional Bank Holding Companies, president