If Brown Advisory President and CEO Michael D. Hankin were measured simply as a generator of well-paying jobs, he’d deserve recognition as one of Baltimore’s most successful business leaders of the 21st century. In two decades, he has taken what began as a small shop within Baltimore-based Alex. Brown Inc. and ultimately turned it into a private, independent investment firm responsible for $85 billion in client assets. More than half its 715 employees work in Baltimore at the Bond Street Wharf Building in Fells Point, helping keep investment management (along with health care and higher education) one of the city’s best economic success stories.
What the Maryland native (Milford Mill High graduate) and onetime tax attorney has achieved is much more remarkable than that. He has created a company where the term, “sustainability,” is not just some catchword but a guiding philosophy. Employees are not just employees, they are colleagues. Every single worker from receptionist to portfolio managers has an equity stake in the company: 70% is owned by colleagues and none has more than 5%. This has given Brown a culture of not only collegiality but a desire to excel. And most everyone has a voice, evident from the daily morning meeting where the entire firm gathers to talk (by teleconference, of course) to the firm’s emphasis on diversity, inclusion and transparency.
But here’s that one thing more about Mike Hankin that stands out — his commitment to making Baltimore a better, greener place. And nothing better illustrates this than his intention to swim across the Inner Harbor. That’s right, swim. Over the last decade, he’s quietly been one of the driving forces behind the Waterfront Partnership and its Healthy Harbor Initiative, early on pledging to swim across a “swimmable, fishable” Inner Harbor in 2020. That doesn’t look to be happening this year but only because Baltimore’s court-supervised $430 million Headworks Project to address sewage overflows is behind schedule and won’t be finished until next year. He’s confident the day will come.
“It’s been one of the most exciting parts of my life,” he says. “To show that we could do something, that government and the private sector could work together so well and even watch young people develop a career around (cleaning up the harbor).
In other words, he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk (and one day swims the swim). At Brown, colleagues are recognized not just for being good at their jobs but being good for the community. “We find when people see the community as important, they serve their clients really, really well. Mike sets the tone for so much of that,” notes Richard Gamper, a Brown partner and head of messaging.
Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, has watched his level of involvement grow from a CEO who noticed that the waters around Bond Street were murky and often trash-strewn to being the tireless environmental advocate he is today. “He’s a natural leader,” says Ms. Schwartz, a former Baltimore deputy mayor. “He’s willing to put the time in to make things happen. Once Mike gets people to the table and gets them to commit, he holds them accountable. He brings a CEO’s discipline to nonprofit work.”
He’s been similarly important to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore where he serves on the governing board. Periodically, the zoo gives out the Michael Hankin Award created to honor those who have made a commitment to environmental enhancement. “He’s a Baltimore businessman who holds Baltimore deep in his bones,” notes Don Hutchinson, the zoo’s recently-retired president. “He not only built his business but he helped take the zoo through some difficult times.”
But it isn’t just about conservation. At Johns Hopkins University where Mr. Hankin, a longtime donor, serves on the Board of Trustees, he has taken a keen interest in helping the school spin off businesses from their extensive research efforts. And he’s put Brown capital at work to help make those enterprises happen. " He’s always up and thinking about the future of Baltimore,” says Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser to the president of Johns Hopkins University. “Not just for Brown but truly how the chess pieces can be moved around to serve Baltimore best.”
And that extends to less well-served communities as well. Mr. Hankin also serves on the board of the nonprofit Associated Black Charities working to offset the impact of structural racism on the city and particularly the adverse consequences for African Americans. Mamie Parker, a trailblazing government wildlife biologist who served with Mr. Hankin on the board of Chesapeake Conservancy, calls him a “secret hero,” who doesn’t do things for broad recognition but because he “feels them in his heart.”
Mr. Hankin admits that some of his work as a community advocate did not come naturally. But when he witnesses problems whether it is a polluted Inner Harbor or it’s white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, or the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, he finds the question not to be “why take action?” but “why did it take you so long?”
“I’m fortunate. I’ve had a wonderful team and wonderful mentors,” he says. “We have a responsibility to improve this footprint that we occupy. If we don’t speak up, people will just assume we don’t care.”
Not caring, Mr. Hankin’s colleagues and friends say, has simply never been an option.
Current residence: Reisterstown
Education: University of Virginia Law School, Juris Doctorate; Emory University, Master of Arts, Bachelor of Arts; Milford Mill High School
Career highlights: Venable; Piper & Marbury (now DLA Piper), partner; Brown Advisory, CEO
Civic and charitable activities: Chair of the Healthy Harbor project, an effort begun in 2010 to make Baltimore Harbor swimmable and fishable; board memberships: Associated Black Charities, Business Executives for National Security, Center for Large Landscape Conservation, National Steeplechase Association and Nature Sacred