Most everyone who has worked at T. Rowe Price with Brian C. Rogers, the respected fund manager and former chief investment officer who retired as chairman earlier this year, tells the same story about him. Perhaps it’s because the moment was so revealing of his character. It took place in the fall of 2008 when the financial world seemed on the verge of collapse. Congress had rejected the bank bailout bill. Markets had already taken a beating after the subprime mortgage mess. Things looked dark. And how did CIO Rogers assure his co-workers at T. Rowe Price?
“Brian looked and me and said, ‘You know the world just doesn’t end that often,’” recalls Mary Miller, who joined T. Rowe as an analyst scrutinizing bond investments one year after Mr. Rogers did the same on the equity side in 1982 before rising to senior management. “He always keeps his head. He has a great sense of humor and he’s one of the least pretentious people you will meet.”
In fact, you might have a hard time finding anyone who calls him anything but Brian, whether it’s one of the 7,000 employees at T. Rowe Price or his fellow parents and volunteer coaches on the fields of Towsontowne Recreation Council — at least back when his children were of that age. This might be the least pretentious, least anxious and friendliest man to ever be responsible for more than $1 trillion in assets. During his leadership tenure, he wasn’t just on a first-name basis with fund managers or vice presidents, he knew the names of many of the other folks at 100 East Pratt Street, too, including the cleaning crew.
“He has such a great combination of business sense, common sense, investment sense, all wrapped up in a jovial disposition — he can get along with anyone,” says William “Bill” Stromberg, who took over as T. Rowe Price chairman after Mr. Rogers’ retirement earlier this year. “It’s just such a great skill set. He’s been a wonderful role model for me. Especially in pivotal moments in this company’s history, he’s made a difference.”
The son of public school teachers, Mr. Rogers grew up in suburban Boston with an appreciation for the hard work of teachers and for the value of knowledge. He graduated from Harvard University as an economics major in 1977. (He originally intended to concentrate in government but soon realized he had students loans to pay off.) His professional journey started at Bankers Trust but soon he was back at Harvard earning his master’s in business administration. It was while attending Harvard that he met his wife, Mary Jo, a Maryvale Preparatory School graduate who was a student at nearby Emmanuel College. Moving to Baltimore worked out pretty well for all involved, including their children, Hilary, Peter and Sydney. T. Rowe Price turned out to be a perfect fit.
“He’s like the guy next door who is very smart and incredibly capable and without a trace of arrogance,” recalls Andy Brooks, a recently retired T. Rowe Price vice president. “He’s really a symbol of the company’s culture of value investing, not cutting corners, and looking out for the best interests of clients, not for yourself. You need to have someone like that at the top.”
The former chairman’s longevity proved invaluable, too, as the company weathered the ups and downs of the market over the past 37 years from the dot-come bubble to the Great Recession. His calm is legendary but so are his investment skills. He was the longtime manager of the company’s 34-year-old Equity Income Fund, one of the largest at T. Rowe (and still rated a strong buy by Zacks Investment Research). His regular guy demeanor? That’s no act. In fact, the first thing he tells newcomers is to be themselves. “Authenticity is important in any field,” Mr. Rogers says. “Being yourself and being genuine is important.”
He’s also found time to give back to the community — and especially to schools. He spent three years as chair of the Greater Baltimore Committee, and even in an organization of CEOs, he stood out as someone who could build consensus, says Donald Fry, the GBC’s president and CEO. He’s donated scholarships at no fewer than a half dozen colleges including Johns Hopkins University and serves on several boards including that of the Harvard Management Co. which oversees the school’s $43 billion endowment. Even in retirement, he remains active in both civic and professional endeavors. Not bad for someone who wants to spend more time golfing and playing tennis.
“I’ve never known a moment where I’ve seen him lose that sense of calm,” marvels sports agent Ronald M. Shapiro who recalls his longtime friend taking the time to get to know city firefighters as together they raised money for fire house kitchen renovations. “I think that helps him lead.”