Morrill's strategy: Turn depressed real estate market to advantage


September 10, 1990|By Peter H. Frank

As a member of one of Baltimore's most famous lacrosse families, William K. Morrill Jr. is using a long-standing tactical approach at his new job.

Last month, Mr. Morrill, 53, was promoted to managing director of Alex. Brown Kleinwort Benson Realty Advisors. As such, he is in charge of managing $4 billion invested in real estate-laden companies.

But what happens now that the real estate industry is slumping? Go on the offensive, says the three-time All-American attackman at Johns Hopkins University.

"Things are depressed, and the real estate market is going to be a difficult investment for a number of years," Mr. Morrill said. "We try to be contracyclical. The securities [of real estate companies] in particular are very attractive right now."

While bullishness and real estate are two concepts seldom heard in the same sentence these days, Mr. Morrill said his investment group's approach is to seek out real estate companies and partnerships whose market values have fallen below the estimated market value of the properties they own.

By concentrating on the underlying assets owned by the companies and operating with an investment horizon of five to seven years, the investment group expects to reap big rewards for hav

ing the patience to wait out the current down cycle.

"A lot of people buy securities as securities," Mr. Morrill said. "We try to buy them as real estate."

Co-owned by Alex. Brown Inc. of Baltimore and Kleinwort Benson Group of London, Mr. Morrill's unit was created in February to manage and invest pension fund assets in the real estate industry.

A native of Towson, Mr. Morrill graduated from Hopkins in 1959 and the Harvard Business School in 1962, then served two years in the Army's Transportation Corps in St. Louis.

He returned to Baltimore in 1964 as one of two securities $H analysts at Alex. Brown, where he worked for two years, and subsequently held positions at Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co., Commercial Credit Corp., Arundel Corp. and Tate Architectural Products.

Rejoining Alex. Brown in 1985 as vice president in charge of the real estate securities fund, Mr. Morrill has had several jobs related to real estate investment.

But while securities and real estate have defined Mr. Morrill's career, it is difficult to discuss the Morrill name in Baltimore without the subject of lacrosse dominating the conversation.

Mr. Morrill's father, W. Kelso Morrill Sr., was an All-American attackman for Hopkins in 1927 before coaching the Blue Jays for 10 years. During his tenure, the senior Mr. Morrill led the school to

national lacrosse titles in 1941 and 1950.

With his first lacrosse stick in his hands at the age of 3, William Morrill Jr. would later be co-holder of Hopkins' single-season scoring record from 1959 until 1981. An award bearing his name is given to the school's best attackmen each year.

Mr. Morrill's eldest son, William K. Morrill III, was an All-American lacrosse player at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated this year from the Wharton School of Finance. The youngest son, Michael, 24, was Hopkins' leading scorer in 1987 and 1988 and played on the United States lacrosse team that recently won the world championship in Australia.

Mr. Morrill's daughter, Kim, who is attending the University of Vermont, played lacrosse at St. Paul's School for Girls. His wife, Pat, played on the first girl's lacrosse team at Friends School in 1954.

In addition, Mr. Morrill said he hopes to continue his scouting efforts on behalf of former University of Pennsylvania lacrosse coach Tony Seaman, especially now that Mr. Seaman is the new head coach at Hopkins.

"He knows the game so well, and he's an excellent analyst who can pick apart the personnel of the other team's offensive and defensive pictures," Mr. Seaman said. "He's so descriptive, you feel like you've been there."

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