Krongard's grit pushed Brown to global status He worked way up ranks over 25 years at company

April 08, 1997|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF Staff Editorial Assistant Larry Phillips contributed to this article.

For the enigmatic, driven leader of Alex. Brown Inc., merging with Bankers Trust New York Corp. caps a more than 25-year push to catapult the nation's oldest investment banking firm to global status.

Engineering a $1.7 billion deal with Bankers Trust also represents one of the final acts in the illustrious career of A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, who climbed the ranks of Alex. Brown against considerable odds and through sheer determination, grit and intelligence.

"He's a forceful leader, and I have the highest regard for him," said Raymond A. "Chip" Mason Jr., chairman and chief executive of Legg Mason Inc., which, with Alex. Brown, is one of three investment firms headquartered in Baltimore. "When you're bright and decisive, you tend to do extremely well, and he's both."

That Krongard, 60, rose from being an Alex. Brown corporate finance associate in 1971 to become its chairman and chief executive officer is extraordinary, colleagues and acquaintences say, in light of tradition and the firm's nearly two centuries of family control.

Most notably, Krongard is the first non-Brown descendant and Jewish CEO ever at Alex. Brown.

Since Krongard took control in 1991, Alex. Brown has been on a financial tear, shredding much larger firms in the race to take companies public, nearly tripling its net income and increasing its revenues to more than $1 billion annually.

At the same time, Krongard has been largely responsible for eliminating the perception that Alex. Brown is little more than a "regional" financial services company that can't compete with big league New York competitors.

But for those who know and work with Krongard, Alex. Brown's performance comes as little surprise.

The son of a men's clothing business owner, Krongard grew up in Ashburton, attended City College and excelled in lacrosse, a sport that elected him into its Hall of Fame in 1981.

From there, he graduated with honors from Princeton, majoring in philosophy. The education stuck: In conversation, Krongard often quotes Socrates and Plato.

Joining the U.S. Marine Corps, Krongard became a captain, and began studying martial arts. Today, he is a black belt in karate and studies Tai Chi Chuan, among several other forms of fighting.

His other principal hobbies include scuba diving and writing poetry in iambic pentameter.

"He told me once the reason he likes deep sea diving so much is that nothing ever dies of old age in the sea," said Jack "Jay" Griswold, a former Alex. Brown partner who traces his lineage to company founder Alexander Brown and is a managing director of Armata Partners, a local investment house. "He's got a unique philosophy on life. He's an interesting character."

Krongard has received numerous kudos at Alex. Brown as well. In recent years, he was honored with Financial World magazine's CEO of the Year award in its finance category in 1995 and 1996.

But Krongard also can be demanding and gruff, a "brutal realist" who refuses to accept defeat or second place, said a former colleague.

What few dispute, however, is that Krongard has been unflinchingly and passionately committed to Alex. Brown, imbuing the firm with values such as honor, loyalty and respect.

"He's executed their plan as well as anyone could ever dream," Mason said. "He deserves a lot of credit."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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