Mood of workers is upbeat as chatter over merger buzzes on city streets Many believe promise of minimal job cuts

April 08, 1997|By Greg Schneider and Sean Somerville | Greg Schneider and Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

A couple of workers from Alex. Brown were smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk outside the firm's South Street headquarters when a woman in a dark suit walked by.

"Do you have any idea how much money that man just made selling this firm?" she said to the smokers, stretching her arms out wide. "Thi-i-i-s much!"

"I have no idea who that was," one worker said as the woman disappeared into the lunch-hour crowd.

Friends or strangers, many who hit the sunny streets of downtown Baltimore yesterday were chattering about the pending merger of Baltimore's historic Alex. Brown investment house with Bankers Trust New York Corp.

Yet another home-grown company loses its autonomy. Yet another downtown employer raises the specter of job losses.

"That's the opposite of what our mission is," said Bob West, enjoying soup and a game of spades with two co-workers from the state Business and Economic Development Office in the courtyard next to the Alex. Brown skyscraper.

But workers inside the company said the mood around the stock ticker was generally positive.

One 18-year veteran broker said the sales side of the company was almost giddy, but that the bond department was not as enthusiastic. "There might be some overlap there," he said. "No one knows for sure how that's going to change."

At lunch, he said, some Alex. Brown brokers discussed the differences between the Baltimore firm and its prospective New York partner. "We were joking that we should get Bankers Trust to move down here, because it's so much cheaper to live," he said.

Most colleagues believed Alex. Brown Chairman A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard's promise yesterday that the firm would stay rooted in Baltimore and have minimal job cuts, the broker said. He added that Bankers Trust was seen as a hospitable partner, and that other combinations might have resulted in huge layoffs.

Krongard broke the news to brokers in the President's Club -- the firm's top performers -- on Saturday at a meeting in Amelia Island, Fla., said the veteran broker, who was not at the meeting.

Other workers -- all of whom declined to have their names published -- said the mood in the building yesterday was "upbeat" or one of "reserved excitement."

"There've been rumors for the last two years -- rumors of mergers, takeovers, buyouts and such," one worker said. "It's just business as usual. There's enough work up there to keep everybody busy."

A colleague agreed that most employees feel secure in their jobs, but added that it's still early to draw conclusions.

"I think in the near future everything is going to continue on as it has been. It's hard to tell what the long-term effects will be," he said.

One woman said her fellow employees on the support staff were a little less certain about their future than, say, brokers.

And a man who said he has been at the company for 1 1/2 years expressed sadness that the Alex. Brown name will no longer stand alone.

"It's a very prestigious name. It's very nice to tell someone you work for Alex. Brown," he said.

Another prominent Baltimore name kept an eye on yesterday's news from his retirement home in Florida.

"As far as the hometown thing goes, I hate to see Baltimore lose another one, another independent company," said Charles P. "Buzz" McCormick Jr., chairman of McCormick & Co. Inc. and the grandnephew of the spice company's founder.

McCormick & Co., now in Sparks, was founded in 1889 in Baltimore. Like so many local companies, McCormick's first stock was sold by Alex. Brown.

Over the last several decades, McCormick has seen the city lose a number of independent companies. The most recent huge loss: PHH Corp. of Hunt Valley, which is expected to merge late this month with HFS Inc. of New Jersey in another $1.7 billion deal.

"I just hate to see it happen," McCormick said yesterday. "Baltimore's a good-sized city. You like to think you live in a big-time place."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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