Building Net profit

Tech99: Business executives call the long-running Brown conference tops for marketing opportunities.

November 04, 1999|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The annual technology conference run by Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown is one of the longest-running among Wall Street investment houses, and technology company executives said yesterday that the 20-year-old event remains their top marketing opportunity.

More than 250 senior executives of leading public and private technology companies from around the world are attending Alex. Brown's four-day Tech99 at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in downtown Baltimore, selling their companies as a worthy place for institutional and individual investment.

Among the more than 1,700 who attended were investors and venture capitalists who were seeking to understand what the companies offer and to gain access to top management, and company executives who wanted information on the latest themes in the technology sector.

The conference began Monday and ends today.

Using the theme "E-Business: Vision and Reality," the conference is focusing on how businesses can use the Internet to their benefit, said Ivy Tamara Fradin, a Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown managing director.

"A power alley of Alex. Brown has always been technology," said Fradin, who also serves as assistant director of North American equity research covering technology and other industries.

"We believe that the Internet impacts all segments of our economy, and many of the top technology companies -- the established ones and up-and-coming ones -- are enabling that to take place," she said.

The highlights of the conference are presentations where executives discuss their companies for 30 minutes, and then go into an hourlong "breakout session" where investors and analysts ask pointed questions about the company's future.

Patrick J. Kerins, managing director of Grotech Capital Group, a Timonium-based venture capital firm, said there are about 60 companies presenting at the conference that he's interested in learning more about -- and possibly investing in.

"All of the major investment houses host technology conferences, and about 10 or 12 of them try to be in the class with Alex. Brown," said Kerins, a former Alex. Brown partner who left in 1996. "Alex. Brown has been through a few mergers and it had to reposition itself in technology."

Alex. Brown Inc. has been through its second takeover in two years. It was acquired by Bankers Trust Corp. in September 1997. Last November, Bankers Trust was acquired by Germany's largest banking company, Deutsche Bank AG.

"It had a period when its conference wasn't as big and active as this one, but they are back to being the best," Kerins said.

The conference offers companies "more investment and more visibility," said Shawn O'Connor, president and chief executive of QRS Corp. in Richmond, Calif. It is an electronic commerce supplier to the retail industry.

"I enjoy the opportunity to go out and touch shareholders and present the story of the company to nonshareholders," O'Connor said.

"We probably speak at about a dozen [tech] shows during the course of the year. Alex. Brown is probably one of the largest."

The conference also features seminars with analysts discussing emerging developments driving technology, such as investing via the Internet and the online battle for customers of electronic financial services.

Conference rooms each held about 100 people, but many more were milling around the hotel's fifth floor chatting among themselves or on cellular phones, making deals or hanging out at the cybercafe or another of the computer kiosks with Internet access that dotted the area.

Thomas H. Scholl, chairman of Paratek Microwave Inc., a Columbia maker of broad-band wireless system products, said he has attended the conference annually for about a decade.

Scholl said he is attracted to the networking opportunities with bankers, venture capitalists and the presidents and chief financial officers of other companies.

"I get to see everything that's going on at one place," Scholl said.

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