Legg Mason needn't be shy about its good works

July 19, 2005|By Bill Atkinson

ON A SWELTERING afternoon, tourists cruise up to the second floor of the Maryland Science Center and take in one of its top attractions, the artifacts of the Titanic.

Tina Kress, an elementary school teacher from Gaithersburg, loves what she sees. There is a necklace of gold nuggets in a glass case, a gilded chandelier, a man's work boot, a cracked porthole.

But she and other patrons don't know the name of the company, Legg Mason, that is helping support the exhibit, even though its name is near the door. "I didn't even notice it," Kress said.

Little wonder.

Legg's name appears at the exhibit's entryway, but it is off to the left in silver block letters and about 12 feet up against a white wall. It doesn't exactly grab museum patrons by the lapels to say, "Look here!"

That's Legg's style - quiet, humble in the background. Legg has been a generous corporate citizen by all accounts, though few people would know.

But Legg's pending deal with Citigroup will make it the world's fifth-largest asset manager and has already made it Baltimore's most valuable public company. With its vault to prominence, Legg needs to start acting like a leading corporate citizen.

That means doing the unthinkable, promoting and talking about its good works in Baltimore and cities around the world. That way investors, clients and average citizens will know that Legg isn't concerned only with making money.

There is nothing wrong with talking up good deeds, experts say.

"It is appropriate to spread the word," said Curt Weeden, who ran Johnson & Johnson's $146 million philanthropy program and is president of the Contributions Academy, which offers programs for corporate contributions professionals.

"My big thing is that businesses oftentimes just don't get the recognition or acknowledgement that they should; part of it is their own fault. Businesses are sort of screwing themselves because they are not telling the whole story."

Mike Lawrence, executive vice president at Cone Inc., a brand strategy and communications firm in Boston, said many companies aren't used to talking about philanthropy because "they think they will look like they are bragging.

"You do good deeds but you just don't ask for credit. That is not in sync with what consumers and citizens expect with companies. They really want to know," he said.

If two companies are competing head-on and they are equal in service and price, corporate citizenship wins new business, Lawrence said.

It will cause "consumers to change brands and change stores if price and quality is equal," he said. "There is no question it is important in terms of reputation and it is important in terms of expectation."

Plenty of companies promote their good works. Avon is known for its crusade against breast cancer, Reebok for its fights for human rights, Target for support of education. All three companies have Web sites making note of their causes.

Even financial firms have learned the importance of letting people know they care.

Bank of America leads many of the social causes in the neighborhoods of Charlotte, N.C., where it is based, and lets people know about its good works with photo ops, press releases and press conferences.

"It is important to our customers, it is important to our shareholders, it is important to our associates that people know our philanthropy really reflects the values of the company," said Andrew D. Plepler, president of Bank of America Charitable Foundation.

Legg has its causes. It sponsors the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, which supports the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation to help underprivileged kids.

It is backing Baltimore's Crabtown Project, which has placed 6-foot-tall fiberglass crabs throughout Baltimore to raise $1 million for city schools. Its brokers in Washington help raise money to fight cystic fibrosis.

But rarely does Legg mention these works. It has a charitable foundation, but it is almost invisible, and it never made an announcement when it recently hired a vice president of corporate philanthropy.

On the other hand, T. Rowe Price, Legg's neighboring rival, yesterday sent out a press release about the appointment of Stacey Van Horn as executive director of the T. Rowe Price Associates Foundation, which has about $22 million in assets.

Legg officials, in their tight-lipped style, declined to comment for this column.

It's the rumor that won't die - Cal Ripken selling his sprawling Baltimore County house to actor Will Smith.

No way, says John Maroon, Ripken's spokesman.

"He is not selling it to Will Smith or to anybody for that matter," Maroon said. "It is a rumor that has taken on a life of its own."

Ripken's house would be a sports nut's dream. It has a baseball diamond, pond, indoor basketball court, locker room, full gym and outdoor pool. It is secluded by a fence and trees and tucked away in the quiet Worthington Valley.

Maroon isn't sure how the rumor got started, but thinks that people started speculating that Ripken would move to Harford County because he spends so much time there running his business, Ripken Baseball.

As to how Smith's name surfaced, Maroon isn't sure of that, either. But the actor is married to Jada Pinkett, the actress from Baltimore, and Ripken has invited Smith over to his crib to shoot hoops.

Maybe some day the two will cook up a deal. But Maroon says don't count on it anytime soon.

"It is a gorgeous home; that is why they don't want to sell it," he said.

Bill Atkinson's column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 410-332-6961 or by e-mail at bill.atkinson@balt sun.com.

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