T. Rowe Price top executive retiring

Roche known for humility, steadiness


T. Rowe Price Group Inc. Chairman George A. Roche has announced his retirement after a 40-year career that paralleled the rise of mutual funds -- from working closely with the founder as a crack research analyst, to orchestrating the company's debut on the stock market, to steering it through industry scandals and an expansion overseas.

Roche, 64, plans to stay on until the end of the year, when James A.C. Kennedy will take over from him as president and chief executive officer, and Brian C. Rogers will become board chairman.

The transition, which also includes a shuffling of other top managers, has been in the works for at least two years and contrasts sharply with fractious transitions at other U.S. corporations.

"The last thing you want is to set it up as a race and you end up running off good employees," Roche said. "We don't operate like that."

Far from being a celebrity CEO, Roche appeared to loathe being at the center of attention and habitually referred to the accomplishments of others when asked about his own. Colleagues and industry insiders say he stood out for his humility and steady hand in a field that glorifies risk-takers.

"People get along really well with him because he doesn't have a big ego but everyone knows he's really smart and capable," said Daniel F. Dent, who worked at T. Rowe Price before starting an investment firm in Baltimore. "George is as conscientious a person as I have ever known."

Many other CEOs write autobiographies and give flashy presentations to analysts, investors and media. Roche eschewed the Wall Street ritual of hosting quarterly conference calls to talk about earnings, instead making phone calls to answer questions.

CEO title shunned

He shunned the title of CEO, saying the positions of chairman and president were enough to be listed in company literature.

Asked what his 4,370 employees will remember about him, Roche said in an interview, "I hope they would say I was methodical and highly rational."

Roche's demure style belies T. Rowe Price's explosive growth under his leadership. Assets that the company manages on behalf of clients, including mutual fund investors, endowments and pensions, have more than doubled since Roche took the helm in 1997, to $270 billion, making it one of the largest money management companies in the nation and the third-largest public company in Baltimore by market capitalization.

Officials at T. Rowe Price have long discussed succession planning, and Roche's retirement was announced months before his departure to avert "unwarranted speculation" about who would replace him, Roche said.

An impending transition in the upper offices became apparent in 2003 when M. David Testa announced his retirement as chief investment officer, followed by Vice Chairman James S. Riepe last year. Edward C. Bernard will take Riepe's place.

Roche said he wanted to make it clear that there hasn't been any "jockeying for position" that might create turmoil at the company.

Roche revealed his retirment plans to employees yesterday morning and took questions while broadcasting his regular state of the company presentation from company offices in Owings Mills to offices in Tampa, Fla., Colorado Springs, Colo., San Francisco and London.

Another presentation is scheduled for today in downtown Baltimore. Employees in Singapore and Buenos Aires and elsewhere can watch the talk via the Internet.

When the news broke, the reaction among employees and on the stock market was muted because they knew it was coming, observers and analysts said. T. Rowe Price shares rose 90 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $77.60 yesterday on the Nasdaq stock market.

"I don't think the company will miss a beat," said Eddie C. Brown, who also worked for T. Rowe Price before starting a firm that, like Dent's, holds stock in T. Rowe Price.

"Certainly, George will be missed, because he's been a great leader, but the company benefits from good long-term planning and a depth of talent."

The company's success has brought record profits, some of which will go toward renovating the company's downtown headquarters, which hasn't been updated in years.

Success also brought riches for top executives. Last year, Roche took home nearly $3.7 million in salary and bonus, and exercised stock options for a gain of $10.4 million, according to a regulatory filing yesterday. Riepe gained $11.7 million on the exercise of options.

Roche said he doesn't have "elaborate plans" for his retirement. In his deliberative way, he said, he has been talking to other retirees about how they spend their time. He said he would continue to invest on his own and stay involved in charitable activities.

His wife, Nancy, co-edited a book on the governance of performing arts groups and has been a trustee of Center Stage in Baltimore. Roche has been on the boards of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Walters Art Museum.

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