I met with Bill twice to do this interview. The first time we met was February 26th. Just three days later, we had our first Coronavirus death in the United States. Everyone’s life has been altered in some way, including the 7,000 team members of T. Rowe Price-they’re fortunate to have “Coach Stromberg” leading.
Bill, is one of the most decorated athletes in Johns Hopkins history. He had an outstanding baseball career, still holding records from his Blue Jay days on the diamond, but it was on the gridiron that Bill really excelled. He is considered to be one of the best wide receivers in NCAA Division III history, setting many school and NCAA records. Bill was inducted into the Johns Hopkins Hall of Fame in 1994 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004. After graduation in 1982, he signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Thank you, Bill, for the quality time you gave me. We covered a wide range of topics, from growing up in West Baltimore, great memories from Loyola Blakefield and Johns Hopkins, and for the last four years leading one of the great financial institutions in the world.
We are still in the early stages of one of the most challenging periods in the history of our country. T. Rowe Price, one of Maryland’s great companies, and Bill Stromberg’s leadership, give me great optimism that our community will be much stronger when we get to “the other side.”
Thank you Bill.
MG: I know you’re a Baltimore kid. Where did you grow up?
BS: I grew up in Westview Park, which is right between Woodlawn and Catonsville. My dad grew up in a neighborhood near Mt. St. Joe, their home actually looked over Slentz Field. My mom grew up on the east side of town near Patterson Park.
MG: What did your mom and dad do?
BS: My dad was an accountant and worked for Westinghouse, he was a controller and worked there for many years. My mom was a homemaker, she is alive today, 93, and is doing awesome. She was a nurturing person, easy to love, and held us to high standards, like “get your homework done.”
MG: When you grow up on the west side of Baltimore, you usually go to Mt. St. Joe or Cardinal Gibbons, before it closed. You went to Loyola. How did that happen?
BS: I went to St. Agnes, a Catholic grade school. When I was in the eighth grade, and it was time to make our field trip to Mt. St. Joe, I wound up in the middle of a food fight that I didn’t start. Right after that, I had a great visit to Loyola; it was across town, so it made it hard on my parents, but it just felt right to me. There was a great athlete from the west side at that time, Mark Poehlman, who was from Edmondson Heights, not far from my neighborhood. He was at Loyola and having great success, so it made it easier for me to realize it could work for me.
MG: What are your best memories from Loyola?
BS: It turned out to be a great decision for me. They pushed me in a way I hadn’t been used to being pushed. Academically, athletically, spiritually, and all three made a big difference for me.
MG: Who was the President of Loyola when you were a student?
BS: The president was Fr. Jim Salmon, in many ways he helped to save the school. The school was going through a hard time, and he helped to turn it around. I had a lot of respect for him.
MG: Favorite teacher?
BS: Fr. Nash. He was a quiet Jesuit, all the AP courses, calculus, physics, went through Fr. Nash. There was a quiz every day, you had to be prepared, there wasn’t a lot of love, and he held all of us to a high standard. He made sure we were the best we could be. He truly lived the Jesuit creed, “Men for Others.”
After four years, reflecting back, going to Loyola turned out to be an excellent decision for me. It pushed me in a way I wasn’t used to being pushed. In every aspect: academically, athletically, spiritually. All three of those made a big difference. It was just right for me.
MG: Any others that were special to you at Loyola?
BS: Joe Brune and Bill Korrow. Joe was the head football coach when I was there. He was as disciplined as a person could be, as tough as tough could be, and that’s how he wanted his players to be. It didn’t matter if you were smaller, slower, weaker, you were a member of the team, and had to fight it out with the other team members. He had high expectations of all of us.
Bill Korrow was in charge of the JV football team, he’s still there at Loyola. He was the assistant coach on the Varsity, head of the JV, head of the freshman. He was in charge of everything, and he was the trainer as well. When you’re the trainer, you’re in the training room, you’re taping everyone, you’re talking with the athletes every day. Mr. Korrow pushed you until you couldn’t go any further. He did have a humanistic side and would simply remind you, “you’re fine, keep running!” He pushed you in a way that would make you want to give your best always. He believed in you and backed you up when he felt he needed to.
MG: You had a great four years at Loyola then an All-American career at Johns Hopkins, excelling in football and baseball, and you never had to leave Charles Street!
BS: Hopkins was a continuation in many ways, playing football and baseball, studying hard, and having jobs. So many positive things happened to me while I was at Hopkins. I met my wife Lisa, who was a freshman at Goucher when I was a sophomore at Hopkins, and now, we’re going on thirty-six years of marriage and three awesome children.
MG: Who are some of the coaches that had the greatest impact on you at Hopkins?
BS: My timing was perfect for football. Howdy Myers had come to Hopkins to be the football coach. Coach Myers had a great offensive mind, and I was a receiver. It worked out. I had Denny Cox as a baseball coach, one of my favorite coaches of all time, and Bobby Babb, a phenomenal baseball coach who was coaching football as well.
I was finishing up at Hopkins and had opportunities to try professional sports. I chose football because you find out right away if you make it or not. Baseball, you can spend a lot of time in the minors, and you never know if you’re going to make it to the big leagues. I tried football, the Philadelphia Eagles made me a free agent, I kept getting injured. I felt like I could have stuck around for a while, but I wanted to be really good at something, not just stick around. At the same time, I was trying to get a job in this business, I had an interview with Bill Miller. I was a math major and didn’t have the accounting for it. I told Bill I would work for free for a few months, and then he can decide. It wasn’t the right time, so I went back to business school to get the training I needed to get into this business.
MG: So you went to Westinghouse then back to business school?
BS: I went to Westinghouse first because I needed to pay back some student loans. My dad was there, and I got a job as a radar engineer, writing code and simulating high altitude mapping functions of the F-16 fighter radar. I did that for a couple years, but I wanted to get into this business. The only way was through an MBA.
MG: Did you get to T. Rowe Price before the ‘87 crash?
BS: I interned the year before, in ‘86, and then joined full time in ‘87. The market crashed in October. That was a scary experience for me. We used to have lunch on Wednesdays around the trading desk. The crash was on a Monday. So we’re eating lunch, and the CEO George Collins comes up to me, I had only been working there for two months- I will never forget, I had a sandwich in my hand, and he asked me if I knew what I should be worried about, I said, “No sir, what?”. He said, “LIFO or FIFO?” and he walked away. And I thought to myself, “Last one in, first one out or first one in, last one out.” I’m married, I have a house. I didn’t sleep that night. He came in the next morning and said, “I’m just kidding.” That was one sleepless night. There was a lesson that you can lose a lot of money fast if you’re not careful. That has stuck with me my entire career.
MG: When you joined the firm, did you think, “maybe I can have George Collins’ job one day?”
BS: I knew a lot about investing, I read books in the library about great investors and I wanted to be one of them. It never crossed my mind to be in leadership where I am today.
MG: The expression “special sauce” is frequently used in business, referring to values, culture, differentiator. What is T. Rowe Prices’ special sauce?
BS: Our special sauce comes from our values and culture. Key elements of the culture area desire to be great at what we do, long-term thinking, and an environment of trust and mutual respect. And a huge emphasis on teamwork. All those things combine together to make the special sauce of this place. The fact is, there are a lot of ways to run a railroad, to run a baseball team, or an investment shop and most of them are individualistic in approach – T. Rowe is a team-oriented place – and a team that wants to be great.
MG: Being part of a team came naturally to you.
BS: Being a part of teams has helped me to do well here. I like being on winning teams. I can’t say we are perfect every day, but I would say that we work hard, particularly when times are stressful or when markets go haywire.
MG: One of the first things you read about on your website is the importance of strategic investing. What does strategic investing mean to you?
BS: Strategic investing means doing your homework in all aspects of the word, getting to know companies and management, using all the tools available to invest for the long term for the benefit of our clients. There are no shortcuts.
MG: How do you communicate the continued conviction of your strategy when unexpected events happen as they often have in your career?
BS: I think you have to accept the fact that stuff is going to happen and treat it as an opportunity. Brian Roger’s used an expression during the 2008-2010 crisis, “it’s not that often that the world ends.” We need to see this as an opportunity and think with a long-term horizon and try to take advantage of difficult times. That’s the way I’ve always thought about going about our business here. It means don’t panic, keep your feet on the ground and take advantage of other people’s emotions when the opportunity presents itself.
MG: Morgan Stanley recently announced they were buying E-Trade. As CEO of T. Rowe Price, how do you look at this event?
BS: There’s consolidation happening across financial services – companies are trying to get closer to the consumer and owning the customer relationship. More importantly, companies want scale to reduce costs and pass savings on to customers. We’re already at a scale, $1.2 trillion, so we don’t need to acquire anything, but if there was a skill set we wanted or a team of people we wanted, we wouldn’t hesitate to bring them on board. But it’s not a core part of our business. We prefer to build things organically.
MG: Diversity and inclusion are part of T. Rowe Price’s mission and values. As CEO of the enterprise, what does diversity mean to you, and why is it so important?
BS: Diversity and inclusion are important at T. Rowe Price. We live in a world where our neighbors are diverse, and our clients are diverse; it makes good sense for the company to be diverse. Our people know that they are part of a diverse team – and a high functioning team that’s performing at a high level is one of the best feelings in the world. I think of diversity as a very natural thing to a team, especially when all types of diversity involved. Diversity of thought, diversity of gender, sexual orientation, color, ethnicity, we strive to be more diverse and are on a journey towards that. I think it’s a well-meaning journey, a journey with a lot of enthusiasm, a journey with a lot of hope. We’re on the right path at T. Rowe Price.
MG: Bill, talk about T. Rowe Price’s corporate responsibility. What does it mean?
BS: Corporate Responsibility is something we take really seriously. I do as an individual, and we do as a company. T Rowe Price has been here for 80+ years, it’s our corporate home and hope it will be for a long time. Baltimore is changing, and T Rowe Price is trying to be a force for good in Baltimore. The number of volunteer hours our associates provide in the surrounding areas is amazing. Our foundation is the largest private corporate foundation in town. We have a terrific leader there doing tremendous things for the city. Our leadership serves on a large variety of boards around town. T. Rowe Price is deeply embedded in the Baltimore community, and we keep giving back as great as we can. Responsibility is a big part of who we are.
MG: Let’s talk about Baltimore. Our challenges are easy to articulate, they are well known. What can T. Rowe Price do to move things in a better direction?
BS: As I mentioned, volunteering, serving on boards, school boards, helping anybody, anyway we can to rise up. We do this really well. Our impact, which is very quiet, is extraordinarily broad. One thing I’ve learned, Mike, and you’ve served in government, is that the government has to push itself to be the best it can be. City government has had a series of challenges in the police department, in the Mayor’s office, ethical mishaps in both of those areas. We need a combination of government and philanthropic and civil leadership working in tandem like we haven’t had for a long time.
MG: If you were Mayor, where would you begin? What would be your first priority?
BS: There are two things I would do. First, I would say confidence begins at home. Look inward, all the basics that are involved in running the city, whether it’s trash pick-up or anything else, are we doing the best we can? Do we have the right people running those areas and can we look our citizens in the eye and say we have A-players in these seats and are doing a good job with what we have? The second thing I would do is reach out to the private community and say, “we need your help.” I would ask for the best thinking, the best leaders, get them engaged in public-private partnerships to help the greater community. City hall has to be effective though and of the highest integrity.
MG: I know you love to speak to the new T. Rowe Price employees. You hire the best and the brightest.
What’s your message to these young people?
BS: That’s a great question. I regularly speak to our younger folks and usually have a similar message, “all of you are here because you’ve been incredibly successful, all of you are smarter than I am, you have incredible resumes, very few of you have experienced much failure. If you’re going to be a successful investor at T. Rowe Price, the hardest thing you have to get used to is failing. If you are good, you will be right about 65% of the time; it’s how you react to the 35% that is going to make a difference. If you can deal with that and if you can keep moving forward and learning from the challenges you experience, you will have a great career. People are here to help you, don’t wait for it- seek out that help. Get the mentorship you need, and things will go well.
The final point is, help your neighbor because they’re going to be helping you. The reason I’m in my seat today is that I helped a lot of people along the way, not because I was the smartest guy. This is a place that thrives on that. So help your neighbor, and it’ll come back to you many times over.
MG: What’s your dream job?
BS: I’m not sure I have a dream job. I’ve found satisfaction in all the jobs I’ve had. I think it would be fun to be a coach. I enjoyed coaching my kids in little league lacrosse, even though I didn’t know what I was talking about. I like helping people, I think being a teacher or coach would be something I’d love to do.
MG: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
BS: The best advice came from my parents, “treat other people the way you want to be treated and do the best you can.” If you do these things well, life will be okay.
MG: If I could give you one mulligan during your thirty-four years at T. Rowe Price, what do you want to use it for?
BS: I started right before the market crashed in 1987, and it left a big impression on me – made me risk-averse – so my mulligan would be “all the time be long term bullish.” The market has been phenomenal over the last thirty-plus years, and there were times when I could have benefitted more by being long term bullish.
MG: I recently spoke to a couple of your board members about you. One called you “the reluctant CEO,” the other said, “what I like the most about Bill is he never wanted the job.” Talk about how you view Leadership.
BS: I think leaders need to be all in. I believe in servant leadership, though it’s probably an overused phrase. Leaders need to have the energy, the commitment, and the drive to be all in. If I was the reluctant leader, it was perhaps because I was a little older when the opportunity was presented, about 56, and I needed to do some soul searching to make sure I could be ALL IN. I was, and it’s worked out.
MG: In what ways do you think your board adds the most value in helping you to be a successful CEO?
BS: Our board is chocked full of really good people who have accomplished a lot as leaders over the course of their lives. They have an uncommon amount of common sense, and bringing that to the table is very helpful. The second way is by motivating us to stretch and accomplish big things. Each board member does this in different ways – but it is important.”
MG: Who would be your dream threesome to join you for a round of golf, and what golf course do you want to play it on?
BS: Jesus would be my first choice. Jesus was a person of enormous faith, love, and discipline – things we should all want to be.
I’d love to meet him and talk face to face one day.
Our nation’s first President, George Washington, was a reluctant leader of our country. He was an accomplished general, everyone respected him. He didn’t really honestly want the job of President, but he took the position and earned two terms. I admire his leadership. His ego was in the right place, and he was the person everyone turned to and respected at the time.
My third invite, Abraham Lincoln. He really wanted to be president and was willing to do the hard things. Passing the 13th amendment was a hard thing to do, but he got it done. He had a great vision for the country, was not going to condone slavery, and was going to change it. I admire his quiet way of doing hard things and knowing what was important and sticking it out. We’d play the match at Augusta. My dad went to the Masters one year and said it was one of the greatest experiences of his life. I’ve never been there, but I’d love to go one day.
MG: How would you connect your faith with your professional life and with your personal life?
BS: Faith plays a role in your professional and personal life by the way you conduct yourself. The way you treat other people, how much you’re willing to give of yourself. I think faith gives you the confidence to see the hard times through. You need to be prepared to take the long game and see it through.
MG: Pick one community organization that you care about deeply and give not just financial support but personal time.
BS: Catholic Charities, run by Bill McCarthy. I was on the board there for two terms. I was president and vice president for two years each. I was on the search committee that selected Bill for this incredibly important position. Bill was the first person we interviewed, and after the interview, we looked at each other and said, “We done here?” Bill has been a remarkable leader.
Catholic Charities is an incredibly passionate organization and very well run. It provides support, great return on investment, and has a large impact on the lives of many in the state of Maryland. I support it in many ways, and once you’re part of the fundraising part of the organization, it’s like Hotel California, you can check out, but you can never leave.
MG: Who are some of the mentors you’ve had at T. Rowe Price, and what made them special to you?
BS: I wish I had the common, uncommon sense of Brian Rogers, the incredible diligence of Jim Kennedy, the vision of Jack LaPorte, the well-rounded CEO skills of George Roche, and George Collins, the disciplined valuation skills of Rich Howard.
MG: What does a great Baltimore look like?
BS: In a great Baltimore, people would know and trust a very transparent leadership. The hard thing about saying that is that we don’t have very transparent leadership today, but that’s where we are. A transparent leadership team drives for a level of competence that earns trust every day. It earns the trust of people by having trash picked up, the police department functioning at a high level, and functioning like a well-run team.
There’s been lack of trust because of multiple ethical missteps in the police chief’s chair, in the Mayor’s chair. My vision for Baltimore would have City Hall working with the corporate and philanthropic communities to work our resources hard. People will invest in the city if they trust the money will get used and invested well. With public safety and trust comes more investment in the future; without it, people will not invest in the long term,.
MG: Where do we begin?
BS: There’s no one thing that is going to transform Baltimore. Once trust is established in government and policing, it will lead to improved safety. People will then invest, and it will lead to jobs. I don’t know that the Kirwan bill, as proposed, is the answer for Baltimore City Schools, but some version of it, that invests in education and demands that kids see it through is a big step forward.
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