Friends of Hawks, here’s a fascinating profile of a fascinating man in a fascinating historical period of a fascinating system of government and business:
A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard ’58 once punched a great white shark in the head on a bet. He practices lethal martial arts with an intensity that is frightening. And the only guns he collects are ones he can use.
So when the Bankers Trust New York vice-chairman announced earlier this year that he was retiring after 27 years as an investment banker, nobody expected him to pass his golden years strolling the fairways. Golf is “just too darn slow,” he growls. Instead, at 61, Krongard signed on with the company — the CIA. That’s right. The Central Intelligence Agency. Spooks. Classified briefings. Krongard has left behind high finance to jet around the world clandestinely as counselor to CIA Director George Tenet. The CIA created the job for him.
Colleagues and family say they’re not surprised Krongard chose a second career in the perilous world of international espionage. He’s a former Marine with an outspoken nogutsnoglory persona that made him stand out among the reserved, grayflanneled ranks of investment bankers. Some intelligence experts say Krongard might be just what the CIA needs now. He earned a reputation for being brutally honest while building Baltimore brokerage Alex. Brown into a respected Wall Street player before Bankers Trust bought it in 1997.
“It’s going to be a breath of fresh air out at Langley. Buzzy is certainly sympathetic to the mission of the agency, but isn’t at all hesitant to speak out about problems,” says R. James Woolsey, the CIA director from 1993 to 1995. Critics say the CIA has lost its analytical depth — it failed to foresee India’s nuclear tests last May, for instance — and is in need of a major overhaul. “It’s not a one-to-one translation from Wall Street to the intelligence community. But unlike an agency insider, Buzzy will be able to use his principles of management to help improve the agency,” Woolsey says.
What does Krongard say he can offer? “My main job is to be helpful. I’ll pick up towels in the men’s room if they want,” he says. “What I will be doing is assist in strategic matters. Many Wall Street analysts do things and collect information in ways not dissimilar to what we do here. The only difference is methodology.” Krongard is a larger-than-life character whose words often beg to be accompanied by the Marine anthem. Friends say he exudes a stormthebeach brand of patriotism.
“I’m not sure this second career has anything to do with patriotism. It’s self-interest,” Krongard says. “Who offers opportunity and freedom the way the United States does? It’s incumbent upon me to preserve the preeminence of the United States. For evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” Krongard’s second career was born over a lunch late last year with his old friend Tenet, who raised the possibility that Krongard come work for the CIA. “I can’t think of another job that would have tempted me,” says Krongard, who started his new job in February.
Krongard’s business experience began 36 years ago when he went to work for his father-inlaw’s label and patch company in Baltimore after a threeyear stint in the Marines. He got hooked on the art — and adrenaline — of dealmaking when negotiating the sale of the company. He knew finance was for him. In 1971, he joined what was then called Alex. Brown & Sons as a finance associate. Under Krongard’s leadership as CEO at Alex. Brown, the firm was transformed from a regional brokerage into a Wall Street force, all the while remaining headquartered in Krongard’s native Baltimore. Between 1992 and 1996, the firm’s revenue grew from $445 million to more than $1 billion. The firm also became a leader in underwriting initial public offerings, a lucrative business that made Alex. Brown an attractive target for Bankers Trust. The bank bought the firm for $1.7 billion last year, and the deal left Krongard with $71 million in Bankers Trust stock. In his last year at the firm, Krongard made $4 million in salary and bonus. But Krongard dismisses the whopping pay cut he’s taken to work at the CIA — he makes about $120,000 a year — as insignificant. “The psychic income is infinite,” Krongard says. “Besides, how much money is enough?”
Krongard likes honing his marksmanship with his favorite 9mm Glock or SIG-Saurer handguns at the firing range on his 93acre estate near Baltimore. But he also enjoys intellectual pursuits. He can carry on for hours about his favorite philosophers — Socrates, Spinoza, and Hume — or about his favorite paintings in the Louvre. And if Krongard is as driven in his new job as he is about his physical fitness, the spy world had better watch out. Consider this recent demonstration: Krongard, in the basement gym of his Baltimore home, asks me to punch him in the gut. After some trepidation, I land a right jab squarely on Krongard’s taut abs. “Come on now,” Krongard shouts. “Is that all you got?” I swing again. And again. “Geez, is that all you got? I mean really hit me.” I deliver one last punch, this time with a wind-up. A grimace doesn’t even cross Krongard’s face. “Boy, you don’t hit very hard, do you?” Disappointed, Krongard returns to practicing moves on a rubber dummy.
— Tom Lowry Copyright 1998, USA TODAY. Reprinted with permission.
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