Inclusive, Collaborative, and Client-Centered:
The Enduring Legacy of T. Rowe Price's
Two Women Founders
3/2/20 | By Corporate Editorial Group
When reflecting on the origin of the inclusive and collaborative culture at T. Rowe Price, it becomes clear that two pioneering women deserve much of the credit. In 1937, Thomas Rowe Price, Jr. endeavored to build a strategic investment firm dedicated to clients' long-term success. His two first hires, Marie Walper and Isabella Craig, brought an invaluable skill set and unwavering commitment. These qualities would establish a throughline to the firm's present-day work— collaboration, integrity, and innovation remain core corporate attributes at the firm today.
Price had worked with Walper and Craig for several years at Mackubin, Legg & Co., the forerunner to today's Legg Mason. He writes in his memoirs, "These early associates obviously shared my fundamental beliefs, or they would not have left the security of a well-established and prosperous investment banking firm and taken the risk of a new venture with me."
Fostering a Collaborative Culture
Walper was officially Price's personal assistant but did a bit of everything during the firm's early years, according to brand historian and corporate archivist, Emily Davidson. "She had a shrewd business mind and was able to keep everyone moving toward their shared goals, even when they could barely keep the lights on and had to scrounge their pockets for money to take clients out to lunch," explains Davidson. In a career spanning more than three decades, Walper would also serve as both secretary and treasurer of the company's board of directors.
When the firm ultimately gained traction, became profitable, and expanded operations, Walper took charge of hiring and training new associates. "She was the vector of culture at the company as much as any one person can be," adds Davidson. "They had very high standards for employees, and she had much input into the hiring process. She shaped two full generations of associates at T. Rowe Price."
Walper eventually helped to codify corporate ethics and culture. Early workers noted that she produced and completed everything impeccably. All work was free of the smallest typos or miscalculations that might reflect a lack of thoroughness on behalf of clients. "Marie was able to not only keep alive that work ethic and culture, but also to get people on board and excited about helping clients first and foremost," says Davidson. "Employees bought in because they saw positive results for clients."
Promoting a Client-Centered Communication Style
Vassar-educated Craig came to T. Rowe Price to handle statistical calculations and accounting. She was, by all accounts, equally fastidious in her work. In those days, long before Excel, Craig produced financial charts through a painstaking, manual process. "That's how they all got along," notes Davidson. "They put their noses to the grindstone."
Her contributions didn't stop there, however. She was also known for her clear speaking and writing style in an externally facing role as she became a client-counselor overseeing many accounts. "She had a way, when speaking to clients, of taking complex, abstract and jargon-filled concepts and translating them to an individual's level of understanding without being condescending—which is a hard trick to pull off," says Davidson.
Her communication skills helped shape Price's writings for financial trade publications such as Barron's, as well as client bulletins and explainers. Whereas he would sometimes err on the side of including too much detail, Craig aligned intricate ideas with real-world impact. "There's no way to overstate the importance of being a custodian of information to the longevity of the firm and its success over time," observes Davidson. Like Walper, Craig would become an officer of the company's board before retirement.
The Impact of Their Legacy Remains
The work and leadership of Walper and Craig carries forward to T. Rowe Price's current corporate culture, immersed in collaboration and diversity of thought. The company encourages different perspectives, opinions, and experiences as a way to deliver the best outcomes for clients. In doing so, corporate leadership preserves the founders' practice of engaging with associates and encouraging their progression.
Cheri Belski, a corporate vice president with over 19 years' experience at T. Rowe Price, points out that employees perform at the highest level when they feel comfortable in their work environment. The company's emphasis on being gender-balanced brings out the best in its associates, which translates to increased innovation and better results.
In that regard, T. Rowe Price owes a debt of gratitude to the open mindset of its founder and the courage, acumen, and performance of the women trailblazers such as Walper and Craig. They set the tone for future generations of all genders interested in successful financial advisory careers.