If publicly traded mortgage companies were animals, they would be on the endangered-species list. Only a few healthy ones remain.

But don't tell Joe K. Pickett, chairman of HomeSide Lending Inc. His company is charging headlong into the mortgage business with a fierce approach that is symbolized by its mascot, a six-foot-long alligator that lives in a pond in front of HomeSide's Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters.

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