Mortgage finance may not be rocket science, but Advanta Corp. has hired a physicist for one of its top spots.
Olaf Olafsson last week was named president of the Spring Hills, Pa.- based company, filling a long-vacant post.
Mr. Olafsson, a native of Iceland, has been a member of Advanta's board since December.
He came to the United States in 1982 to study atomic physics and was most recently president and chief executive officer of Sony Entertainment Inc., a Sony Corp. unit that he founded. There, the 35-year-old executive established and directed the company's popular Playstation video game business.
He is a best-selling novelist in Iceland and author of a novel, "The Economist," which has been called an "offspring of Dostoyevsky's towering predecessor" "Crime and Punishment."
Though he is accomplished on other fronts, Mr. Olafsson acknowledges that he is inexperienced in specialty finance. "I can barely balance my checkbook," he quipped.
But his limited background is not necessarily important, he said. "When I started Sony Interactive Entertainment in 1991, I knew nothing about that business," he said.
Advanta has a lot of mortgage expertise on board already, he said.
Advanta is concentrating on the future, he said. "It's a new era, a clean slate." The company's sale of its credit card unit is behind it, and it is now looking for growth. "I'm walking into an organization that's upbeat," he said.
The current state of the subprime mortgage sector will create opportunities, he said. Many companies in the volatile business have seen their stock-market value drop by half in recent months as investors lost confidence in their accounting methods.
"I like a business where there is a little bit of upheaval, like the subprime mortgage business," he said. Advanta is spending a lot of time figuring out how to take advantage of that, Mr. Olafsson said.
He said he will be working with top management to expand the company. "My style is to work closely with business unit heads-we'll be looking at where we step on the accelerator."
With the sale of its credit card unit last year, Advanta's focus has shifted to its mortgage division.
Advanta has $6.6 billion of managed assets and a $9.2 billion servicing portfolio.
Advanta is not likely to fall prey to the same problems that have plagued other subprime companies, Mr. Olafsson noted, because the company has better access to capital.