WHO THE HECK is Ralph Hall?

That's the question some mortgage bankers are asking following his promotion to general manager and chief operating officer of General Motors Acceptance Corp.'s main mortgage unit.

Mr. Hall, 44, slipped into the unit virtually unnoticed noticed a year ago, after running a bank for GMAC in Utah. When his promotion was announced on Sept. 16 as part of a top management reshuffling, he was still an unknown in the mortgage world.

Unlike most top executives at big mortgage companies, Mr. Hall has spent relatively little time in the business -- one year at GMAC and four at Citicorp Mortgage in the 1980s.

Nonetheless, he said he's well-prepared to help lead GMAC in its avowed plan to expand its already large position in mortgage banking.

"I think I bring lotto the party and, no, I don't think I have to have been a lending officer to manage the business," he said in an interview last week.

"A guy that's been in the business 30 years brings a lot of experience that I don't bring, but on the other hand. I have a lot of people with that experience."

Mr. Hall will report to Mark Korell, who recently was named chief executive of GMAC's mortgage group., The group consists of GMAC Mortgage of Pennsylvania and Iowa -- Mr. Hall's unit -- and Residential Funding Corp., a securitization business in Minnesota.

He joined GMAC Mortgage, based in Elkins Park, Pa., last year as executive vice president of administration. In March, he was shifted to executive vice president of originations. Now, he oversees originations, servicing, and secondary marketing. He will continue to run originations directly until a replacement is named, he said.

Mr. Hall moves into his new job at a crucial time for the mortgage unit. GMAC, the parent company, recently renewed its commitment to the mortgage operations, after mulling a sale. Now, Mr. Hall and his colleagues are plotting an expansion of the business' 100-office retail network and $39 billion servicing portfolio.

"The reaffirmation of the parent's intent to grow this place has had an enormously positive effect on the employees and the business in general," Mr. Hall said.

It doesn't happen often, but a senior executive has left World Savings and Loan Association, the widely acclaimed California thrift.

John R. Donahue, a 16-year veteran of World Savings, has jumped to American Savings Bank, Irvine, Calif., as executive vice president and director of lending portfolio management. At World Savings, based in Oakland, he had been group senior vice president of loan underwriting and human resources.

Mr. Donahue, 50, said he still thinks the world of World. But at American, he said, "I'll probably have the opportunity to do things that I wouldn't have done at World."

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