After just three weeks on the job, the head of mortgage lending at BankAmerica Corp. has quit. The defection of Graham Williams to ITT Financial Corp. is the latest episode in a long-running management soap opera at the San Francisco-based company.

Since BankAmerica merged with Security Pacific Corp. in April, four senior mortgage executives from the two banks have left. All had been offered senior jobs at Bank of America, which is one of the nation's biggest home lenders.

Mr. Williams, 39, had been with Bank of America since 1989 and was promoted to the top mortgage post last month.

Home Lending Commitment

At ITT Financial, he is joining his former boss, Frank Schultz, who left the bank in June to become chairman and chief executive of the St. Louis-based company. Mr. Schultz, once slated to run all consumer operations at Bank of America after the merger, had held the top mortgage post since 1987.

Security Pacific's Scott McAfee, the Los Angeles company's No. 1 mortgage executive, also turned down an offer to take a senior post at Bank of America and has not yet resurfaced. One of his key lieutenants, Luke Hayden, also bowed out and took a job at Chemical Bank.

The turmoil has caused some observers to question Bank of America's commitment to home mortgage lending.

"B of A's understanding of what it wants to be in mortgage banking lacks definition," asserted a headhunter, who requested anonymity.

James Jones, the new boss of consumer lending at the bank, strongly rejected the accusation.

"We were clearly surprised at Graham's choice to leave," said Mr. Jones, who joined Bank of America in May from Wells Fargo & Co. However, he added, the bank's commitment to mortgages does not need to be defended.

Bank of America will originate more than $10 billion of mortgages this year, Mr. Jones said, and it currently services about $50 billion of mortgages.

|Major Profit Contributor'

The mortgage department is one of Bank of America's "major profit contributors," Mr. Jones said. Bank of America does not break out the unit's results.

Mr. Jones plans to fill the mortgage post by the end of the year. He expects a heavy interview schedule later this month at the Mortgage Bankers Association of America's annual convention, which is being held in San Francisco.

San Francisco Assignments

"Between breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I'll be well fed by the end of the week," he said. "There are a lot of folks who are interested in talking to me."

Mr. Williams, for his part, will remain in San Francisco as president of the newly created ITT Residential Mortgage Corp. He will manage the conglomerate's two major mortgage unit -- ITT Federal Bank, a thrift based in Newport Beach, Calif., and ITT Bowest Mortgage Corp., a servicing concern based in LaJolla, Calif. He will report directly to Mr. Schultz.

"I've worked with Frank before and we were able to work out a situation that was agreeable," said Mr. Williams in a phone interview.

Mr. Williams must have been offered significantly greater pay than at the bank, observers said. He also may have jumped at the opportunity to engineer some big growth, given ITT's vow to become "a major player" in mortgages.

However, the move is somewhat of an embarrassment for Mr. Williams as well as the bank. In an interview in September, he spoke proudly of his promotion and said he was confident that the mortgage management melee at the bank had ended. "This is it," he said.

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