When Jeanette Brummell joined Chemical Bank in 1977, she hardly expected to end up as head of one of the country's largest "warehouse" lending operations.

But 16 years later, there she is.

The 47-year-old former assistant planner for the City of Newark. N.J., rose through the ranks of anonymous vice presidents to emerge in 1987 as the head of Chemical's division that provides working capital to mortgage banks.

Her roster of clients includes 23 of the country's largest mortgage banks. Right now, Chemical has some $1.3 billion in warehouse lines of credit outstanding - up 35% from 1989.

The growth is especially notable because it has come at a time when many banks have pulled back from warehouse lending, as part of a broader retreat from realty lending.

Chemical has "stayed committed to the industry through good and bad times," said Judith Berry, chief financial officer of American Residential Holding Corp. of La Jolla, Calif, one of the bank's biggest warehouse customers.

"Under her direction, they've increased their exposure significantly over the past few years," Ms. Berry added.

Ms. Brummell is an emigree from the public sector; she began her professional life building parks and swimming pools for the inner-city poor.

As such, she does not seem a natural fit for the warehouse division, the mortgage lending sector most removed from the homebuyer.

But while Ms. Brummell says she sometimes misses the 1970s idealism that drew her to city planning, she is no wide-eyed flower child.

Thrill of the Chase

After leaving the public sector, she soon found she had a taste for the high-powered world or warehouse lending.

In this field, commercial banks extend revolving lines of credit to mortgage banks. Mortgage bankers use this credit to carry their inventory, or warehouse, of loans until they are sold into the secondary mortgage market.

Having a warehouse line is considered crucial for mortgage banks. Indeed, Ms. Berry of American Residential called warehouse credit "the lifeblood of the business."

Ms. Brummell describes her job in surprisingly low-key terms. The work, she says, is "fun" and "interesting."

A Quiet Force

Such descriptions mask the forceful but controlled stance Chemical - and Ms. Brummell - have taken in warehouse lending.

Ms. Brummell appears at ease with the obvious differences between working for a city and a bank. In the public sector, she says, the bottom line takes a back seat to the civic benefits of a loan or project.

Not so in the multibillion-dollar warehouse lending market. Decisions at Chemical must ultimately help enhance shareholder value, Ms. Brummell says.

But true to her origins, she sees past the credit evaluations and the corporations to the people she says her work helps.

"I don't see all the houses that get financed," she says with a smile. "But they're there, and that's great."

Skillful Management

Patricia Micka, Chemical's managing director for real estate finance, has high praise for the way Ms. Brummell managed the division's growth.

"She took over the group and really repositioned the business and focused on mortgage companies with $2 billion or more in servicing," she said. "I think her strong banking background and credit background bring strength to Chemical's warehouse lending."

Perhaps Ms. Brummell's greatest strength is the breadth of her interests and background. Pointing out that mortgage-backed bonds led the way in the asset securitization that is the norm today, she says she likes mortgage banking because it is a "leading-edge business."

But she also says she enjoys the work because she gets to meet a lot of "good people."

Fund-Raising Role

Ms. Brummell brings an apparently boundless energy to the job as well. The mother of two is involved in fund-raising for Spelman College, her alma mater. And by all accounts except her own, she is an accomplished singer who sometimes performs before an audience.

Ms. Berry sums it up: "She travels a lot, has significant responsibilities with the bank, has a family, and somehow is able to find time to do these other things."

Ms. Brummell says Chemical's pursuit of the upper echelons among mortgage banks will continue. She is not, she says, one to rest on her laurels.

Chemical's recent merger with Manufacturers Hanover produced enough banking muscle to allow her to expand her division even more, she says.

A Major Player

"There's a new culture developing that says Chemical is a big company and there's a lot we can do," she said.

That optimism allows her to shrug off predictions of dire consequences as the current mortgage refinancing boom and accompanying surge in demand for warehouse credit winds down.

"The great thing about this business is that it has always been here, no matter what the interest rates."

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