As he watches James A. Johnson in action, Franklin D. Raines says he is reminded of a scene from the movie "Star Wars." A pilot locks in his sights amid a flurry of laser beams and missiles-and a voice in his earphones says, "Stay on target, stay on target, stay on target."

Mr. Raines, who has been tapped to succeed Mr. Johnson as chairman of the huge Fannie Mae, clearly admires his colleague's sense of corporate focus. And the sentiment is reciprocated; Mr. Johnson has only praise for his successor-in-waiting.

Specifically, Mr. Johnson tips his hat to Mr. Raines' budgetary prowess and grasp of technology. As President Clinton's budget director, Mr. Raines presided over the government's first balanced budget in decades. This year, even before formally assuming power, Mr. Raines led the budget-setting for Fannie Mae.

"Nobody in the company doubts that Frank is the right successor," Mr. Johnson says.

This mutual admiration is only the most visible sign of a carefully planned and executed succession at the housing finance giant.

Mr. Johnson, who succeeded David O. Maxwell in 1991, says Mr. Maxwell urged him at the time to read everything he could about management succession. That same sense of rigor marks the current transition, Mr. Johnson says.

"This is a time we build momentum rather than lose momentum," he says.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Raines have been working on the momentum since April 15, when Mr. Raines' appointment was announced. For Mr. Raines, his hiring marks a homecoming; he had been Fannie Mae vice chairman from 1991 through 1996. He then left for the White House.

For months, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Raines have been working and traveling in tandem, graciously deferring to one another in meetings with investors, analysts, and the media.

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