Metris Cos. has hired retiring MasterCard executive William J. Brennan as senior vice president for sales and account management.

Mr. Brennan, 60, has been MasterCard's senior vice president of member relations for eight years. In hiring him the flourishing card issuer, a unit of Fingerhut Cos., seemed to signal plans to strengthen management as it enters new markets.

Metris, based in St. Louis Park, Minn., is known primarily for marketing subprime credit cards, but it recently launched a cobranded card for Bally Total Fitness and provides card registration services for Household International Inc.

"Metris has done well with risk marketing," said Michele Turkel, president of Spectrum International Consulting Corp. in Scarsdale, N.Y. "They are building accounts, but I don't think they have any intention of staying solely in the subprime market."

Though Mr. Brennan officially retires from MasterCard on June 30, his hiring at Metris was effective immediately.

Mr. Brennan said that he had planned to relax through the summer and autumn before taking on fresh business responsibilities, but that Ronald N. Zebeck, Metris' chief executive officer and president, persuaded him otherwise.

"I was not looking for a job," Mr. Brennan said.

Mr. Zebeck and Mr. Brennan have worked together on various projects for more than two decades, most notably on the GM MasterCard. Mr. Zebeck was general manager of General Motors' credit card operations during the launch of the GM MasterCard in 1992.

Mr. Zebeck approached Mr. Brennan when he heard of his impending retirement and offered him the chance to lead a sales team for the company. "I got very excited about this opportunity" to work with Mr. Zebeck, Mr. Brennan said. "I thought rather than wait, I wanted to pursue it right now."

The new challenge for Mr. Brennan will be to help foster Metris' already rapid growth. The company reported net income of $7.7 million in the first quarter of 1997, up 101% from the first quarter of 1996.

"My principal targets will be the growth of fee-based services and the credit card business through acquisitions and cobranding," said Mr. Brennan, who hopes to assemble a sales force within 90 days.

RAM Research Group of Frederick, Md., tagged Metris as the fastest- growing credit card issuer in 1996. Metris says its receivables jumped 197% last year, to $1.6 billion, and its card accounts soared by 128%, to 1.8 million.

Before Mr. Brennan announced he was joining Metris, one industry consultant speculated that he might surface in a company further west, harking back to his start in a California office of MasterCard.

Indeed, Mr. Brennan and his wife had retreated to their second home in the warmer climes of Tuscon before he was wooed up north with a job offer.

Mr. Brennan is a 30-year veteran of the consumer credit business. His last post at MasterCard followed a stint managing its western region office, in San Ramon, Calif.

Before joining the card association, Mr. Brennan held senior vice president positions at First Interstate Bancorp, in both the bank card and retail banking operations.

He joined First Interstate in 1977 after serving for seven years as senior vice president of operations at Diners Club Inc.

"It's a great move for Bill-he has a lot of experience not only in banking, but also in sales," said James L. Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting Inc. of Fairfield, Conn.

Mr. Brennan said he had "a lot of energy" to contribute to Metris. Noting that he had spent most of his career in start-ups and turnarounds, Mr. Brennan said that Metris' "growth situation" felt familiar to him.

"At Metris, because of the company's size and structure, Bill has the opportunity to be very innovative and decisions can be made quickly and decisively," said Frank Caruana, director of marketing systems at Danielian Consulting Group of Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Metris does a lot of data-base marketing, which is an industry watchword," said Jeffrey Baxter, principal of S.J. Baxter and Associates of Forest Hill, Md.

"They target segments like the subprime market that larger issuers are reluctant to get into because of the high delinquency rates," Mr. Baxter said. "And they are so successful because they started from a small base."

But he said, in order to offset the risk of that market, Metris will have to adjust its pricing to get higher revenues.

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