Fleet Mortgage Group's selection of Gerald L. Baker as chairman and chief executive could be a strong indication that Fleet intends to be an aggressive competitor in the reshuffled mortgage business, industry observers say.

"We've always been very strong in secondary marketing and in servicing," said Michael R. Zucchini, vice chairman of Fleet Financial Group, Providence, R.I., which owns 81% of Fleet Mortgage. "Jerry has excellent retail strengths. He'll be a terrific addition for the originations side. We think he'll make a terrific allaround chairman."

Mr. Baker will be moving to Fleet's Columbia, S.C., headquarters from Pasadena, Calif., where he has been managing director at Countrywide Credit Industries charge of marketing.

Earlier, he was vice president and director of the marketing services division of BankAmerica Corp., San Francisco. Before that he was president of Kaufman, Lansky & Baker, a public relations, advertising, and marketing company in San Diego.

"This guy oversaw absolutely the greatest mortgage conquest on record" last year at Countrywide, said Jonathan Gray, a securities analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., New York.

"He booked $53 billion of mortgages last year. Imagine that, $53 billion. And the credit quality has been good, and there have been no computer problems."'

Tom O'Donnell, an analyst with Smith Barney & Co., New York, said, "The problem for mortgage banks is to optimize opportunities now that things are settling down. Fleet already has some good financial people, so it makes sense for them to go with a strong marketing person." "Maybe it will allow Zucchini to spend more time in Providence," he added.

Mr. Zucchini has been interim chairman and CEO since the June departure of Andrew Woodward, who left in when to become president of NationsBank's mortgage unit. Like Mr. Baker, Mr. Woodward was a marketing-oriented execu five.

Mr. Baker, however, does not want to be cast as a one-dimensional marketing specialist. "I think they were looking for a total executive,"' he said. "I've 'had the good fortune to sit at the right hand of the icon of mortgage banking. I hope some of his wisdom has rubbed off." He was alluding to Angelo R. Mozilo, Countrywide's vice chairman and cofounder.

Mr. Baker's salary was not disclosed. His pay at Countrywide for the fiscal year ended Feb. 28, including salary and bonus, was $581,333 in a record period for the business.

His predecessor, Mr. Woodward, made $530,000 in 1993, a bit less than in 1992. Fleet Mortgage experienced a severe drain on its servicing portfolio last year because of prepayments, and the resulting writedowns proved to be a drag on the earnings of its parent -- and probably on Mr. Woodward's as well.

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