A career that has spanned plenty of California earthquakes-both economic and literal-has made Joseph Harvey cautious. "I'm two years older than dirt," the 60-year-old Countrywide veteran joked. "I've seen everything that can and will happen."

As chief executive of Full Spectrum Lending, Countrywide Credit Industries' 17-month-old retail subprime lending arm, Mr. Harvey is taking his time to build what most observers believe will become a national powerhouse.

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