As Joe K. Pickett ventures among the crocodiles and kangaroos-and the equally unfamiliar mortgage markets in the land Down Under-he is keenly aware that people back home may regard him as a pioneer.
Mr. Pickett, the chief executive of HomeSide Inc., figures he will be closely watched by other mortgage lenders considering setting up shop in international markets to offset slipping profit margins at home.
"Without question, everyone is intrigued with what we are doing," Mr. Pickett said. "U.S. companies need to be thinking about offshore opportunities."
Mr. Pickett, who has lived in Jacksonville, Fla., since 1985, will be relocating to Melbourne next month for two or three years to oversee global mortgage operations for HomeSide's new parent. National Australia Bank bought the mortgage company last month.
In an interview last week, Mr. Pickett said his main responsibility will be to "drive out unnecessary costs" in the mortgage servicing operations of National Australia Bank.
The bank's Australian servicing centers will be equipped with much of HomeSide's technology, and several servicing and technology managers will also move to Australia to help modify the servicing operations.
National Australia Bank owns banks in New Zealand, England, Australia, Scotland, and Hong Kong. Mr. Pickett said he expects to visit each of these countries to implement HomeSide's servicing strategies. National Australia has a portfolio that is worth about $30 billion.
Mr. Pickett said staying in touch with what is going on in Jacksonville, nearly 7,000 miles away and with a 16-hour time difference, will present another challenge.
"Ongoing communication and coordination of operations is going to be crucial," Mr. Pickett said.
Mr. Pickett will keep the title of CEO of HomeSide, but chief operating officer Hugh R. Harris will oversee HomeSide's day-to-day domestic activities.
Mr. Pickett said he will make frequent trips back to the United States to attend industry conferences and other events.
Mr. Pickett also hopes that when he is not accruing frequent- flier miles, he will be able to take advantage of his new surroundings. An avid hunter, Mr. Pickett said he is looking forward to going on expeditions in Australia.
The 2000 Summer Olympics will be held in Sydney. Mr. Pickett and his wife expect to still be in Australia then, and he said they would like to get tickets to some of the events.
Mr. Pickett said he is not worried about fitting in. He and his wife lived abroad when he was in the Army. And he has made several trips to Melbourne, so he is familiar with what is probably the biggest difference between the United States and Australia.
"I've already driven on the left hand side of the road," he said.