CAN A TOP money-center banker find happiness at a Flushing, N.Y., mortgage emporium? Thomas S. Johnson hopes so.

Mr. Johnson, a former president of Manufactures Hanover Corp. and Chemical Banking Corp., reported to work last week as chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Green Point Savings Bank.

Green Point's business - taking deposits and making home loans - is a far cry from Mr. Johnson's past pursuits. At Hanover and Chemical he was responsible for wholesale banking, investment banking, trading, and treasury.

"This is the first time I will be totally immersed in what we would have called retail banking," he said, adding that he is "really excited" about the prospect.

Green Point, with $6.2 billion in assets, is very profitable, strongly capitalized, and, in Mr. Johnson's words, "refreshingly well focused." What's more, it is about to convert from mutual to stock ownership, in an offering expected to raise about $800 million.

All the same, Mr. Johnson's decision to join Green Point surprised observers. Earlier this year, his name was mentioned for such high-profile posts as president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Mr. Johnson still seems to have federal policy matters on his mind. In a phone interview last week, he inadvertantly referred to Green Point as "Greenspan" - not once but three times.

Mr. Johnson, 52, spent 20 years at Chemical, including a stint as president from 1983 to 1989. He went on to become president of Hanover - only to be forced out when the two companies merged in 1991.

He has generally kept a low profile since then, though he popped up briefly last year as president of Olympia & York, the troubled real estate developer. He quit after two weeks.

Career Crossovers

In joining Green Point, he becomes the second prominent commercial banker to cross over into the mortgage world in recent years. Two years ago, Lawrence Small, vice chairman of Citicorp, jumped to the No. 2 post at the Federal National Mortgage Association.

"Home mortgages are probably the largest single financial product in the United States," Mr. Johnson said. The mortgage business "certainly isn't a boring type of thing."

Green Point, long a leader in the New York area, specializes in "low doc" and "no doc" mortgages - loans that require little or no documentation of borrowers' incomes.

The thrift covers the risks by demanding high downpayments, conducting careful property appraisals, and in some cases charging high interest rates.

"If you're going to require less documentation of borrowers' incomes and financial assets, you better make darn sure you know what the asset is that you're lending against," Mr. Johnson said, "That's what Greenspan has always done."

Er, Green Point.

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