John Johnson walked into a federal job fair back in March looking for work as an accountant. He got more than he bargained for - a major job with the Resolution Trust Corp. in which he resembles an air traffice controller more than an accountant.

It's his job to identify and keep track of securities as they land at the RTC after having been stripped from failed thrifts, and to see them safely off when they are sold. Right now, some $10 billion is under his purview, and this could rise fas as landings continue to outstrip takeoffs.

Bureaucratic Afterthought

As vital as Mr. Johnson's job is, it wasn't until the bailout agency had been in business two years that it hired someone to manage the securities portfolio.

The RTC could control $30 billion in securities as it takes over more thrifts, said Mr. Johnson, his expressive eyebrows dancing, in a recent interview.

In September, the RTC decided that all securities in conservatorships across the country must be funneled to the main office in Washington. Before that, the RTC's securities were sold from individual institutions.

"It was done in bits and pieces," Mr. Johnson explained. "No one had a feel for how much we had."

To integrate its securities sales, the agency hired SunGuard Financial Systems, Canoga Park, Calif., to help Mr. Johnson create a portfolio management system that will let the agency catalogue and track its securities assets.

As director of the $5 million, two-year contract with SunGuard, Mr. Johnson explains the RTC's needs to company. For example, rather than lump all the RTC's adjustable-rate mortgages together, Mr. Johnson had SunGuard separate the ARMs according to the index they move with, such as the prime rate.

In addition, Mr. Johnson helps the RTC's capital markets officials decide which securities will be sold. He also informs prospective buyers about sales, collects bids, and executes sales transactions.

A Lucky Break

At the job fair in March, Mr. Johnson, 39, was one of 600 people to submit their resumes to the RTC.

"I went down there looking for an accounting position," he said.

At the time, he was operations manager of Perpetual Savings Bank's $2 billion portfolio. He had spent seven years with the Washington-based thrift, which was recently taken over by the government.

Mr. Johnson said Perpetual's demise was predictable. There were 50 people in his department at one point, but by the time he left, on June 21, there were only 18.

The New Castle, Pa., native came to Washington in 1970 to attend Georgetown University. He earned a degree in international affairs with the intention of joining the foreign service. But Mr. Johnson failed twice to pass the rigorous test.

How did he get into financial services? "I needed a job."

His first was as a teller at First American Bank. "Opportunities just sort of opened up from there," he said.

After a decade with the bank, during which he moved up to an assistant vice presidency for portfolio management, he left to join Perpetual. While there he earned a master's degree in accounting from George Washington University. He became a CPA last year.

Referring to his employment with hard-luck organizations -- First American, tainted by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal; the failed Perpetual, and now the RTC -- Mr. Johnson quipped: "I've worked with all the fun institutions."

System Now Operating

The portfolio management system went live for the first time on Sept. 24. Mr. Johnson said he is confident the system will allow the RTC to get better prices for its securities, the agency's most easily sold asset.

For enjoyment, Mr. Johnson sings. He sang at President Reagan's first inaugural and with the National Symphony in Carnegie Hall. After an eight-year hiatus, he has joined a men's classical choral group that is preparing to perform at the National Gallery of Art.

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