Goodbye, Perth Amboy.
Felix Beck has spent many years commuting from his suburban home to Perth Amboy, N.J., nestled among the oil refineries hard by Raritan Bay.
From this unlikely headquarters, he led Margaretten & Co. from loan originations of just $3 billion in 1990 to $11.6 billion last year and a place among the top 20 originators.
Now Margaretten has been swallowed by Chemical Banking Corp., the resulting Chemical Residential Mortgage Co. has moved a dozen miles to new quarters in Metropark, N.J., Mr. Beck has retired as chairman, and his long-time No. 2 man, David Frank, will head Chemical's mortgage operations.
Yet the infectiously cheerful retiree shows no signs of melancholy. When he appeared at a seminar recently, another attendee said, "Felix, you have a big smile on your face now that you've cashed in your chips." Mr. Beck tendered some $9 million of Margaretten stock in the Chemical takeover.
He replied: "I've kept smiling through the bad times as well."
Indeed he has. At a recent testimonial dinner at a New York hotel, speaker after speaker talked about his high energy, positive attitude, and charismatic demeanor. And many of them were top executives of competitors in an industry where the fierceness of competition often breeds contempt.
Angelo Mozilo, vice chairman and a founder of Countrywide Credit Industries, Pasadena, Calif., said, "I've debated Felix across the country. He's a big believer in the importance of the sales force, and I'm not.
"The difference is that he has the ability to mobilize and motivate a lot of people. He has the respect of the people who worked for him all those years. He's extremely charismatic, he has tremendous team-building capabilities, and he's cemented it all with insight."
Mr. Beck, for his part, says simply, "I think people should disagree agreeably."
Leland Brendsel, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., said he had done business with many mortgage bankers over the years, and Mr. Beck was at the top of that list because he was one of the first Mr. Brendsel worked with when he started in the business.
"When I walked into his conference room, it was immediately obvious that Felix was unique," Mr. Brendsel recalled. Standing before a map full of pins, "he looked more like a field general directing his troops than any mortgage banker I'd ever met."
Mr. Beck explained to Mr. Brendsel that the pins in the map helped him keep track of the performance of branch offices. "It's clear that Felix has never stopped keeping tabs on what is going on," Mr. Brendsel said.
Mr. Beck's reputation as an industry leader, though, is not based solely on his personality. Through his activities as a one-time head of the Mortgage Bankers Association and head of many MBA committees, he has made a concrete mark on the history of the industry.
His biggest trophy is his successful drive in 1983 to eliminate the interest-rate ceiling on FHAVA loans, thus clearing the way for a major expansion in government-insured lending.
Warren Lasko, executive vice president of the MBA and a Beck protege, said this change "made the FHA a more workable tool for America's modest-income homebuyers."
A related coup was the federal preemption of state usury laws, which further facilitated the national reach of the mortgage banking industry.
For his part, Mr. Beck also speaks with pride about his accomplishments in expanding the horizons of mortgage banking. And he adds another ornament: he was instrumental in winning access to Freddie Mac for mortgage banks.
Some hardliners might insist that Mr. Beck's greatest coup was to sell Margaretten twice: first to Primerica, which acquired it as part of Berg Enterprises in 1985 and spun it off as Margaretten in 1992 just as origination volume was about to explode; then, after it was revitalized, to Chemical Banking this year at what may have been the peak in demand for mortgage assets.
Testimonial dinners aren't roasts, and nobody had anything harsh to say at the Waldorf. But Mr. Lasko did point to one of Mr. Beck's shortcomings: horrible eating habits. "To the best of my knowledge, he has a diet consisting solely of overcooked beef and peanut butter," said Mr. Lasko.