The Mortgage Bankers Association's top official says leaving the job was his idea.

The MBA executive vice presidency is a "pressure-cooker" post, said Warren Lasko in phone interview from his offfice Thursday after the association announced he was leaving the job.

"I'm about to be 57 years old, and I see some of my counterparts finding ways to ease up a little bit and still do something exciting," Mr. Lasko said. "This is my chance."

He will remain at the trade group as head of its nascent international programs, to help nations such as Argentina and Brazil set up mortgage markets like the U.S. market. But Mr. Lasko's move, though voluntary, was also seen as a convenient way to make room for fresh leadership in a rapidly changing industry.

Mr. Lasko decided he wasn't the man for the job ahead, said Ron J. McCord, president of the trade group.

"It was really Warren who had the foresight to say 'I've been here 12 years, and I'm going to be wanting to do some other things down the road, (and) I don't want to be right in the middle of this process,' " said Mr. McCord, who is also president of American Mortgage and Investment Co.

"I really applaud him for having that vision," he added.

Mr. Lasko is leaving in the wake of a report that recommended a drastic overhaul of the trade group. The report, by San Francisco's Stratmor Group and Schlegel & Associates of Chevy Chase, Md., said the MBA must provide more valuable services to current members and find ways to attract new ones. In recent years, the group's revenues have fallen, even as expenses have risen.

Mr. McCord said Mr. Lasko's successor will have to focus more than ever on reaching out to a diverse membership, and will need "good people skills and good marketing skills."

The consultants' report also said the trade group suffered from low morale and management conflicts that were allowed to fester. Mr. McCord said those findings played no role in Mr. Lasko's decision to leave.

The trade group expects to install a successor by the time it meets this October in New York for its annual convention.

The mortgage banking industry is vastly different than it was in 1985, when Mr. Lasko joined the MBA. For one thing, mortgage banks have doubled their market share-they make more than half of all home loans-and the big players are much bigger, Mr. Lasko reflected Thursday.

The industry's burning issues are also different. Back then, the No. 1 goal was to prevent a Republican administration from dismantling federal housing programs, like the FHA mortgage insurance program, which had historically been the backbone of mortgage banking.

"Our major triumphs were holding the line on FHA fees, getting the FHA mortgage limits raised, and holding the line on Ginnie Mae fees," he said.

Mr. Lasko's long experience at the Government National Mortgage Association, known as Ginnie Mae, equipped him for the heated bureaucratic and legislative battles of the 1980s. He had worked at Ginnie Mae from 1977 to 1985; when he left he was executive vice president.

Today, as in many other American industries, the key issue for mortgage banks is how to boost profits at a time of flat demand, Mr. Lasko said.

"You have CEOs-many of them now reporting to bank owners-under enormous pressure to produce better results," he said, "in an environment where housing demand for the foreseeable future is fairly flat for various demographic reasons."

There are still too many mortgage banks in the business, which makes it hard to raise prices. The only option is to cut costs by using new technology, he said.

What does this mean for his successor?

"I think it will be less important (for him or her) than it was for me to know the Washington issues, and more important to know what it's like to run a mortgage company," Mr. Lasko said.

Mr. Lasko said he expects the trade group to provide more services that help members run their day-to-day businesses.

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