Norwest Mortgage Inc. has placed longtime executive Peter Wissinger in charge of its entire sales group - one of the largest of its kind in the mortgage industry.

As managing director of retail operations, Mr. Wissinger will oversee 3,000 loan officers who offer mortgages for the Des Moines unit of Norwest Corp. The sales group works from 700 branches in 50 states.

Mark Oman, president of Norwest Mortgage, said Mr. Wissinger is well suited to his new position.

As a mortgage originations executive, "his innovation and leadership have been very instrumental" in helping the organization become a dominant lender, Mr. Oman said.

Norwest originated $12.3 billion of mortgages as of midyear. The company was servicing $100 billion, a 40% increase from the yearend 1994 level.

Mr. Wissinger's appointment marks the first time Norwest has had just one executive overseeing the mortgage sales team. The move "gives us a unified front" as the operation grows, a Norwest Mortgage spokeswoman said.

Mr. Wissinger, who has had sales management responsibilities with Norwest Mortgage for the past decade, believes in giving his troops significant autonomy.

Area managers "run the local branch like they own it," he said. "This fosters a very empowered, involved management culture."

The company is giving its salespeople additional power by outfitting them with upgraded laptop computers. The systems allow them to immediately access credit reports for prospective borrowers and to respond more quickly to loan applications.

Mr. Wissinger also employs an in-house art department to prepare customized marketing brochures and other literature for brokers. It's not uncommon to see on his desk sales kits designed for Norwest representatives who are working with local realty agents to promote available properties.

Until now, Mr. Wissinger oversaw operations in the eastern half of the United States, while Charles Ohmer headed a smaller operation in the West. Both men reported to Mr. Oman.

Now, Mr. Ohmer will report to Mr. Wissinger while the company looks for a replacement, the spokeswoman said.

All told, Mr. Wissinger has held management positions in the housing industry for the past 19 years.

In the new slot, Mr. Wissinger plans to bring to bear know-how he has amassed during the past 10 years. He joined the mortgage unit in 1985 as a vice president overseeing a branch operation. In 1990, he was named division manager overseeing all retail operations east of the Mississippi River.

Norwest leverages its "strong consumer orientation" to build business, Mr. Oman said in an interview earlier this fall.

Mr. Wissinger said he and the rest of the Norwest management team are well aware that "mortgages are the single most important financial transaction in customers' lives."

Norwest estimates that through its retail and wholesale juggernauts, it originates loans for one of every 20 homes financed in the United States.

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