Robert H. Warrington calls himself an "old-time mortgage guy," and such people rarely rise further in a banking company than head of mortgage operations.

But last week Mr. Warrington, the chairman and chief executive officer of Old Kent Mortgage Co., was named as one of four vice chairmen of its Grand Rapids, Mich. parent, Old Kent Financial Corp..

Mr. Warrington said the promotion will give him more visibility at the corporate level because he will serve on the bank holding company's board and several committees. In addition, he'll have more exposure to the investment community, since he will take part in company road shows and analyst visits.

But Mr. Warrington had already moved beyond simply overseeing the mortgage division. In 1995 the banking company's chief executive officer, David J. Wagner, handed him the additional responsibility of leading its investment management and trust services units, even though Mr. Warrington was a mortgage banker by training. And two years ago Mr. Warrington was put in charge of Old Kent's fledgling insurance division as well.

Mr. Warrington is now in charge of all of Old Kent's fee-based businesses. Analysts said his promotion reflects the job he has done in building up these divisions and making Old Kent less dependent on spread- based revenues and income.

"Old Kent has been very adamant about becoming a diversified financial services company and is growing very rapidly," said Timothy Willi, an analyst with A.G. Edwards & Sons.

Less than a quarter of $13.8 billion-asset Old Kent's revenues came from the fee-based businesses before Mr. Warrington took them over. Last year they contributed 35% of Old Kent Financial's revenues.

The mortgage banking company has been behind much of this growth. Old Kent Financial has bank branches only in Michigan and Illinois, but its mortgage company has retail offices in 25 states, and it services loans in every state except Alaska. Buying Republic Mortgage Corp. in 1995 and National Pacific Mortgage Corp. in 1996 gave Old Kent Mortgage a presence in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah.

"Not many banks of Old Kent's size have made such a strong commitment to mortgage banking," Mr. Willi said. "Old Kent has made it a primary business line."

This is especially evident on the originations side of the business. Old Kent originated nearly $6.9 billion of mortgages last year, more than large banks such as Banc One Corp., First Chicago NBD Corp., and Mellon Bank Corp. Old Kent services about $13 billion of mortgages.

Mr. Warrington said he is fortunate that Mr. Wagner took an active interest in mortgage banking and let him expand the business.

"When the top people have an in-depth understanding of the mortgage business they become more comfortable with it," Mr. Warrington said.

Plenty of mortgage chiefs could handle wider responsibilities at their parent banking companies, he said, but most do not get the chance. One reason: They do not get to work closely with the CEO.

Mr. Warrington mentioned another top mortgage banker, Norwest Mortgage chairman Mark Oman, as someone who has benefited from having top management at the parent company fully understand the business.

Last year Mr. Oman was named an executive vice president of Norwest Corp. and was given the mandate to increase cross-selling in Norwest Mortgage's home state of Iowa.

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