As president of PNC Mortgage Corp., Saiyid T. Naqvi uses a chess master's eye to maneuver for market share.
In strategizing to keep several moves ahead of competitors, Mr. Naqvi makes sure the company's loan officers aren't mere pawns. They are armed, he says, with computers whose state-of-the-art software takes customers through originations and closings.
And they have marching orders to make sure the customers - who are crucial to PNC's cross-selling efforts - are happy right from the start.
This exacting and comprehensive approach is a hallmark of Mr. Naqvi's. Industry observers say the Pakistan native exemplifies a new breed of mortgage company chief - relying more on his brains than on a salesman's smile and handshake.
"'Analytical' would be a great word to describe him," said longtime colleague Jack Hayes, a senior vice president at the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae. "He understands all the nuances of the business and how they interact with each other."
But Mr. Naqvi, who holds a degree in chemistry, is no mere number cruncher, according to those who know him well. He also makes a special effort to preserve the marketing value of the company's customer list by avoiding hassles with borrowers, they say.
The Vernon Hills, Ill., company doesn't have a separate force of collection agents to call delinquent borrowers. Instead, PNC Mortgage takes the unusual step of having customer service representatives initiate contact.
"We don't have that strong collection-type mentality," Mr. Naqvi said.
Indeed, with an approach that mixes common sense with a critical eye, Mr. Naqvi has established a reputation as a cogent thinker since coming to the company in 1993, when it acquired his employer, Sears Mortgage Co.
To create stronger customer bonds, PNC polls each mortgageholder to determine how the application process went and whether anything could be improved.
The completed survey is a scorecard for loan officers. "We use this as a recognition device for those who are doing well and a training tool for those who have areas that can be improved," Mr. Naqvi said.
He describes PNC Mortgage as "more serious" than other mortgage companies. Company insiders say he is not the type to host flashy events to rally his loan officers. He prefers a softer sell of standards the whole company can embrace.
"When people are committed to a certain ideal, that motivation is much longer-lasting than temporary highs," Mr. Naqvi said. "They fundamentally believe it's the right thing to do."
Mr. Naqvi likens himself to a stabilizing force on the customer service juggernaut. "I've got to make sure I have a steady hand on the wheel to ensure we continue driving toward that goal," he said.
So far, top management at parent PNC Bank Corp. likes the course he has set. He was named in November to head the entire mortgage operation, a promotion that coincided with the departure of chief executive Walter C. Klein.
Observers say Mr. Klein was forced out so that Mr. Naqvi could manage unencumbered. Mr. Naqvi says only that the company appreciates the contributions that Mr. Klein made over the years.
The company also hired industry consultant Michael J. Kozlak in December as executive vice president in charge of production.
Mr. Kozlak, who was president of First Bank System's mortgage company for seven years, said Mr. Naqvi's approach to doing business appeals to him.
"Clearly, Sy is the boss - but we very much have a partnership here," Mr. Kozlak said. "I have a lot of views and ideas, and he's been receptive."
Mr. Naqvi also has his own ideas about the mortgage industry.
"We have basically thrown a lot of products up and said, 'What do you like?'" Mr. Naqvi said. "We haven't been that sophisticated." He said today's approach requires "in-depth needs analysis and market segmentation strategies."
The approach has led to a ground-breaking venture, last year's alliance with Coldwell Banker, the big real estate agency. The teaming has not yet borne much fruit, but executives insist the slow start was expected.
PNC Mortgage first wanted to get real estate agents comfortable with a new system that supplies information about a number of lenders, including PNC.
"The agents must feel and know it is a lender-neutral system," Mr. Naqvi said. "We'd be happy if we got one of five transactions."
PNC Mortgage is also trying to build business by selling more loans through PNC branches.
The initiative should eventually produce more loan volume, but PNC Mortgage will have to do more to be consistently profitable, industry analysts say.
With $2.3 billion of originations for the first six months of 1995, "they have a way to go," said Gareth Plank, mortgage analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, San Francisco.
"To grow on a de novo basis will be pretty tough," he said.
Mr. Naqvi indicated that PNC is in the market for acquisitions that can boost originations and servicing. The company, he said, is about to close two purchases that will supply $4 billion of servicing between them.
"We would look at much bigger acquisitions" if the pricing were more realistic, he said.
PNC Mortgage, however, will not take another look at its decision to stop doing business with independent mortgage brokers, Mr. Naqvi said. The company cut its ties last October, after determining the program didn't fit with its other initiatives.
Mr. Naqvi, who reads biographies of world leaders in his spare time, said he likes the idea of setting the course for a growing organization.
He takes a page from books about leaders like Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Margaret Thatcher. With the proper commitment, he said, "you can get people to do things they didn't think they could do."