A small and closely held mortgage company has named a heavy hitter from the financial services industry as chairman.

Jeffrey E. Stiefler, the new leader at Victoria Mortgage Corp., was president of American Express Co. He replaced Mark Posnick.

The hiring took place in November but was announced only last week.

It seems to signal that Victoria, whose sale to a New Jersey mortgage firm fell through in late 1994, is now determined to go it alone in the business, which many other small lenders have fled.

(The company that pulled out of the deal, First Town Mortgage of Secaucus, N.J., went on to buy the Houston wholesale office of Arcs Mortgage Inc., which was disbanded by Bank of New York last year.)

Victoria Mortgage was created in 1993 by the merger of Western Bank Mortgage and Victoria Savings Bank. Last year Victoria originated about $600 million in residential mortgages through retail and wholesale operations in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

Mr. Stiefler said he sees the opportunity for a substantial turnaround at the small company, and plans to expand its originations.

He said he decided to accept the chairmanship after talking to his friend George McCown, a partner at McCown DeLeeuw & Co., a San Francisco- based venture capital firm that owns 60% of Victoria.

"We made a decision to focus on originations," Mr. Stiefler said. "We will do that in the geographic areas where we already do business, in the western United States and Texas.

"Our intent is to grow our origination business extremely rapidly over the next three to five years."

Before going to American Express, Mr. Stiefler was chairman of Meritor Savings Bank, which operates in Florida and in Washington, D.C.

Earlier, he was vice president of Citicorp's New York banking division and senior vice president for nationwide financial services for Citicorp. He says he had some experience with second mortgages at Citi.

Mr. Stiefler said he is not cowed by the intense competition and shrinking margins in the mortgage industry. "Show me an industry that's not competitive." Victoria can be highly successful if it serves its customers well at a competitive price, he said.

His immediate goal is to put Victoria among the top 10 or 20 originators in the regions where it does business, he said. The company plans to increase originations to $4 billion to $5 billion in three to five years, he said, but there is no plan to become a national lender.

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