Surprise Choice at First Nationwide

Analyst from Peat Marwick to Lead Home Lending

First Nationwide Bank, Ford Motor Co.'s big thrift, has reached into the consulting field for its next head of residential lending.

Linda C. Simmons, a partner in KPMG Peat Marwick's mortgage banking practice, will become executive vice president in January. She will succeed Charles E. Reed, who resigned with little explanation this fall.

The appointment surprised some rivals and observers because Ms. Simmons, 42, has no experience running a mortgage business. But she is well regarded as a consultant. For example, an annual study she compiled on the costs of servicing mortgages has a wide following among executives from large servicing companies.

"We were looking for someone who could bring a strategic view to residential lending," explained First Nationwide spokesman Steve Johnson. As for hands-on experience, the managers who will report to Ms. Simmons have plenty, he said.

First Nationwide, whose corporate parent is First Nationwide Financial Corp., has about $20 billion of assets. But many analysts said it has been sorely in need of a clearer strategy. The sale of a large mortgage banking unit preceded a 63% plunge in mortgage originations last year, to $2.4 billion, at the San Francisco-based thrift.

"They keep going up and down, up and down," said Mark Kamm, executive vice president of SMR Research, Budd Lake, N.J.

First Nationwide is believed to have interviewed at least one seasoned executive -- Robert D. Horner, the departing chairman of Citicorp Mortgage Inc. - in seeking a new mortgage head.

Mr. Horner, who declined to discuss his dealings with the Ford unit, is leaving Citicorp at yearend amid a sweeping reorganization of its mortgage operations. He said last week that he is "exploring various opportunities," including setting up a consulting firm or buying a mortgage banking business.

For her part, Ms. Simmons said she is eager to help First Nationwide "find a strategic direction for the 1990s" but cannot yet predict what it might be.

Ms. Simmons, who has been working out of Peat Marwick's Washington, D.C., office, joined the firm in 1983. For two years before that, she was a financial analyst at Southwest Bancshares in Houston. Earlier, she taught business as an assistant professor at a Boston University campus in West Germany.

Her business doctorate from the University of Houston clearly appealed to First Nationwide. A press release from the thrift hailed her as "Dr. Simmons."

PHOTO : Linda C. Simmons, To seek "a strategic direction"

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