A born independent.

Author:Hewitt, Janet Reilley
Position:Profile of incoming president of Mortgage Bankers Association of America Herb Tasker

Herb Tasker should have been born in Independence, Missouri. But he wasn't. And he isn't running for President of the United States either. But he is the incoming president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.

It was November 1981. He had returned early from a vacation in Montana for a hastily scheduled business meeting. The senior partners in Mason-McDuffie Co., a northern California, real estate conglomerate dating back to 1877, had summoned all 44 partners together at an exclusive San Francisco club. They were all aware the company was for sale.

Herb Tasker's then boss turned to him as they were walking toward the meeting room, and said, "'You know, if Weyerhaeuser is the high bidder for the company, they only want to buy the |servicing~ portfolio. You won't have a job.' That's all he said," Tasker recalls. Back then, Tasker, the regional manager handpicked to establish Mason-McDuffie's presence in southern California, had been a partner in the company since 1970. To hear this news just minutes before the vote was taken did not sit that well with him.

As it turned out, Weyerhaeuser did buy the servicing portfolio and left all the rest of the residential mortgage division behind--leaving 59 branches and all the residential production employees wondering about their next jobs.

It was a perfect example of top-down, power management. Perhaps because of lessons like that, Tasker is anything but that type of manager today. He has a streak of stubborn corporate independence in him a mile wide that leaves him with few kind words for the typical hierarchical decisionmaking of corporate America.

Tasker, determined not to lose his team, set about negotiating the formation of Mason-McDuffie Mortgage Corporation (or "Mason-McDuffie 2"). A group of junior partners under Tasker's leadership were bought out by the senior partners. Pooling their new-found wealth they formed a joint venture with the second highest bidder for the portfolio--Twin City Federal Savings in Minneapolis--and created an employee-owned mortgage company.

So, by February 1982, the residential division was officially incorporated with Tasker as president, CEO and chairman of the board. The branch network was trimmed back to 22. The portfolio, which had 400 loans in the first month of operations, had 1,200 by the next month, setting a growth pattern that would continue. But just as things were starting to take off, more corporate complications started to come in view.

Tasker recalls that in April 1982, just two short months after getting the company going, "the individual we put the deal together with--a lawyer and head of real estate for Twin Cities Federal--quit. So that left me with no real contact in Minneapolis."

Tasker flew back to Minneapolis to meet with the chairman of the thrift and attend a board meeting. He says, "I looked around the table at the board. There must have been 25 people there. The average age was 71. When I started talking about the terms of our agreement with Twin Cities Federal, I could see that nobody understood what I was talking about."

The long and short of it was Tasker knew right then the relationship was not going to work. But decisiveness is one of Tasker's key traits if you talk to business intimates of the mortgage banker. That decisiveness led Tasker to go to First Bank in Minneapolis in June 1982 to see about getting a loan to buy out the ownership stake held by Twin Cities. By late June, Tasker had succeeded in rounding up the money to buy the company back outright.

Today, Tasker ranks the decision to buy the fledgling company back from Twin Cities as one of the more difficult ones he's had to make in his career. The reason he says it was so tough: "because I knew when I went back to Minneapolis I didn't have enough money to meet the price that I thought he was going to ask. That was an interesting challenge."

But the decision proved right on the money, as the California real estate market powered the growth of the little company that had branches but no servicing. The branches the company did have were in some strong jumbo loan markets, and on top of that, this was the time when the California real estate market was growing like gangbusters. If you ask senior mortgage bankers familiar with Tasker's career what some of his successes have been, they quickly point to "that company." Manuel Mendel, former CEO of AmSouth Mortgage Company, Inc., and somewhat of a mentor to Tasker, says that Herb and his management team took the portfolio "from ground zero and grew it to about $1 billion |in...

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