In a last-minute reversal, David H. Stevens, the president and chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), will remain at the trade group rather than departing to run SunTrust Mortgage, as he announced plans to do a month ago.
It will be his last job change for the immediate future; Stevens, 55, has signed a long-term incentive package to lead the MBA for the next five years. Details of his compensation were not disclosed.
Stevens' change of heart is as much a surprise as was his decision a year ago to join the MBA, leaving his job as commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and assistant secretary for housing at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In an interview Sunday afternoon, Stevens said he was persuaded to remain in his current role last week, during an annual MBA chairman's conference in Palm Beach, Fla.
"There was an overwhelming response from MBA members, large and small, and for what it's worth, people were excited about the progress the MBA has made in the past year," Stevens says. "I never would have made the decision to go to SunTrust had I expected this response, and I never expected the negotiations, as it were, to occur a couple of days before I was planning to leave. I underestimated what the impact was."
Stevens was slated to take over SunTrust's mortgage operations on July 16. He says MBA members first raised the possibility of his remaining on June 25, and negotiations continued over the next few days. Once he had decided to remain in his current post, he says he quickly informed senior executives at SunTrust Bank (STI), including CEO Jerome T. Lienhard, who was also at the MBA conference.
Lienhard "saw the pressure, and people came up and talked to him about it," Stevens says. "Obviously they [Suntrust executives] weren't pleased and I knew it would disrupt the excitement and changes going on there, and at the end of the day I made the call."
Representatives for SunTrust did not return email and phone messages on Sunday.
SunTrust's mortgage operations are still struggling with credit quality issues and repurchase requests, and the Atlanta bank has been trying to reshape the business. Last month, it appointed Peter E. Mahoney as executive vice president of mortgage strategy and Jack Wixted as executive vice president and chief risk officer.
Stevens said last month that he was attracted to SunTrust because it has "been able to take a look at both the legacy issues, which every bank is dealing with, and separate that from how they do the business on a go-forward basis."
As an MBA member, the bank will continue to rely on Stevens and his trade group for representation. He admitted Sunday that the reversal was a surprise even to him, but said he had "the right to change his mind."
Stevens, an articulate and knowledgeable spokesman for the mortgage industry, has been instrumental in adding new MBA members, including real estate investment trusts and lenders that had left the group years before. He also helped energize the trade group, which lost members during the mortgage meltdown and saw its reputation suffer in the aftermath, and helped frame the debate about upcoming regulations by focusing on consumer access to credit rather than the lending industry's desire to loosen standards so its members could make more loans.
"The importance and significance of MBA's voice during this critical time, coupled with Dave's experience and talents, encouraged us to do all we could to retain him," Michael Young, the MBA's chairman, said in a press release scheduled to be published on Monday morning.
Stevens has raised eyebrows before with his career choices. He had been viewed as a driving force at HUD, which oversees the FHA, and was an advisor to the White House on housing policies before he jumped ship to join the mortgage industry trade group a year ago.
A series in American Banker last year examined emails suggesting Stevens maintained cozy ties to banks while leading the federal agency.
Stevens says his value to the MBA comes from what he calls his ability to understand and promote the mortgage business to outsiders, "and not have to read from crib notes." He says that mortgage lenders convinced him that those skills were increasingly hard to find, and important to the industry during a period of major reforms.
"When I decided to go to SunTrust, I never expected the reaction I got," Stevens says. "And it helped me realize there is a unique set of skills that requires maneuvering inside Washington, and for better or for worse I've developed unique skills that others haven't. That recognition was thrust upon me. This isn't just about one company, this is about the whole industry, and the fact that the industry felt I play such a unique role in that is flattering, and I can't let them down."