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Mortgage Lobby Replaces President

Jonathan Kempner
Jonathan Kempner (Family Photo)
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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which has been losing members and cutting staff because of the steep decline in the U.S. housing market, replaced its president yesterday with a longtime industry executive.

Jonathan L. Kempner, 57, who has been the association's president since 2001, said he would step down at the end of the year. He will be succeeded by John A. Courson, a former chairman of the organization who is also a former top mortgage banking executive in California. Courson, 66, will serve as the association's chief operating officer beginning Aug. 1.

The association has suffered as the supply of mortgage funds has tightened in recent months. Its membership has dropped 17 percent, to 2,500 companies from 3,000 companies the year before.

As a result, the association's revenue is expected to shrink by 10 to 15 percent this year from last year, though finances remain in the black, said Kieran P. Quinn, the association's current chairman.

The association has had to reduce its workforce. Kempner said the group now has 150 employees, down from 175 last year. A dozen people were laid off in 2008, he said.

The organization is one of Washington's highest-profile lobby groups, representing companies that provide home loans around the country. It has taken a prominent role in the debate over major housing legislation, including the foreclosure rescue effort now making its way through Congress.

The lobbying group recently bought a new, 12-story headquarters building on L Street NW for about $100 million. Like many of the companies it represents, the organization faced a triple whammy of woes in completing the transaction. Its financing costs were higher, its income was lower and the leasing market was slower than the year earlier when it contracted for the purchase. It has yet to sign a tenant, though Kempner said it is close to signing some.

Several industry critics said the association's troubles with the building were ironic, given the role the group's members played in the housing boom and subsequent bust. Quinn said the building will prove to be an excellent investment over the long run.

In an interview, Kempner said it was his own decision to leave. "At some point, you want a change" in any organization, he said, and seven and a half years at the helm of a major association is "a long time."

But he acknowledged that his industry has been facing tough times and that fact has made his assignment especially difficult. "Our industry has been in turmoil," he said. "This is one of the tougher jobs in town."

Kempner came aboard as president during another rough patch. Back in 2001, he imposed fiscal controls and other measures that were credited with improving the group's finances.

Kempner said he does not have another job but is optimistic. "There'll be opportunities for me," he said.

Quinn said Courson, who has been a consultant to the association, was the natural choice to succeed Kempner. "John has spent over a decade actively engaged in MBA activities at all levels, including a year as our chairman" Quinn said. "With that experience, and his over four decades in the industry, I know that John will hit the ground running and MBA will not miss a beat."

Courson began his career in mortgage banking working for Kassler & Co. in Denver while attending high school and college. He has been president of Central Pacific Mortgage Co., Westwood Mortgage Corp. and Fundamental Mortgage. He is chairman of the California Housing Finance Agency.

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