We’ve been pretty harsh to Angelo Mozilo. So has everyone, because he pretty much deserves it. As the CEO of mortgage lender Countrywide, he encouraged the use of predatory lending practices and championed subprime mortgages, which eventually toppled both Countrywide and IndyMac, then he sold all his stock and left with a massive pay package. He’s now been charged with fraud and insider trading by the SEC. Oh, and also, there was that terrible e-mail he accidentally sent to a borrower who wrote him asking for help, and the fact that he is flashy figure with a perpetually tanned face that begs to be, and has been, described in various media as “persimmon-colored,” “Coppertoned-bronzed,” and, most frequently, “ORANGE!!!” But this week’s sensitive New Yorker profile of Mozilo, the Bronx-born son of a butcher, reminds us that not everything he did deserves our scorn. For instance: When the Fed in 1992 found that Countrywide was practicing “systemic” discrimination against minorities, Mozilo went into overdrive to rectify it. He ordered that all of the bank’s rejected minority applications be sent to him, and retroactively approved about half of them, according to The New Yorker, and dispatched African Americans to branches as “mystery shoppers” to see if they would be treated differently (they were).
Countrywide opened new offices in inner-city areas, created counselling centers, and loosened some lending standards, to include borrowers with less than pristine credit histories. Between 1993 and 1994, the company’s loans to African American borrowers rose 325% and to Hispanics they increased 163 percent In 1994, Countrywide became the first mortgage lender to sign a fair-lending agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Countrywide went from close to the bottom in lending to minorities to near the top. “I remember Mozilo telling me, ‘I don’t want to narrow the gap in lending to minorities, I want to end it.’”
Oh, and the tan? “He was always this Italian guy people didn’t want to accept,” Mozilo’s sister Lori told the magazine. “When he tans he gets really dark. My mother told me that when he worked in Florida he was asked to sit at the back of the bus.”
Angelo’s Ashes [New Yorker, not online]