Diary of Diplomacy

By Hendrickson, Thomas R. | Mortgage Banking, March 1993 | Go to article overview
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Diary of Diplomacy

Hendrickson, Thomas R., Mortgage Banking

A delegation of American mortgage bankers went to Moscow, Warsaw and Budapest to try to export the tools of Western mortgage finance. The People-to-People mission planted the seeds for homeownership to flourish, but it will be some time before anything like the American Dream can take hold.

"IF PEOPLE GET TOGETHER, SO EVENTUATLLY will nations." Those words, spoken by President Dwight Eisenhower at People-to-People's founding in 1956, have since become the motto of that non-profit group, whose mission is increasing understanding among people of all nations through "one-on-one" diplomacy and group travel worldwide.

To Eisenhower, living almost four decades ago in a world bound by the constraints of cold war, those words may have represented only a wistful dream. But to those who took part in last fall's Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBA)/People-to-People Mission to Russia and Eastern Europe, the words invoke a strong image of hope. They clearly describe the feeling of giving that we experienced as we traveled across the greatest "red line" ever known to meet with our would-be counterparts in the former communist countries of Russia, Poland and Hungary.

Last year's mission was not the first such experience with People-to-People diplomacy for a delegation of MBA officials. That occurred in 1983, when a group of mortgage banking representatives met with real estate lenders from Western Europe. Memorable learning experiences and strong bonds of fellowship emerged from that trip. It was not surprising, then, that several members of that earlier group, including the delegation leader and then-MBA President Jim Wooten, of Lomas Mortgage USA, Dallas, chose to participate again in this year's program. Other returning participants echoed Wooten's sentiments when he said, "We had such a marvelous experience of friendship and learning in 1983 that we wondered if it could possibly occur again. Happily, it did."

Another veteran of the 1983 trip was this year's delegation leader, Angelo Mozilo, 1992 president of MBA and president and CEO of Countrywide Funding Corporation, Pasadena. Countrywide's CEO was not only the traveling group's official spokesman and leader, he also played an important part in planning the mission. "When MBA Executive Vice President Warren Lasko and I began planning the trip," Mozilo says, "we had a twofold objective. First was to observe and learn from the unprecedented renaissance that was taking place in Russia, Poland and Hungary. And, second was to determine if we, as mortgage bankers and as concerned Americans, could share our knowledge and experience with the citizens of these countries."

It turned out to be an unforgettable experience. For approximately half of our group, the experience began with two days of meetings and briefings with MBA and U.S. Department of State staff in Washington, D.C. For the rest of us, who'd chosen to participate in an optional four-day cultural visit to St. Petersburg prior to the start of the official meetings in Moscow, the beginning was less formal. Connecting flights from throughout the states routed us all to the Frankfurt Airport. There, we assembled piecemeal at our gate, happily greeting old friends and introducing ourselves to those we did not yet know.

The Lufthansa flight to St. Petersburg, over Germany, Northern Poland and the Baltic Republics, was relatively short. Most of us slept, exhausted by the jet lag from our just-completed transatlantic flights. After passing through customs at St. Petersburg's aged airport terminal, we could see that capitalism's seeds had already sprouted in "Mother Russia." A five-piece brass band, its members adorned by baseball caps and with instrument cases open to receive gratuities, played tunes ranging from "The Star-Spangled Banner" to "Home on the Range." Freedom of expression had come to Russia. And so had we.

As we rode the bus to our hotel, we felt as if we'd traveled back in time.

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