Countrywide Punched

You don’t want ACORN after you. They are relentless. They are the heir of Saul Alinsky, the most pragmatic and successful radical organizer of the 20th century.

ACORN’s been howling about subprime lenders — “predatory” lenders, “loan sharks” — for years. Now, even Alan Greenspan might have to tip his cap to them. They saw what he didn’t.

Countrywide, according to the New York Times, “is increasingly at the center of the mortgage storm that began this year.” How do they know? Because several hundred people organized by ACORN — it stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — protested outside Countrywide offices in eight cities Thursday, including Boston, New York, Baltimore and San Jose.

There are lots of subprime lenders. Countrywide (NYSE:CFC) is one of the biggest, to be sure, but why is it the whipping boy all of a sudden?

Could it be because they’re asking for it? Last week, they let the Wall Street Journal listen in to an employee pep talk that is part of a new PR campaign titled “Protect Our House.” (Link is to the Ventura County Star, a free site.)

No, they don’t mean your house, or some poor customer’s house. They mean the company and its “demoralized employees.”

Leading the counterattack is Andrew “Drew” Gissinger III, a former offensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers football team who serves as executive managing director, residential lending, at Countrywide.

“Let’s call it like it is: As I mentioned earlier, it’s gotten to the point where our integrity is being attacked. Now it’s personal,” says the transcript of a talk made last week by Gissinger, “… and we’re not going to take it!”

The transcript, prepared from a phone call with 250 “opinion leaders” at Countrywide on Sept. 26, offers a peek inside one of the biggest crisis-management efforts under way in an American corporation. Along with Gissinger on the call was Jason Schechter from WPP Group’s Burson-Marsteller, a public-relations firm with a long history of crisis management.

“We wanted to assure you that my firm and I have brought companies through the worst type of publicity,” Schechter said, according to the transcript. He added that a six-person Burson team was ensconced at Countrywide’s Calabasas headquarters, and about 25 people overall were working on the campaign.

Rick Simon, a Countrywide spokesman, said the transcript was sent to employees Friday. It says that employees are expected to sign a pledge to “demonstrate their commitment to our efforts,” and Simon says about 11,000 have signed. Each employee who signs up receives the Protect Our House wristband made of green rubber. “We believe there’s a great story about the strength of the business,” says Simon.

Now ACORN’s saying: “Game on.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Finance, Housing

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