Countrywide’s image problem is clearly systemwide

Countrywide, the lender most closely associated with the disastrous home loan/mortgage crisis, can’t
catch a break when it comes to reputation management.

Already pegged as the Peck’s ‘Bad Boy’ of the crisis that has bankrupted countless consumers and left untold others facing foreclosure on their homes, Countrywide’s Chairman Angelo Mozilo is facing court hearings and possible prison terms for alleged fraud.

Apparently not content with that sobering scenario, however, Mozilo further fanned the flames by misfiring on an important e-mail exchange with a customer.

After receiving a distraught plea from a hearing-impaired loan recipient for some sort of financial relief, Mozilo lashed out with his own e-mail. Thinking he was sending his ‘unbelievable’ response to an internal-only audience, Mozilo instead punched the ‘reply’ button. The astonished and outraged Countrywide customer who received Mozilo’s missive prompted posted it on a leading website. Now, Mozilo is dealing with a different kind of ‘thrilla’ as he tries to position himself as something other than an 800-pound digital gorilla.

There really should be an e-mail training session for CEOs. Having learned some valuable lessons myself, I’d be happy to lead the course. I’d start with a quick review of the keypad. I’d then move on to explain the difference between ‘forward’ and ‘reply.’ For the truly technology-challenged chief executive, I’d even share best practices for establishing an internal filtering process to enable someone in the know to read the e-mail before it ever sees the light of day.

Mozilo’s digital fumblings have made Countrywide’s systemwide problems exponentially worse. Along with everything else, he’ll now have to explain exactly what he meant when he typed the comment.

On the upside, though, Mozilo might luck out and be sentenced to a minimum security prison that offers a top notch e-mail course for white collar criminals. Hey, maybe he’ll become so adept that when he finally gets out, Mozilo can apply for a loan online.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea.

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