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Politics & Money

Behind the executive exodus at Fannie Mae

Restricted salaries loom large, but other factors also contribute to talent drain

Mark Calabria & Hugh Frater
FHFA Director Mark Calabria and Fannie Mae CEO Hugh Frater (left to right)

High-level departures from Fannie Mae show no signs of abating.

Celeste Mellet Brown, Fannie Mae’s chief financial officer, is the latest executive to depart the government sponsored entity. Brown’s 2020 compensation, despite a strict salary cap imposed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, was $2.3 million, making her the third-highest paid employee at the company.

Some observers believe the string of executive walkouts is the result of a simple calculus: an experienced, talented executive can make far more money elsewhere.

That’s certainly true in Mellet Brown’s case. At Evercore, where she will assume the role of chief financial officer by the end of the year, she will earn twice what she made at Fannie Mae. In addition to a $500,000 base salary and $3.75 million annual incentive bonus, Brown will receive $2.6 million in stocks over the next four years, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Her employment agreement even offers to make up for deferred compensation from Fannie Mae if it exceeds $600,000.

Few could resist such a pay hike. (“They have families,” one former employee told HousingWire.)

Fannie Mae is keenly aware of the risk of executive attrition due to its sub-par compensation levels. The limits, which cap base salaries at $600,000, place it “at a disadvantage compared to many other companies in attracting and retaining executives,” the company told investors in its most recent annual report.

The filing goes on to note that if there were “several high-level departures at approximately the same time,” its ability to conduct business could be adversely affected. Several of the executives who recently left had spent decades at Fannie Mae.  

A spokesperson for the company said that such changes are a natural part of corporate life and Fannie Mae is no exception. The spokesperson added that in addition to the strong executive leadership team at Fannie Mae, there is a strong bench to support them.

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