Washington Mutual has hired Stephen Rotella, a top executive at New York-based JP Morgan Chase, as its new president and chief operating officer. When he starts work Jan. 10, Rotella will report...

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Washington Mutual has hired Stephen Rotella, a top executive at New York-based JP Morgan Chase, as its new president and chief operating officer.

When he starts work Jan. 10, Rotella will report to Kerry Killinger, who will drop the title of president but remain WaMu’s chairman and chief executive.

The COO half of Rotella’s title is new to the Seattle-based banking giant.

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WaMu has been searching for several months for someone to fill the new position, after Killinger, 54, decided that having a president and COO focusing on WaMu’s mortgage, retail and commercial lines would accelerate the company’s strategic plan, a spokesman said.

“We embark on our new five-year strategic plan as a far larger and more complex company than we were just five years ago, and so the addition of a president and COO to our team is the natural next step in our growth and evolution as a top-tier, national financial-services company,” Killinger said in a statement.

Neither he nor Rotella was available for interviews yesterday.

Rotella, 51, has been head of Chase Home Finance since 2001, leading all residential lending. He also serves on the JP Morgan Chase Executive Committee.

JP Morgan Chase is the nation’s second-largest bank holding company. WaMu is the sixth-largest U.S.-based banking company, a position gained through acquisitions and rapid growth over the past decade.

WaMu’s earnings have suffered this year because of problems in its mortgage business, but it has an aggressive growth plan for its retail bank, including opening about 250 new branches annually.

Frederick Cannon, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, was surprised by WaMu’s choice.

“I would have expected someone with a deeper retail background,” Cannon said.

WaMu spokesman Alan Gulick said the company already has an experienced retail-banking management team.

Rotella, he said, is a “seasoned executive who brings a demonstrated ability to translate our strategic vision into operational excellence in all our lines of business.”

A native New Yorker, Rotella was chief operating officer of Chase Home Finance from 1998 until he took its helm in 2001. From 1991 to 1998, he was executive vice president of servicing at Chase Manhattan Mortgage.

Jonathan Kempner, president and chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association, called Rotella’s move “the coup of the decade” for WaMu.

Rotella, who sits on the association’s board, is “very much a leader of the industry,” Kempner said. “WaMu’s gain is Chase’s loss, and he’s just as good as our industry has.”

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com