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Santa Ana-based mortgage lender Stearns Lending Inc. has tapped industry veteran Brian Hale as chief executive effective May 21.

Stearns Lending is among the largest privately held lending institutions in the U.S., with about $19 billion funded over the past three years. It ranked No. 50 on last year’s Business Journal list of largest private companies based in Orange County, with nearly $250 million in 2010 revenue, a 62% increase from a year earlier. It employs about 350 workers here and 1,000 companywide.

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Glenn Stearns, founder of Stearns Corp., had been chief executive of Stearns Lending since starting the company in 1989. He remains the top executive for other financial services companies under the Stearns Corp. umbrella, including Stearns Wholesale, TriVerify and CU Partners.

Hale counts 35 years in the mortgage banking industry. He arrives from MetLife Home Loans, the residential mortgage arm of MetLife Bank, N.A., where he served as president and national production executive.

He was senior retail originations executive at Bank of America and president at Countrywide Home Loans, before it was acquired by Bank of America in 2008.

Hale also has served at Wells Fargo Home Loans and Fleet Mortgage, a company bought by Washington Mutual in 2001.

“This is a time to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities in today's mortgage industry,” Hale said in a statement.