Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bethany McLean on Jamie Dimon

Bethany McLean, one of our very best business reporters, appeared on Eliot Spitzer's Viewpoint to discuss JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Why JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon wants to keep banks big 10/23/2012.

She co-authored a major article on Dimon with William Cohan, Jamie Dimon on the Line Vanity Fair Nov 2012. Dimon was, as the Current TV summary describes him, "a staunch opponent of Wall Street reform." He has been one of the more prominent, and unpleasant, faces of the One Percent for the American public the last couple of years. McLean and Cohan quote him from one of his speeches:

And as everyone who knows Dimon expected him to do, he offered up a full-throated defense of businessmen and a plea to end what he calls the "regulatory assault" on Wall Street. "It may seem that businesses go to Washington and complain a lot—like a boy who cries wolf," he said, "but there are real issues here that are important for our country and our industry. The denigration of business hurts America, because the secret sauce for our economy is confidence I don’t want to hear that nonsense that all business is bad."
Yes, the lords of finance and captains of industry lose "confidence" if they get their feelings hurt if people say bad things about them. Even bad things about bad things they do. Maybe especially those.

They give an account of how a $6 billion trading loss gave a whack to Dimon's reputation:

In first announcing the trading losses, at a hastily convened conference call for analysts and the media on May 10, Dimon knew he would get skewered. “It plays right into the hands of a bunch of pundits out there,” he said at the time. “But that’s life…. We have egg on our face. We deserve any criticism we get.” After spending much of July 13 again explaining the trading loss to the media and to research analysts—including making the stunning admission that the traders in London may have intentionally mismarked the trades to make them look less egregious, a potential illegality that the Justice Department is still investigating—the exhausted Dimon got an unexpected call from Tom Brady, the star quarterback of the New England Patriots. (Jimmy Lee, a legendary sports fan, had arranged for it.) Brady reminded Dimon that even Super Bowl champs have bad days and told him “to hang in there.” “I was surprised he even knew who I was, to tell you the truth,” Dimon says. ...

Dimon was supposed to be “the port in the storm” (his words), and JPMorgan Chase was the bank that didn’t need a bailout (as he repeatedly says), the one that saved Bear Stearns in March 2008 and then preserved some 30,000 jobs at Washington Mutual by taking it over when no other institution would. He’s the C.E.O. who didn’t allow his firm to make some of the risky mortgage-related bets that every other firm did, and the one who pores over the details of one financial report after another until he understands every last iota about his mega-bank, which has some $2.3 trillion in assets—one-sixth of the total in the U.S. banking sector. But Bill Daley, who served as JPMorgan’s Midwest chairman before he became Obama’s chief of staff, from 2011 until earlier this year, says in Dimon’s defense, “This wasn’t so much about the details as it was the fact that the man viewed as Mr. Details didn’t seem to have the details.”

Which raises the crucial question: How did one of the most anal, numbers-oriented C.E.O.’s on Wall Street allow a bunch of traders in London to make such a huge, concentrated—and losing—bet and not know about it until it was too late?
Not surprisingly, the CEO who is so sensitive that people saying mean things about the One Percent can rattle his Confidence also sounds like a guy who enjoys the occasional bullying session:

One former JPMorgan Chase executive, who calls Dimon the “best chief executive I ever dealt with,” nonetheless could not quite get over his willingness to dress down high-level executives in public. “I have a very vivid memory of sitting in a meeting with the controller, the internal auditor, the external auditor, and a few more junior people sitting in the room,” the former executive says, “and Jamie ranted and raved and said that nobody was doing their job right and everybody was being paid more than they should be paid.”

Was Dimon right? “No,” the ex-banker continues. “Absolutely not. . . . I went into his office, and I said, ‘For God’s sake, this is totally unacceptable behavior’—kind of regurgitating what he said and how he said it—moving him to pick up the phone and apologize. He did the same, in some instance, to the head of technology in the company.”
Good business journalism is possible, as Bethany McLean's work demonstrates. We just don't have nearly enough of it.

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