Jamie Dimon, the chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase has often come under the pen of Barbara Kellerman. Read her most recent reflection on his leadership along with reprints of two earlier articles.
Barbara Kellerman on Jamie Dimon
Part 1. Jamie, Jamie, Everywhere
I reject the idea that I’ve been obsessed with Jamie Dimon.
On the other hand, it’s obvious that I’ve occasionally focused on Jamie Dimon. As evidence, I cite three of my short articles about the man who, since 2005, has been chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase. The first article, published by Harvard Business Review, goes back to 2008; the second, reprinted below, was written in 2012; the third, also reprinted below, a decade later, in 2022.
Given what happened in the last few weeks, these pieces from my past don’t make me look good. Not only has Dimon not — despite earlier missteps and the extreme length of his tenure — failed or faltered, but he has emerged as a hero. JPMorgan Chase’s purchase of the failed First Republic Bank has, for the moment at least, earned the gratitude of the U.S. government, of the banking industry, of markets at home and abroad, and implicitly, if not explicitly, of the American people who otherwise were threatened with a larger banking crisis.
The moment of uncertainty has not passed. Who knows what will happen in the coming months? But for the time being, Dimon is widely seen as a leader who is outstanding. As one of the great corporate leaders of our time.
A few headlines from the past few weeks:
- Wall Street Journal: “Dimon Wins Again in Bank Deal.”
- New York Times: “JPMorgan, A Savior Once Again.”
- Financial Times: “All Roads Lead to JPMorgan.”
Since the financial crisis of 2008, this is the third time that Dimon has agreed to buy — in a federally backed transaction — an institution in crisis. (The first two were Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual.) In each case there have been downsides. But in each case, there have also been, certainly for JPMorgan Chase, significant upsides. Under Dimon’s leadership, the bank has soared ahead of each of its competitors. It currently boasts $3.7 trillion in assets and 250,000 employees. In terms of assets, deposits, and market capitalization, it is now the largest bank in the United States by far. Chase has branches in 48 of the 50 states.
None of this is to say that the concerns I expressed earlier are trivial or irrelevant. Dimon and his bank have made several serious missteps, some with consequences that linger. More importantly, despite Dimon’s presentation of his acquisition of First Republic as a public service, questions have already been raised about how big a behemoth his bank has been allowed to become. As progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren highlighted, Jamie Dimon should never have been permitted to take over a failing bank. The sale “makes our banking system’s ‘too big to fail’ problem even worse” (Egan, 2023).
Withal, when I complained that Dimon was a leader too long in his post, I was wrong. Whatever the general rule about the length of a leader’s tenure, there are exceptions. And, whatever the systemic implications of his most recent bite out of the apple, JPMorgan Chase shows not the slightest sign of being stopped or even slowed. To the contrary. The institution to which, and for which, Dimon is responsible has never in its long, storied history been stronger.
Barbara Kellerman on Jamie Dimon
Part 2. Leader Tenure Redux – the Case of Jamie Dimon
Originally published 22 April 2022
I’ve written before about leaders clinging to power — all too often long after their sell-by date has expired. Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan, is a case in point. He is now 66 years old. He has not always been in the best of health (throat cancer and, last year, emergency heart surgery). He’s been top dog at JPMorgan since 2006 — some 16 years. And, since 2007, he’s also boasted the title of chairman of the board.
First question: Why then is he still in a position of what, in the world of banking, is unrivaled power?
Answers: He wants to be. He remains good at what he does. His board has zero incentive to take him on. His shareholders are satisfied with his performance or, maybe better, satisfied enough. And there’s no statute of limitations on leaders who insist on continuing to lead.
Second question: What then is the problem? If a long-term leader like Dimon continues to perform well, and if his followers, including shareholders, are fine with it, why stir the pot? Why not leave Dimon alone on his throne?
Answers: Though there are some exceptions to the general rule: leaders deteriorate over time. They get addicted to power; they get rigid; they get protected against dissension; they lose touch; they get self-aggrandizing; and far, far too often they get excessively rich. They become fixed in a bubble of their own creation.
There should therefore be a norm: Most leaders should be required to surrender their positions of power after a decade in power. They should be required to make way for new blood. This norm should apply across the board. To leaders in the public sector as well as the private one, to leaders in education, in religion, and in the military.
Mitch McConnell has served as senator from the state of Kentucky since 1985. Think he’s past due to get up and get out? He clearly does not. He will not quit. He will not pick up his marbles and go home.
Times have changed a lot in the last decade, two decades, three decades. One change is that people live longer. Dimon at 66 probably perceives himself a spring chicken!
Still, notwithstanding Dimon’s standing, are signs his subjects are getting a bit restless. First, investors generally are increasingly demanding that the chair and CEO roles be split. Second, in the case of JPMorgan specifically, a recent securities filing submitted by the bank said that a “substantial majority” of its investors wanted Dimon to stay as non-executive chair when he steps down as chief executive. The implication is that while Dimon will long into the future continue to chair the board, he will not so long into the future consent to step down as chief executive officer.
In 2018 Jamie Dimon was asked when he would retire. He replied, “in five years.” In 2020 Jamie Dimon was asked when he would retire. He replied, “in five years.” In 2021 Jamie Dimon was asked when he would retire. He replied, “in five years.” By now a joke? Maybe. But not one I find funny.
Barbara Kellerman on Jamie Dimon
Part 3. Lame Leader of the Week Award: Jamie Dimon
Originally published 13 May 2012
Boring, boring, boring. I know, I know. But what could I do? I had no choice. I had no choice but to give another Lame Leader of the Week Award to another CEO of another Too Big to Fail American bank, this time to Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. As recently as April, Dimon was dismissing reports his bank was making bets so big they were distorting a market in credit derivatives. Such reports were, he insisted, “a complete tempest in a teapot” (Vardi, 2013). But just a few weeks later Dimon was forced by facts to eat crow, to publicly admit JPMorgan’s losses of more than $2 billion were a wound that was “self inflicted.”
Whatever Dimon’s previous reputation as one of the few leaders on Wall Street to have escaped the financial crisis nearly unscathed, there’s no escaping blame for losses this size. There are only two possibilities. Either Dimon was ignorant of what his subordinates were up to, or he knew what they were doing and approved of bets that turned out to be a colossal mistake. Either way his heyday – if not his pay day – is over. Either way, there’s blood in the water and sharks nearby.
Egan, M. (2023, May 2). JPMorgan Just Got a Lot Bigger — and Elizabeth Warren Is Alarmed. CNN Business. https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/02/economy/elizabeth-warren-banking-failure/index.html
Vardi, N. (2013, April 11) Jamie Dimon’s Five Stages of Grief. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2013/04/11/jamie-dimons-five-stages-of-grief
Dr. Barbara Kellerman was Founding Executive Director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School; the Kennedy’s School’s James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Leadership; and a member of the Harvard faculty for over twenty years. She is currently a Fellow at the Center. Kellerman has held professorships at numerous universities including George Washington and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University and was the recipient of a Danforth Fellowship and three Fulbright fellowships. Kellerman was a cofounder of the International Leadership Association.
Kellerman is the author and editor of numerous books including: Bad Leadership; Followership; Leadership: Essential Selections (2010); The End of Leadership (2012); Hard Times: Leadership in America (2014), Professionalizing Leadership (2018), and (with Todd Pittinsky) Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy. She has appeared on media outlets such as CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, NPR, MSNBC, Reuters, and BBC, and has contributed articles and reviews to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the Harvard Business Review.
She is a globally renowned speaker who has addressed audiences all over the world including in Berlin, Moscow, Melbourne, Sao Paolo, Jerusalem, Mumbai, Toronto, Kyoto, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and Seoul. She received the Wilbur M. McFeeley Award from the National Management Association for her pioneering work on leadership and followership, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association. Since 2015, she has been listed by Global Gurus as among the “World’s Top 30 Management Professionals,” and in 2023 she was ranked #10 on the list.
Her most recent book — The Enablers: How Team Trump Flunked the Pandemic and Failed America — was published in 2021 by Cambridge University Press. Her next book, Leadership from Bad to Worse, will be published by Oxford University Press in early 2024.
Kellerman regularly posts digital articles at https://barbarakellerman.com/articles/, which is where this blog was originally published.