I majored in psychology and economics at Tufts University. After graduating, I worked for ain Boston for two years. I enjoyed my employment there but it wasn't a career for me. Therefore I decided to move on and finally enrolled in Harvard Business School. In the following summer I interned at offered a full-time job there after graduation, but my close friend Sandy Weill convinced me to decline it and to also turn down other offers from Brothers to join . He was a friend of my parents and my mother gave him a copy of my college thesis about the 1970 merger of the two brokerage firms Shearson Hammill and Hayden Stone - a union engineered by Sandy, who had been running Hayden at the time - which impressed him.
My abilities to crunch numbers meshed well with Sandy's people skills. When Sandy was forced out of American Express, he made me his second in command at the little-known consumer-lending outfit that he bought called Commercial Credit Company. That tiny firm was the beginning of what would. A lot of you might be questioning my decision to stay with him, but I loved the idea of being in on the ground floor. I was a key member of the team that launched and defined Commercial Credit's strategy. I served as the company's chief financial officer and an executive vice president and then later as president. After a few acquisitions the firm had been renamed Travelers Group. First I stumbled trying to build the company's investment-banking business, luring bankers from Morgan Stanley with exorbitant pay packages that robbed colleagues of a substantial portion of the bonus pool. As a result morale declined and dozens of bankers left the company. I knew I made mistakes, and I was sorry, but I still decided to move forward. In 1996 I became the chairman and CEO of Travelers' - at age 40 I was the youngest CEO of a major securities firm. A bullish market - along with my unrelenting focus on keeping costs down - contributed to our strong performance. Looking back my only demerit through that period of time was my lack of people skills. During one meeting with 20 employees, I openly disparaged one underling, saying, "That is the stupidest thing I ever heard". It wasn't personal or mean spirited, but I would have been more effective if I would have lighten up.
The tension between me and Sandy reached a boiling point when I refused to appoint Sandy's daughter, Jessica, as chief ofat Travelers. On November 1, 1998, the man I had once referred to as a second father asked me to resign. It was hard for me because that company was my baby, my family ... and I had been forced out. It was just devastating since I was expected to become chairman of Citigroup after Sandy's retirement. When I stepped onto the Salomon Smith Barney floor after handing in my resignation, one thousand traders responded by giving me a standing ovation. I really appreciated that gesture. It was a though time for me with a lot of self doubts. I needed a break, which lasted longer than expected - 18 months. During this time I took out that old white pad: Maybe I want to be an investor. Maybe I want to be a teacher. Maybe I want to write books. Maybe I want to stay home and be with my kids when they're growing up. I thought about all of that, and I was very open-minded about it, and what I came to is: My craft is financial services. Right or wrong, that's what I know, and I'm pretty good at it. I turned down and other coveted employers to finally become the chairman and CEO of Bank One. I wanted to make the company strong so it's a predator, not the prey. I backed up my words with cash, buying two million shares of my new company. Ownership is a critical thing. Even if you run a retail store, you think, 'Hey, it's my store, my company,' and you run it like it's your own and I learned that from Sandy. I scrutinized every dollar the company spent. When a high-level executive informed me of the numerous subscriptions held by the company, I said, "You're a businessman, pay for your own Wall Street Journal." I am not one to play golf or attend charity dinners. I refused to do as the other CEOs did and the business society felt I wasn't performing a part of my job.
In January 2004 I negotiated a deal to merge Bank One and& Co. The strengths and weaknesses of both matched up almost perfectly. Under the agreed-upon terms at the new J.P. Morgan, I would succeed William Harrison as CEO in 2006 - until that time I would remain president and chief operating officer. While the advantages were evident, I recalled feeling extremely anxious about making the deal official. It was terrifying. Do you push the button or not? But if you don't and this opportunity is gone when you want it later, you've made a horrible mistake. So I pushed the button. At Bank One, I spent half of each day drilling employees from the top of the management chart on down about the tiniest details of the business. I disliked being caught off guard and went to incredible lengths to amass and digest huge amounts of information. I decided to take a more laid-back approach at J.P. Morgan. After the merger I didn't say, "I want A, B, or C." I tried it their way. I put out ideas and let them work it. On December 31, 2005, I was finally named chief executive officer of J.P. Morgan Chase.
I hope this provides helpful advice to all of you: figure out what you like doing and what you're good at doing and then pursue that thing with all the confidence you have. Be yourself and don't worry about the status quo. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage that counts.
Mod Note (Andy): top 50 posts of 2017, this one ranks #39 (based on # of silver bananas)