From getting fired to being one of the most influential CEOs on Wall Street

JamesDimon's picture
Rank: Monkey | 50

I majored in psychology and economics at Tufts University. After graduating, I worked for a management consulting firm in 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 Goldman Sachs and was 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 Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers to join him at American Express. 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 eventually become Citigroup. 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' Smith Barney subsidiary - 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 of Asset Management at 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 trading 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 jobs at Amazon 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 J.P. Morgan Chase & 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.

Jamie

Mod Note (Andy): top 50 posts of 2017, this one ranks #39 (based on # of silver bananas)

Comments (16)

Best Response
May 16, 2017

@JamesDimon This is the best thing I have ever read on this forum. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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May 17, 2017

Thanks for sharing, JD.

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May 21, 2017

Great story, you never know where you will end up.

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May 28, 2017

Inspiring AF

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May 29, 2017

Don't you mean you attended "tough" university?

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May 29, 2017

Jamie -- glad to see some other hitters joining this site. However, I will still never forgive you for pulling credit lines.

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May 30, 2017

Is this even REAL? An impostor?

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May 30, 2017
smartmonkey111:

Is this even REAL? An impostor?

Everything on the internet is real.

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Jun 5, 2017

I'm sorry Dick. Lloyd and Hank pushed me to do it. It was 5:00 pm on September 12, 2008 when Hank told us: "There will be no bailout for Lehman. The only possible way out is a private-sector solution." Hank said that the deadline for private sector solution was Sunday evening, but the reality was that it was a physical impossibility to perform even rudimentary due diligence, negotiate and then close any private sector deal of that magnitude within 48 hours. I don't think it was in his interest to see Lehman survive. Every time someone mentioned your name, he winced. His voice was filled with hatred when he spoke about you.

I hope you are doing well.
Jamie

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Jun 5, 2017

Lmao at this exchange. If you've ever seen Jamie speak or met him at all, this dude's impersonation is spot on... maybe should be peppered with more jokes though, he's a goofy guy, in a dark/deadpan kind of way

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Jun 5, 2017

Good post, but I knew all that already. I think someone just read "Too Big to Fail".

I feel bad for Jamie succeeding despite only getting an MBA from HBS. He must have really had it tough.

Jun 13, 2017

There are so many people thanking him for sharing his story this looks like a Desperate Housewives AA meeting

"I'm into, uh, well, murders and executions, mostly."

Jun 13, 2017

"The most influential CEO on WallStreet..."

Is this a title you get when you become a WallStreet CEO? Kind of like an JD when you graduate from Law School? I feel like I've heard other people use this before...

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Dec 25, 2017

I was expecting Lloyd Blankfein. Where's my refund?

Dec 25, 2017

We need posts like this when you mofos become CEOs. All three of you.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Dec 25, 2017
Comment

If the glove don't fit, you must acquit!