Is JPMorgan Chase's chief executive maneuvering to jump to Washington to replace the embattled Timothy Geithner as U.S. Treasury Secretary?
Separate stories in Forbes and the New York Post imply as much, yet still leave Jamie Dimon plenty of wiggle room to demur if the Treasury post does come open.
Under a succession plan announced plan in September, were Dimon to leave JPMorgan his presumptive replacement would be Jes Staley, who was promoted to chief executive of the investment bank from head of asset management. From a cultural standpoint, Staley's elevation would confirm that investment banking and market experience trumps a commercial banking background as a qualification to head a universal bank. Such a move would also reshuffle the leadership scorecard not just within JPMorgan Chase but for Wall Street as a whole, where Dimon has been a highly visible and effective presence.
A Matter of Image
"Dimon has largely escaped the popular backlash that would consign many high-profile bankers to the lowest rungs of hell," observes Forbes, which goes on to say he's "managed to emerge a rare hero of a vilified industry." That's a dramatic contrast with Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, whose institution became the lightning rod - some would say scapegoat - for public fury over the financial crisis and bailout.
Even while perched firmly within the private sector, Dimon has been near the center of Washington's response to each unfolding phase of the recent crisis. Sometimes referred to as the government's "go-to banker" for agreeing to acquire Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual in 2008 when regulators were scrambling to keep those institutions from failing, lately he's been a vocal participant in the debate over how regulation should change to limit the risk of a future systemic crisis.
A hint of Dimon's image-control skill is evident from the widely cited opinion piece he published Nov. 13 in the Washington Post. The headline and message that both Forbes and the New York Post took from it was an explicit rejection of allowing any institution (even JPMorgan Chase itself) the status of "too big to fail." Yet the essay's real message - far less politically appealing - is found in its second paragraph: "But ending the era of 'too big to fail' does not mean that we must somehow cap the size of financial-services firms. Scale can create value for shareholders; for consumers, who are beneficiaries of better products, delivered more quickly and at less cost; for the businesses that are our customers; and for the economy as a whole. Artificially limiting the size of an institution, regardless of the business implications, does not make sense."
Would Dimon Jump?
Would Dimon really take Geithner's job if it came open? It's not entirely clear.
Discussing efforts in Washington to overhaul bank regulation, he told Forbes, "I am far more concerned about my country in this regard than my company." That sounds like someone interested in assuming a policy role. Less directly, the New York Post's story says unnamed people familiar with Dimon's thinking said the long-time Democratic supporter "would love to serve his country." Yet the same story says Dimon has told people he plans to remain at JPMorgan another "six or seven years."