Is it harder to get ahead at J.P. Morgan, or Goldman Sachs?

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Jamie Dimon's done it again. COO and heir apparent Matt Zames resigned last week in a move that was interpreted as the J.P. Morgan CEO's latest successful effort at unseating potential successors. Zames' exit follows that of Bill Winters, Jes Staley and Mike Cavanagh - all touted as potential Dimon replacements. “One by one, Jamie took them out and shot them,” an executive at a rival bank told the Financial Times. 

Does this put a ceiling on your chances of getting ahead at J.P. Morgan? It depends how you look at it.

In terms of rudimentary statistics, it's twice as hard to make MD at J.P. Morgan as at Goldman Sachs.

J.P. Morgan promotes people to managing director (MD) on an annual basis. Last year, 120 people were given the title at J.P. Morgan's corporate and investment bank (CIB) according to Business Insider.  The CIB employed 48,748 people, making the MD class just 0.25% of the total number of employees.

By comparison, Goldman Sachs only promotes MDs biannually. However, when it does promote MDs, it promotes a lot. GS promoted 425 people across the firm in its last MD promotion round in 2015, or 1.2% of its headcount at the time.

On this basis, it looks twice as easy to make MD at Goldman as at J.P. Morgan.

This may be so, but the crunch point at Goldman Sachs isn't at MD level. Nor is it at partner level. It's at the head of business level. At Goldman Sachs, head of businesses stick around for a long, long time. Take Paul Russo, co-chief operating officer of the global equities franchise, who's been with the firm since 1989 and a partner in the equities division since 2000. Or take Isabelle Ealet, one of the global co-heads of the securities division, who's been partner since 2000 and has been running securities since 2011.

Goldman insiders point to the stability of senior management as a source of competitive advantage, but it can also be a source of frustration: once you hit a certain level at Goldman, there's nowhere else to go. Although partners depart regularly, the very senior management at GS has been remarkably consistent. This may be changing. - In an interview last week, Lloyd Blankfein told Fortune that Gary Cohn's exit has freed up space for top promotions at GS. Accordingly, Gregg Lemkau and Marc Nachmann were named co-heads of banking alongside John Waldron last month after former co-head of banking David Solomon as promoted to replace Cohn.

By comparison, however, the more frequent disappearance/assasination of senior staff at J.P. Morgan does at least create plenty of opportunities for advancement. When CFO Douglas Braunstein left in 2012, he was replaced by the relative unknown, Marianne Lake. When global head of equities, Tim Throsby, left to join Jes Staley at Barclays last September, two J.P. Morgan insiders, Mark Leung and Jason Sippel, were promoted to fill his shoes. When Jeff Urwin left for Deutsche Bank in 2015, his duties were shifted to Carlos Hernandez, then head of U.S. banking, who became head of banking globally.

In some ways, having an insecure CEO can be an advantage.


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