Why Elon Musk should have taken notes from Jamie Dimon
Tesla CEO Elon Musk made all sorts of terrible headlines on Thursday by chastising analysts for their “boring, bonehead” questions that were “so dry, they’re killing [him]” on the company’s latest quarterly call. And those are just a sliver of the highlights. Many think he talked his way into a 10% mid-morning plummet of Tesla’s stock price, as the quarter itself wasn’t terrible. An agitated Musk should have looked for inspiration from J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, a fellow quote-machine who also wears his heart on his sleeve. But unlike Musk, Dimon can be reactive and emotional while always tapdancing around all the carnage.
Dubbed “America’s least-hated banker” by the New York Times due to his candor during the fallout from the financial crisis, Dimon is often blunt and critical on earnings calls – he’s cursed more than a few times – but he’s never bordered on the petulance that Musk displayed on Thursday. As Zuckerberg should have emulated Dimon when he was on Capitol Hill last month, so could of Musk on Thursday. Here are some of Jamie Dimon’s gems from earnings calls over the last few years.
In a July 2017 call, Dimon sounded off on the political gridlock in the U.S. that he felt was stunting economic growth. "It's almost an embarrassment being an American citizen traveling around the world and listening to the stupid s--- we have to deal with in this country," Dimon said, calling the U.S. "one of the most bureaucratic, confusing, litigious societies on the planet.”
After detailing reform that he felt was necessary, Dimon pointed to the media for not concerning themselves with bigger news stories, like poor graduation rates, the opioid epidemic and infrastructure issues.
"I'm not talking about the administration. I'm talking about you," Dimon said during a separate call with reporters. "If we don't focus on those things, we are hurting average Americans every day."
In January of 2015, he chastised his own managers, noting that the firm needs to “stop stepping in dogs–t, which we do every now and then.” Dimon was eluding to some of the legal problems facing J.P. Morgan at the time.
Then there was the surprise conference call of May 2012 – an update on the London Whale trading controversy that saw the bank lose $6.2 billion. A month earlier, Dimon may have uttered his most famous quote, downplaying the fiasco as “the tempest in a teapot.” Come May, he no longer thought the same.
"In hindsight, the new strategy was flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed, and poorly monitored,” Dimon said during a call that was widely lampooned. "Just because we're stupid doesn't mean everybody else was,” he said of the industry.
In a July 2014 call, the first following his throat cancer diagnosis, Dimon responded to a question about a potential successor by dryly suggested a plan was already in place. "My illness has nothing to do with succession planning; I could get hit by a truck.”
Rather notorious for his distrust of cryptocurrency, Dimon attempted for once to be rather political when asked about Bitcoin in an October 2017 call. “I wouldn’t put this high in the category of important things in the world.” Dimon said, noting that was the end of his dialogue on cryptocurrency. One day later, the gloves were off. Speaking at a financial conference, Dimon called the digital currency “stupid” and a “great product” for crooks.
If you haven’t been on an earnings call for a big bank, kudos to you. They are brutally repetitive and largely self-aggrandizing. The goal for most executives is to never be quotable. Dimon has put his foot in his mouth more than once but, unlike others, he often passes on clichés and provides actual sentiment. And he does it all without crippling his own stock. Unfortunately, Dimon no longer attends the call each quarter, sometimes leaving CFO Marianne Lake to talk about nebulous pipelines and such.
Here are a few other famous quotes of his that weren’t uttered during earnings calls:
"Not to be funny about it, but my daughter asked me when she came home from school 'what's the financial crisis,' and I said, 'Well it's something that happens every five to seven years,''' he told a congressional panel in 2010. They didn’t find it funny.
“Businesses can be opaque. They’re complex. You don’t know how aircraft engines work either,” he said of regulators at Davos in 2013.
And the old reliable: "Don't do anything stupid. And don't waste money. Let everybody else waste money and do stupid things; then we'll buy them."
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