Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase Hardcover – 2009
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Dimon, without question, is highly talented. However, his career received two initial major boosts. The first was working for several Harvard Business School professors in finance prior to beginning his Harvard Business School (HBS) experience. This provided him with early high-level exposure to the area and undoubtedly enriched his education experience as well. The second was joining forces with Sandy Weill in 1982 upon graduating from Harvard (Baker Scholar - top 5%), and having the opportunity to participate in top-level analyses and decision-making with many a 'mover and shaker.' (Dimon's alternative was more remunerative, but much lower level positions in investment banking.)
Weill had recently been pushed out of American Express, so Dimon was taking a bit of a gamble joining up with Weill. Fortunately, it wasn't too long before Control Data asked for help with its newly acquired Commercial Credit unit - lender to those with relatively low household incomes. Weill was appointed CEO in 1986, a leveraged buy-out soon followed, assuring a rich options opportunity for both himself and Dimon. Other steps included a 10% staff cut, selling off the car leasing and accounts-receivable insurance businesses (too much risk), and cutting executive perks (magazine subscriptions, country club memberships, flowers). Return on equity jumped from 4% to 18%. McDonald also lets readers know that Dimon was seen as abrasive and arrogant, as well as an incredible fact-digger and student of corporate financials. (If your child's report card says "Doesn't work well with others," don't worry.)
The business model Weill and Dimon adopted was that of running the business conservatively, building fortress balance sheets (high-quality capital - common and preferred stock, conservative accounting and loss reserves) to make acquisitions during downturns when assets were cheap. Aim to make the firm either more distinctive (eg. provide customers with a more comprehensive accounting statement), or the low-cost producer - aka Porter's HBS strategic advice. They went on to buy Primerica (Gerry Tsai's over-leveraged American Can, plus acquisitions), then Drexel Burnham, Barclay's American/Financial, and ultimately Traveler's Insurance. (The latter was caught between real estate defaults in its investments and annuity investors wanting their returns.)
Weill eventually became jealous over the publicity and attention afforded Dimon (New Yorkers had seen this movie before when Mayor Giuliani pushed the highly successful Police Chief Bratton out for the same reason), was outraged that Dimon denied Weill's daughter a promotion (McDonald says Dimon was correct in doing so; regardless, probably not a good career move by Dimon), and shortly after Weill acquired Citibank, Dimon is pushed out in 2000. (How Weill got the laws changed and the Federal Reserve to go along is a whole other, 'dark,' topic.)
After about a year, Banc One, 4th-largest bank in the U.S. was having problems with its most recent merger involving a Chicago-based bank. Banc One had been built up by buying competitors with the promise they'd be allowed to keep on doing what they had been doing. The result was more willing sellers, and a failure to take advantage of scale or synergies. Another problem was top-level political infighting between the two banks over who would remain. A third problem was First USA - a credit card unit bought for $8 billion in 1997 that was losing 16% of customers/year due to rate hikes and poor service.
Dimon resolved the infighting problem within a year - all but one of the thirteen executive committee members were replaced (seven came from Citibank), he reduced the combined board from 22 to 13 and put his own allies on it. New hires from Citibank were given a one-year contract at 2/3 their prior salary, for a smaller job at a worse-off company. (Weill complained, Dimon told him to look at his own operation to see why they were leaving.)
Another early focus was on standardizing computer systems (seven deposit systems, five loan systems- these were combined), improved financial controls (Dimon believed the bank had taken on excessive risk, and also wrote-off $15 billion in bad assets from 2000-2003), and revised reporting structures. Neither grand strategy nor acquisitions were on the agenda - Dimon wanted to first get a solidly executing base. Cash was conserved by cutting the dividend in half, freeing up $1 billion/year, despite objections from some shareholders. Twelve thousand were laid off, and accountability improved by establishing P&L reports for each branch. Management motivation was intensified by switching from the historic 5-12% raises for all, to 100% for the top 10%, 50% for the next 10%, 30% for the following 50%, and nothing for the lagging 30%. Hours were extended to match competitors. Consultants, especially those working on implementation, were cut to a minimum (anything over $100,000 required Dimon's approval - he believed managers should do their own work), executive coaches and perks were eliminated, and options were restructured to expire in six years rather than ten.
Another major initiative was Dimon's canceling the bank's large IT outsourcing deal - he saw this area as a core competency. Finally, some lines of business were exited - eg. auto leasing (Dimon disliked involvement with rapidly depreciating investments, especially mobile homes).
Meanwhile, back in New York City, the head of J.P. Morgan Chase was concerned about succession, and decided to solve that problem (and a few others) by acquiring Banc One and Jamie Dimon. A 14% stock premium was paid, Dimon pocketed $44 million on the shares he bought when moving to Banc One, and a new #2 bank ($1.1 trillion in assets, vs. Citigroup's $1.3 trillion) came into being.
Dimon then basically repeats the actions he had learned and taken previously. Perks went out - including the 15 corporate gyms, golden parachutes, deferred compensation, first-class air travel, chiefs of staff at any level, and 401(k) matching. Executive health insurance premiums were increased. Twelve thousand lost their jobs, and 80% of unallocated corporate expenses were pushed down to lower levels of responsibility. The bank's $5 billion IT outsourcing contract with IBM was canceled, and staff were given six weeks to decide on what the new single computer system would consist of. (Dimon promised to do it for them if the decisions weren't made by then.) The bank exited the business of providing loans for mobile homes, reduced exposure to sub-prime loans, SIVs, and derivatives because the risk premiums were not great enough. Dimon reasserted that borrowing short-term to finance long-term assets is a fundamental commandment that cannot be violated. And Dimon also found time to review the compensation of each of the top 500 managers, along with a committee.
The year 2007 ended with J.P. Morgan Chase leveraged at 12.7X, vs. 19.2 at Citigroup, and 33.5 for Bear, Stearns. 2008, however, would not be a good year for Bear, Stearns. It began the year paying 2.3% for credit insurance (2X that of Morgan, and 4X Deutsche Bank). This rose to 6.26% by March 10. Bear eventually asked for help - telling Morgan it needed between $4 - 20 billion. (This spread made it obvious to Morgan personnel that Bear leaders didn't know what they were talking about.) Eventually, J.P. Morgan Chase acquired Bear for $10/share (the price would have been $2 except for a major error by the outside attorney's used by Chase), and 10,000 of Bear's 14,000 employees left or were laid off. Market share was not emphasized by Dimon; building reserves and reducing risk (eg. returning to 80% loan-to-value standards, exiting business originated by loan brokers - formerly 30% of their home loans originated this way, and continuing to stay away from ARMs) was. (Unfortunately, this section of "Last Man Standing" was especially verbose and vague. The good news is that Dimon's "Letter to Stockholders" helps, and is included herein.)
The year 2008 brought the largest S&L failure in history - Washington Mutual. J.P. Morgan acquired its banking subsidiaries (including 2,200 branches) for $1.9 billion from the FDIC. (The FDIC and J.P. Morgan were subsequently sued for $13 billion by those believing the sale was a 'fire-sale' price. Chase is now the largest credit-card issuer in the nation, but only earns 5% on equity - hardly rapacious as many would claim. (Was 21% in 2007.) It now is raising credit-card lending standards and increasing loan reserves - anticipating greater losses due to unemployment, and no profits at all in the coming year. In each of its businesses, Chase ranks in the top three of that industry (aka Welch's mandate to G.E. - insure scale economies and focus on growth); however, Dimon insists market share is not the goal. Thirteen million square feet of excess real estate has been shed 2003 - 2007.
TARP money was accepted - not because Chase needed it, but to preserve unanimity and avoid other banks trying to avoid accepting it because it would signal weakness to the financial markets. Chase has reduced it dividend. Dimon also points out that 'this is not your grandfather's economy' - traditional banks now provide only 20% of lending in the economy; right after WWII it was 60%. Substitutes include money-market and bond funds, etc.
Bottom Line: "Last Man Standing" has too much fluff and unexplained material. However, careful reading, combined with reference to Dimon's 'Management Letters' make this a valuable endeavor.
It's a good feeling working for a company where what I do everyday for our clients (despite being just 1 out of over 200,000) actually matters. No one here is insignificant. And every detail, every employee, matters. And that's a healthy culture for any business to have. I am proud to be part of this great company; proud of our leader and our management team's diligent handling of our bank's financial affairs; proud to have been able to help our clients during a very difficult period for our country.
Duff's account of Jamie's career is a must read for any aspiring manager/leader. From his detailed account of Jamie's early career to the more recent events, this book is an easy, addictive read. It's hard to put it down. Great job researching the stories, issues and conducting interviews. In the aftermath of this complex system meltdown, it is refreshing to read a book in which complex financial issues can be easily understood by anyone. Strongly recommended.
I only gave the book 3 star, because I felt it was written in a more favorable light than was deserved. It read more like hagiography than biography. The book is worth reading.