The financial crisis from the CEO's chair
Title: Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase
Author: Duff McDonald
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2009
ISBN: 978-1416599531, 340 pages
Review: Last Man Standing
By Rolf Dobelli, Chairman, getAbstract
Duff McDonald's book covers a fascinating historical moment - the 2008-2009 Wall Street debacle - by profiling a pivotal character in the thick of it, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Having spent extensive time with Dimon, McDonald combines his reporting with published sources, Dimon's own writings and statements, and interviews with his associates, employees or relatives. McDonald covers Dimon's youth, business school education and evolving career. Dimon was a nonconformist in business school and politics, an astute lieutenant of his mentor Sandy Weill, and a pivotal figure in the financial crisis. Notably, he preserved JPMorgan Chase, bought Bear Stearns and helped lead the market back to stability. Readers interested in a critical take on Dimon may find the book too flattering, but if you want to see how the financial wars looked from the CEO's chair, getAbstract recommends this intriguing perspective.
Jamie Dimon's grandfather left Greece as a refugee, making his way to New York in 1921. He changed his surname from Papademetriou to Dimon, perhaps because the new name made it easier to get work as a restaurant busboy. Family legend says the restaurant fired him and he went to work for a Greek bank. After becoming its vice president, he moved to Shearson Hammill, a brokerage. His son, Theodore (Ted), Jamie's father, eventually joined the same firm. Jamie was born on March 13, 1956. His family lived in Jackson Heights, in Queens, until he was 11 years old. Then, they tried the suburbs, but returned to New York City in a year. In school, Jamie was a good athlete, protective of his more cerebral twin brother, ethical and willing to challenge authority over points of morality.
The Dimons got to know Sandy Weill, then head of Hayden Stone, when he acquired the Shearson Hammill brokerage. Ted Dimon received considerable autonomy in exchange for staying at the firm. The families became close. Jamie Dimon wrote a paper analyzing how Weill combined "an efficient company (Hayden Stone) with an inefficient one (Shearson Hammill)" during his sophomore year at Tufts University. The paper impressed Weill and soon Jamie was working for him for a summer, speaking up and even daring to contradict his boss on occasion.
After college, Dimon worked for a small consulting firm. He boldly asserted himself when he felt he had been wronged and the experience opened his eyes to the dishonesty and bureaucracy rife in corporations. In 1980, he went to Harvard Business School, a Democrat among Republicans, wearing jeans amid a crowd of preppy grad students. At Harvard, he met his future wife, feisty fellow student Judy Kent, and graduated in 1982. The couple has three daughters, Julia, Kara and Laura. Dimon notes, "Until they were about 15, we never took a vacation without them. The kids...would say I was around a lot, even though I thought I wasn't...because when I was there, I would be there."
Sandy Weill and the Acquisition Engine
Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley offered Dimon jobs, so he called Weill for advice. His family friend, now chair of the executive committee at American Express, asked Dimon to join the company. Soon, political maneuvering pushed Weill out of his operating duties. He and Dimon negotiated to buy Amex's faltering insurance unit, Fireman's Fund, with Warren Buffett's help, but the Amex board vetoed the deal. Weill and Dimon resigned...
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