Jamie Dimon is a renowned Wall Street prankster, but making fun of China is risky even for the world’s top bank manager.
During a panel discussion at the Boston College Chief Executives Club, Dimon joked, “I was just in Hong Kong and I joked that the Communist Party is celebrating its centenary. So is J.P. Morgan. I’ll bet we’ll last longer.’
He didn’t stop there. ‘I can’t say that in China. They’re probably listening anyway,” the 65-year-old banker added.
Founded in 1895, JP Morgan has been active in China since 1921 – the same year the Chinese Communist Party was officially founded.
The comments were apparently met with laughter, while those who know Dimon were aware of his brash sense of humor.
But in a sign that even the King of Wall Street is wary of Beijing, he has since apologized — twice.
Speech: JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon (pictured) has twice apologized for comments he made about China at the Boston College Chief Executives Club
First he said, “I’m sorry and shouldn’t have made that comment. I tried to emphasize the strength and longevity of our company.”
Hours later he added: “I really regret my recent comment because it’s never good to joke about or denigrate a group of people, be it a country, its leadership or part of a society and culture.
‘Speaking in that way can take away a constructive and thoughtful dialogue in society, which is needed now more than ever.’
Dimon was – until now at least – seen as almost untouchable.
He spent 16 years as the bank’s chief executive, survived the financial crisis and made JP Morgan the most consistent performer on Wall Street.
His appearance in China betrays self-confidence – even arrogance – in stark contrast to British rival HSBC, who has been accused of ‘kowtowing’ to Beijing.
And there is little sign that he is ready to step down. Despite being 65, it’s clear that he wants to stay another five years, telling Fox Business in the summer, “I’m not going to play golf and smell flowers.”
He has survived throat cancer and had emergency heart surgery at the start of the pandemic.
And he has outlived other titans who led their banks into the financial crisis, including Goldman Sach’s supremo Lloyd Blankfein.
Dimon’s success is due to his enormous energy and although he has a good sense of humor, this can quickly turn into a fierce temper.
He wakes up at 5 a.m. fully informed and at the office at 7:30 a.m., although he has supposedly cut back on running and tennis.
He appears at events with his wife Judy, whom we courted at Harvard and was described by classmate Jeffrey Immelt – who later became GE’s president – as “by far the prettiest, sexiest and smartest girl in the class.”
He is said to remember the names of every junior he meets, as well as to have a list of who owes him favors. And he has never been afraid to speak out and has even been willing to clash publicly with heads of state.
Power couple: Dimon with wife Judy, who was described by classmate Jeffrey Immelt – later GE president – as “by far the prettiest, sexiest and smartest girl in the class”
In 2011, he asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy to get the G20 to avoid ‘over-regulation’ of banks.
But Sarkozy turned red and launched an attack on bankers, saying they had taken measures during the financial crisis that “defy common sense” and harmed millions of people.
Unsurprisingly, Dimon’s time with JP Morgan made him a very wealthy man. Last year he took home £24 million, which is equivalent to his salary in 2019.
But a major blot on his writing system was the London Whale scandal of 2012, which resulted in one of JP Morgan’s Canary Wharf bankers losing a whopping £4.2 billion.
Dimon initially dismissed the story as a ‘storm in a teapot’, which he soon regretted.
Later, he was more remorseful, calling the transactions “flawed, complex, poorly judged, poorly executed and poorly controlled.” The bank ended up paying more than £1 billion in fines to settle US and UK regulatory investigations into the matter.
For a while, Dimon’s rockstar status was threatened as regulators questioned whether banks were unable to control their employees after the financial crisis and whether bankers were still addicted to risk.
But if rivals thought this was the end of Dimon, they were wrong.
He knows how to maintain power and has ousted or sidelined potential successors, including Bill Winters, who went on to lead Standard Chartered, and Jes Staley who went to Barclays.
Still, question marks have grown as to whether Dimon can really last another five years.
There are rumors that British banker Marianne Lake, a Reading University graduate and a single mother of three, is getting closer to achieving the title.
Lake is responsible for running JP Morgan’s consumer loans division.
Should Lake pull it off, she would become the second major British CEO on Wall Street, with Scottish-born Jane Fraser at the head of Citigroup. But for now, Dimon, like the Chinese Communist Party, seems immobile.