As chief executive for the past 14 years of the largest U.S. bank, JPMorgan, Chase & Co. boss Jamie Dimon is used to many people asking him for money -- and many more yelling at him. Sometimes these confrontations occur in Congress or more commonly outside the doors of wherever he happens to be talking to a crowd, as he works to humanize his image and his institution, which is building 50 new branches to draw new customers around Philadelphia, and more elsewhere, as other banks shut branches down.
Protests pop up "everywhere I go,” he told hundreds of docs, hawkers, inventors and investors who crowded the Great Hall at the Pennsylvania Convention Center at the BIO 2019 confab early Wednesday.
“I’m surprised there are not people here yelling that we should not be financing fossil fuel companies.” Which, he points out in his petro-powered customers’ defense, are still fueling most of our air conditioning and rides to work.
Dimon riffed on the let’s-all-fix-America themes that he pounded in his 51-page “Dear Fellow Shareholders” letter last spring. To cut healthcare costs while improving service, he reminded everyone he’s joined Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, investor Warren Buffett, and surgeon Atul Gawande (Being Mortal) in founding a healthcare company, Haven, to cut red tape and middlemen and perverse incentives. He said his painful 2015 treatments for second-stage throat cancer have made his approach to life “more deliberate.”
But he has little patience for attempts to too-closely regiment the private sector. “What happened with Amazon was crazy,” he said of Big Apple Democrats’ complaints that torpedoed the delivery and server giant’s plans for 25,000 new jobs in New York City.
He called for immigration reform -- citing his hardworking Greek refugee family and praising America as a “shining light” among nations-- then qualified it by urging that we focus on admitting professionals. He also called for higher minimum wages -- in cities and states that want them.
Responding to gentle questions from BIO’s longtime executive director, former U.S. Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., Dimon insisted that his bank didn’t really need the 2008 government bailout -- which JPMorgan like most banks repaid with interest -- but did so because the Bush administration said solvent banks should take it alongside insolvent ones to prevent panic.
Americans could pay more taxes, he maintained -- but only if they trusted the money would be used to help them; which, lately, they don’t.
Sensitive that his powerful industry is run by old white men, Dimon said half the senior executives reporting to him are now women -- and his successor “may be a woman, but it won’t be because she’s a woman.” The company has doubled the number of black managing directors in the past two years, he adds.
Dimon said the U.S. financial system today is sound, despite bad government policies such as the Trump administration’s fast-swelling budget deficits, a student loan program that feeds college cost inflation, a “corrupt” road and bridge building system that delays projects and needlessly multiplies public costs -- and other government-built obstacles which have halved the U.S. growth rate and reduced opportunity, he contends.
Stronger leaders would solve these problems; tough journalists “who aren’t just [ideological] echo chambers” could help the people see more clearly and demand action.
At the moment he’s more worried about the “self-inflicted” trade war between the U.S. and China, Mexico and other trading partners -- and the worry that it will turn into a broader “economic war.”
There are legitimate trade issues that the U.S. needs to confront, Dimon admitted. “But doing it this way is causing a lot of consternation,” he added, before concluding, with a typical Dimon hedge: “It may work.”
(More on JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, why he’s spending more time in Philadelphia, and some of the people he visited here this week, in Sunday’s PhillyDeals column)