The Banker Who Talks Too Much
March 15, 2023
Jamie Dimon, would you please please please please please stop talking! (About all the wrong issues, and none of the right ones.)
(H/t Ernest Hemingway.)
“Do we incessantly hear Jamie Dimon’s opinions because he is particularly insightful or consistently wise,” asked one of the many smart readers of the useful and free Executive Communication Report recently, “or is it because we have become conditioned to think we need to hear what he has to say?”
I’ve actually been following the CEO of JPMorgan Chase since a writer who worked for me went to work for him, in employee communications at what was called Bank One and based in Chicago, almost a quarter century ago. Dimon was progressive, as far as CEOs went. “Great leaders always have this special sauce that is like a heavy dose of humanity, the ability to get people to follow them, even in the face of adversity, the ability to connect with people …. and the ability to treat big people the same as little people,” one of Dimon’s lieutenants told Vanity Fair for a profile in 2012. “One of Jamie’s favorite questions, when we’re talking about giving someone a big job here, he’ll say, ‘Would you want your child to work for that person?’”
He donated mostly to Democrats (and still does), even though he said 11 years ago, “I’ve gotten disturbed at some of the Democrats’ anti-business behavior, the attacks on work ethic and successful people. I think it’s very counterproductive. … It doesn’t mean I don’t have their values. I want jobs. I want a more equitable society. I don’t mind paying higher taxes. … I do think we’re our brother’s keeper but I think that attacking that which creates all things, is not the right way to go about it.”
A decade before the current Ayn Rand-in-Wonderland age of the “woke CEO,” Dimon was pretty widely respected. Even President Obama said nice things. “You know, keep in mind, though, there are a lot of banks that are actually pretty well managed, JP Morgan being a good example,” Obama said once. “Jamie Dimon, the CEO there—I don’t think he should be punished for doing a pretty good job managing an enormous portfolio.”
But somehow between then and now, Dimon fell in love with the sound of his own quotes, and now he will hold forth unhelpfully and often inaccurately on just about any subject, including many on which he is no more knowledgeable than the man on the moon.
“The thing I worry the most about is Ukraine,” Dimon said last week in a typically wide-ranging interview that was picked up by many media outlets. “It’s oil, gas, the leadership of the world, and our relationship with China—that is much more serious than the economic vibrations that we all have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
That was a couple days before Silicon Valley Bank collapsed and the stock market tanked.
Dimon went on to prevaricate about the economy. “We could still have a soft landing,” he said. “A mild recession is possible, a harder recession is possible. I think there’s a good chance that inflation will come down, but not enough by the fourth quarter—the Fed may actually have to do more.”
Well that pretty much covers all the bases there, J-dog! We need a bank CEO to tell us that?
And finally, the CEO of the biggest bank in in the world used his prestigious platform to demonstrate his magnificent grasp of the obvious, opining that artificial intelligence “is a technology which is staggering. … To me this is extraordinary.”
Dimon should stick to commenting on issues that his gigantic bank can influence through its investments and policies (like the SVB collapse, about which he has said nothing). And he should speak mostly about how the bank is exerting that influence.
Credible leaders are a sign of a healthy society; a dearth of them is a sign of a sick one. Regarding leaders skeptically is smart, and disrespecting them automatically is adolescent. As I wrote in The Atlantic 11 years ago after the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus, “As an American who likes to sleep at night, I try to take a more reverent attitude toward the people who pilot the institutions that try to keep our economy on its axis and our children safe from terrorists.”
But the leaders have to do their part, too. Both by speaking up when they have a unique and important insight to share—(for instance, on the regulation and insurance of banks, Jamie?)—and shutting up when they don’t.