The long partnership of Sandy Weill and Jamie Dimon was the stuff of legends. Starting when Dimon went to work for Weill straight out of business school in 1982, the two men built a financial empire included Smith Barney, travellers and finally Citicorp. Then, suddenly, in 1998 it was over.
It may have had something to do with a 1995 New York Times article titled “Becoming His Own Man.” In his new book, Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase, Duff McDonald tells how that story caused a rift between the two men strong enough that Weill’s wife felt she needed to tell Dimon’s mother (the families had been friends since Dimon’s father Ted worked for Weill) that it was “not good for Jamie to be getting this kind of publicity.”
Weill, who had approved the idea of the article and whose PR team had overseen the process, felt slighted by two things about the article. The first was the accompanying picture, in which Dimon was in the foreground and Weill in the background. To some, it simply looked like Weill was a proud mentor looking over the shoulder of his accomplished protégé. But Weill interpreted it differently—as if it showed Dimon pushing Weill into the background. McDonald says the picture outraged Weill.
But even more than the picture was a quote from Joseph Califano, a Travellers director who had been the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Carter Administration. Califano had said that Dimon was actually running things. “He runs Smith Barney,” said Califano, adding that Dimon was more and more the driving force at travellers as a whole.
Several people told Dimon that the story was going to cause him problems. They were right. Weill barged into a meeting the next day. “Who the fuck told Joe Califano to say that? And who chose that photo?”
Still, Dimon failed to initially recognise the shift in his boss’ perspective. “I was still a little bit of a kid,” recalls Dimon. “Weill’s PR people orchestrated it. He knew about it. He knew better, and I didn’t. But I don’t think it was really about the picture. He looked more like a proud father in it than anything else. It was about Califano’s quote. All of a sudden there was the question: ‘Is Jamie really running this place?’ I think that was what got to him.”