The Most Powerful Banker In America Could Have His Wings Clipped This Week

Getty Images/ Mark Wilson As you read, shareholders of JP Morgan are deciding if CEO Jamie Dimon will keep his job as he knows it.

Dimon, widely considered the most powerful banker in the country, holds the positions of both CEO and Chairman of JP Morgan’s board. It’s the largest bank in the U.S., and complaints from regulators, and the sting of a $6 billion trading loss last year have given more ammunition to those who’ve asked for some time now — is JP Morgan too big to manage?

The specific question at hand is whether or not one man, even one with Dimon’s talent, can be both the CEO and the Chairman of the board that is supposed to judge the CEO’s performance for shareholders.

At last year’s meeting, 40% of shareholders answered ‘no’ to that question. This year it looks like there will be more. Proxy advisors, Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis, have advised JP Morgan shareholders to vote in favour of splitting the two roles.

As bold as ever, Dimon has said that if that happens, he will leave the bank entirely. He will have it all or nothing — and he’s fighting hard for the former. Last week, The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (an organisation of which JP Morgan is a part) asked Broadridge, the company tallying incoming shareholder votes, to stop sharing the results with Dimon’s detractors.

Seeing the votes as they come in, would, after all, give the board and Dimon a significant advantage. This is a spin game, where getting the right message to the right people is everything. With voting information, the board will know who to target and how.

As of Friday, endowments and pensions filed with the SEC to review the rules for shareholder voting to see if a move like this is even legal, according to Reuters

From Reuters:

Michael Garland, who oversees corporate governance for New York City Comptroller John Liu, one of the fund investors behind the proposal, said May 6 was the last time he learned from Broadridge how the voting was going. “It is hard to know what kind of strategy to pursue and what kind of resources to invest,” Garland said.

But it may be too late in the game for that to make a difference. For the last week the financial media has sounded like this — CEOs (and former CEOs) of all shapes and sizes sounding off about how great Dimon is at his job. Some say his detractors are just jealous, others say he’s the best manager in the world and that JP Morgan would be sunk without his leadership, etc.

Those comments make for decent headlines, but they don’t erase the fact that, as Businessweek pointed out, the litigation section of JP Morgan’s quarterly reports runs to 18 single-spaced pages. 

Additionally, they do not change the fact that Washington has made it clear that it is growing tired of hearing of misbehavior coming from the House of Dimon — in energy trading, or with Bernie Madoff’s accounts, for example.

Regardless, JP Morgan bankers seem completely unworried about who will be captaining their ship in the coming years. It will be Jamie, and in their view he doesn’t need a boss.

There is no succession plan for his departure in the event of disaster either, as Reuters’ Felix Salmon pointed out. But the view from inside JP Morgan is that there doesn’t need to be one. Dimons are forever.

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