Jamie Dimon successor short list will not impress critics
FORTUNE — Those pushing for change at JPMorgan Chase might not like what they get even if they are successful. More of the same.
A number of shareholders are advocating for the bank to split its chairman and chief executive officer roles, now both held by uber-banker Jamie Dimon. On Tuesday, Glass Lewis, a firm that advises large institutions on how to vote at annual meetings, seconded a call for investors to vote for the split. Rival firm ISS made the same recommendation on Monday. Some speculate that Dimon, a forceful leader, would leave if forced to give up one of the roles.
The call for change comes in the wake of last year’s $6 billion London Whale trading loss at JPMorgan JPM. But those hoping that limiting or even removing Dimon might return the bank to its roots are likely to be disappointed. Nearly all of JPMorgan’s top CEO candidates come from parts of the bank that make investors and regulators the most nervous.
Recently the succession spotlight has been shining on Matt Zames. The 42-year-old executive took over as the bank’s sole chief operating officer in late April after the departure of his partner Frank Bisignano. But Zames comes from the area of business that just got JPMorgan into so much trouble — credit trading. Zames’s first job was at Long-term Capital Management, the credit hedge fund that nearly caused a financial crisis when it blew up in the late 1990s.
At JPMorgan, Zames has co-headed JPMorgan’s debt underwriting and trading businesses and last May took over as head of the chief investment office, after the unit’s $6 billion loss was revealed. Of course, you could argue that his background in the area that has caused JPMorgan the most problems is a plus. But making him the CEO also suggests the firm doesn’t have any plans to beat a retreat from the area.
Zames is far from having the top job at JPMorgan locked up. One sign of that: Zames was not among the executives chosen to make presentations at the bank’s recent investor day, typically a showcase for the bank’s top talent. Bisignano made a presentation when he was in the role a year ago.
If Zames doesn’t get the nod, the job could go to Michael Cavanagh. Unlike Zames, Cavanagh got his start in traditional banking at Bank One, as a loan officer to mid-sized companies. But it’s been a while since Cavanagh has been in that part of the business. Cavanagh now co-heads JPMorgan’s investment and corporate bank. And he spent some time as CFO of the bank. But Cavanagh’s star has somewhat dimmed since testifying in front of a Senate panel on the London Whale. Cavanagh got trapped in a back-and-forth with Sen. Carl Levin about how the bank may have “tweaked” models to make the London Whale trade look better than it was. At the end of the questioning, Cavanagh and JPMorgan in general came off looking pretty bad.
That could leave the top job to Daniel Pinto, who heads up much of JPMorgan’s overseas businesses and is also often noted as part of the succession short list. But the problem with Pinto is that he, too, has spent most of his career in trading. He took over the bank’s debt underwriting and trading businesses when Zames left the role.
The only female ever mentioned as a serious CEO candidate is Mary Callahan Erdoes. Erdoes was #24 on Fortune’sMost Powerful Women list last year, and like Cavanagh and Pinto, presented at investor day. She currently heads the bank’s asset management unit. Want to guess what she did before that? Investment banking, specializing in debt.
Of course, at least some of this makes sense. In the past five years or so, JPMorgan has had huge success in its investment bank, arguably displacing Goldman Sachs GS as the king of Wall Street. The corporate and investment banking unit is now its largest in terms of revenue. So it’s not surprising that the top candidates for CEO would come from that unit. What’s more, not even a traditional banker is likely to want to give up all the money that JPMorgan now makes in its Wall Street businesses.
Still, regulators, academics, and others have been pushing the big banks to dial back their riskiest businesses, or hold more capital to protect against possible losses in those areas. Over the weekend at Berkshire Hathaway’s brk.a annual meeting, Charlie Munger said the big banks should be forced to exit the derivatives business, an area JPMorgan dominates.