Why Steve Black is leaving the house of Jamie Dimon

November 4, 2010, 12:24 AM UTC

On the day of his resignation, JPMorgan’s Steve Black reflects on the financial crisis, the elections, and what it’s like to work under a CEO that the media can’t get enough of.

JPMorgan's Steve Black

It’s not often that people leave the Jamie Dimon fold. At least not these days, when working at JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is about as good a bet as you can make for job security on Wall Street.

That didn’t stop Steve Black, current vice chairman of the company and former co-head of JPMorgan’s investment bank, from deciding his time at the company was up. This afternoon, Dimon sent out a company-wide note announcing that Black had decided to leave the firm in early 2011.

Black, who co-ran the investment bank with Bill Winters for five years, leaves the company with an enviable track record, having taken the division from an industry also-ran to the very front of the pack, in part by avoiding the mortgage implosion that crippled many of the company’s competitors. During their time at the helm, JPMorgan’s investment bank doubled its revenue and picked off Bear Stearns in the early crisis days of March 2008.

Fortune caught up with Black a few hours after the announcement and asked him to reflect on his time at JPMorgan and his decision to leave.

Is this it? Have we seen the last of Steve Black, the man of colorful quotes to journalists the world over? Are you retiring?

I am not retiring. If you read Jamie’s note from this morning, the word retirement does not show up in it. I have had a great run here and we accomplished a huge amount, but the time is right for me to move on and see if there is another chapter for me or not. I said I would stay to try and help transition the leadership change in the investment bank, and I wanted to feel good about that.

Is the investment bank in good hands with Jes Staley?

The business is in great shape and in the hands of a great team. I couldn’t be more proud of what Bill and I did with investment bank, from when we got it to how we left it. When we left, it was if not the best than one of the two best investment banks in the world. We had record profits in 2009. We led every major league table. We had major market share gains. And we won every award we could win.

Those are all serious accomplishments, but what are you most proud of?

Helping shepherd the bank through the biggest financial crisis of my lifetime. By any measure, we came through the crisis in pretty good shape and were able to do some things like picking up Bear Stearns and setting the company up for huge success coming out of the depths of it all.

There was some talk that you and Bill Winters were not the best of friends. Truth? What’s next for him, do you think?

Bill, first and foremost, was a great partner. I don’t think we ever could have accomplished what we did with the investment bank without a quality partnership. I consider him a lifelong friend. For being married for five years, I can count on one hand the serious disagreements we had. He is serving on that commission in London. After that, it remains to be seen.

Coverage of JPMorgan tends to be all Jamie, all the time. That must have been frustrating, especially in light of the success you and Bill had. Was it?

Jamie has got some unbelievable strengths and is as good as anybody in the industry. When the outside world puts an individual like him on a pedestal and thinks that he’s the only person at the company who has any ability, sure, it can be a little frustrating. But that’s not the way Jamie acts. It’s not Jamie’s fault and it’s not because he governs that way.

Last time you left a company after a lengthy stretch, you went and drove race cars around Rome. What are you going to do this time? Climb Everest?

I’m sure I will find something exciting to do in order to kill time before I decide what’s next.

What about last night’s elections? What’s your take on the results?

You would hope there will be some intent for the folks in Washington for trying to solve some issues at this point as opposed to continued finger pointing and stalemating.

Why don’t you take your show down the road to DC and solve the problems for us? There’s a well-trod path from Wall Street success to Washington, and your candor would be refreshing.

I’m not sure I have I the temperament. But never say never.