JPMorgan Chase’s Dimon shares upbeat message

Bank CEO brings tour to Vancouver

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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On a day when his company’s stock dropped by more than 9 percent in the stock market’s latest drubbing, you wouldn’t expect Jamie Dimon, chairman, president and CEO of JPMorgan Chase Bank, to be cheerleading at a downtown Vancouver employee barbecue that had the trappings of a rock music road tour.

But there the Wall Street wizard was, mugging in photographs with employees from Oregon and Washington and signing autographs before delivering a pep rally speech that earned him a standing ovation. While many Americans closed the day anxious about the economy and their retirement savings, Dimon steered to an upbeat message about the future of America and, of course, its second-largest bank.

“Eventually this great economic machine will start to turn, and when it does it will blow your socks off,” said Dimon, 55, casually dressed in Levi’s and New Balance running shoes at the parking lot barbecue.

Dimon’s Monday afternoon visit to Chase’s downtown Vancouver branch was part of a West Coast tour that will take Dimon and his entourage from Seattle to Southern California. Members of his road crew handed out Chase hand signs, pompoms, bandanas, and T-shirts with the message “Chase 2011 West Coast Road Trip August 7-12.” A huge black touring bus sat waited at the curb. A massive spread of hamburgers, pizza, snacks and drinks filled tables even after the mostly blue-shirted employees had eaten their fill.

Focus of critics

The glossy trappings were in contrast to a sense of secrecy that had shrouded Dimon’s local appearance. JPMorgan Chase public relations officials had provided little advance information about his visit or the larger tour, citing security concerns. Dimon is among the highest-profile of bankers on Wall Street, a man who was widely rumored as a potential candidate for U.S. Treasury Secretary after President Barack Obama’s election, and a lightning rod for the banking industry’s critics.

Dimon became the bank’s president and CEO on Dec. 31, 2005, and led the bank’s takeover of Seattle-based Washington Mutual and New York investment bank Bear Stearns when both collapsed during the financial crisis. Now considered to be one of the nation’s strongest big banks, JPMorgan Chase reported a 48 percent increase in earnings, to $17.4 billion, in 2010. Dimon earned $20.8 million in 2010, a figure that includes $1 million in salary, a $5 million cash bonus, and $14 million in restricted stock and options.

Dimon’s brief presentation stuck to a positive message, one of thanking employees for their contributions to the company and its customers. The bank helped hospitals, schools, and universities “at their darkest moment,” he said. “We tried to be there for them.”

Saying the bank should own up to errors, Dimon said JPMorgan’s worst mistake was in foreclosing on homes of veterans. Now the company has taken extra steps to hire veterans and works to keep veterans in their homes.

He made no reference to an ongoing controversy in Bend, Ore., where an advocacy group has organized a high-profile campaign criticizing JPMorgan Chase for its moves to foreclose on the home of Aaron Collette, a soldier in Iraq. Collette’s father is the home’s owner, but the group Economic Fairness Oregon says some 120,000 people have signed a petition demanding that JPMorgan find a way to prevent the foreclosure. Collette is scheduled to arrive in Bend Tuesday on leave from Iraq.

‘The finest country’

Dimon did refer to the Dow’s 634-point drop on Monday, but said he had no doubt the U.S. would eventually recover. “This is the finest country on the planet,” he said. He criticized Congress for its handling of the debt ceiling dispute and said the U.S. needs to open the doors to more trained and educated immigrants to who can contribute to economic growth.

He said too much emphasis is placed on building small businesses when the economy needs the contribution of larger businesses that drive the economy and create opportunities for small firms. “Big, medium, and small businesses are all a family,” he said.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the correct number of people who signed a petition in support of the Collette family.