Jamie Dimon is a renowned Wall Street wisecracker but making jokes about China is risque even for the world’s top banking executive.
Speaking at a panel discussion at the Boston College Chief Executives Club, Dimon quipped: ‘I was just in Hong Kong and I made a joke that the Communist Party is celebrating its hundredth year. So is JP Morgan. I’d make a bet we last longer.’
He didn’t stop there. ‘I can’t say that in China. They probably are listening anyway,’ the 65-year-old banker added.
JP Morgan, which was founded in 1895, has operated in China since 1921 – the same year the Chinese Communist Party was officially formed.
The comments were apparently met with howls of laughter, with those that know Dimon aware of his brash sense of humour.
But in a sign that even the King of Wall Street is wary of Beijing, he has since apologised – twice.
Speech: JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon (pictured) has apologised twice for the remarks he made about China at the Boston College Chief Executives Club
Dimon’s comments had risked jeopardizing JPMorgan’s growth ambitions in China where it won regulatory approval in August to become the first full foreign owner of a securities brokerage in the country. China experts in the United States said his quick apology should ensure no serious damage was done. (pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing)
First he said: ‘I regret and should not have made that comment. I was trying to emphasise the strength and longevity of our company.’
Hours later, he added: ‘I truly regret my recent comment because it’s never right to joke about or denigrate any group of people, whether it’s a country, its leadership, or any part of a society and culture.
‘Speaking in that way can take away from constructive and thoughtful dialogue in society, which is needed now more than ever.’
Dimon has been – until now at least – seen as almost untouchable.
He has lasted 16 years as chief executive of the bank, surviving the financial crisis and making JP Morgan the most consistent performer on Wall Street.
His pop at China betrays a self-confidence – indeed arrogance – that is in stark contrast to British rival HSBC which has been accused of ‘kowtowing’ to Beijing.
And there is little sign he is ready to stand down. Despite being 65, it is understood he wants to stay for another five years, telling Fox Business over the summer: ‘I’m not going to go play golf and smell flowers.’
He has survived throat cancer and underwent emergency heart surgery at the start of the pandemic.
And he has outlasted other titans who led their banks into the financial crisis including Goldman Sachs supremo Lloyd Blankfein.
Dimon’s success has been put down to his huge energy and while he has a good sense of humour, this can quickly turn into a fierce temper.
He wakes up at 5am and is fully briefed and in the office by 7.30am, although he has supposedly cut back on running and tennis.
He appears at events alongside his wife Judy, who we wooed at Harvard and was described by classmate Jeffrey Immelt – who later became the chairman of GE – as ‘by far the best-looking, sexiest and smartest girl in the class’.
It is said he remembers the names of every junior he meets but also has a list of who owes him favours. And he has never been afraid to speak out and has even been willing to clash publicly with heads of states.
Power couple: Dimon with wife Judy, who was described by classmate Jeffrey Immelt – later became the chairman of GE – as ‘by far the best-looking, sexiest and smartest girl in the class’
In 2011 he asked French president Nicolas Sarkozy to get the G20 to avoid ‘overregulation’ of banks.
But Sarkozy saw red and launched into an attack on bankers, saying during the financial crisis they had made moves that ‘defied common sense’ and harmed millions of people.
Unsurprisingly, Dimon’s time at JP Morgan has made him a very rich man. Last year he took home £24million, matching his pay in 2019.
But a significant blot on his copybook was the London Whale scandal of 2012, which resulted in one of JP Morgan’s Canary Wharf bankers losing a whopping £4.2billion.
Dimon initially dismissed the story as a ‘tempest in a teapot’, which he quickly came to regret.
Later he was more contrite, calling the trades ‘flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed and poorly monitored’. The bank ultimately paid more than £1bn in fines to settle US and UK regulatory probes into the matter.
For a while, Dimon’s rock star status was under threat as regulators questioned whether banks were unable to control their employees post the financial crisis and if bankers were still addicted to risk.
But if rivals thought it was the end of Dimon, they were wrong.
He knows how to retain power and has pushed out or sidelined potential successors, including Bill Winters, who went on to run Standard Chartered, and Jes Staley who went to Barclays.
Nevertheless, question marks have grown over whether Dimon can really last another five years.
There have been rumblings that British banker Marianne Lake, a Reading University graduate and a single mother of three, is getting closer to taking the title.
Lake is responsible for running JP Morgan’s consumer lending arm.
Should Lake pull it off, she would become the second major British chief executive on Wall Street with Scottish-born Jane Fraser heading up Citigroup. But for now, just like the Chinese Communist Party, Dimon looks immovable.