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JPMorgan Chase is bending over backwards to show that a pair of bankers racing to succeed Jamie Dimon are happy with the arrangement — but not everybody on Wall Street is buying it.
Marianne Lake and Jennifer Piepszak — who last week were named co-heads of the mega-bank’s consumer lending and community banking businesses, effectively launching a contest to decide its next chief executive — appeared in a Zoom town hall broadcast last Thursday as a few hundred of JPMorgan’s top bankers looked on, sources told The Post.
Seated next to each other at the mega-bank’s headquarters at 270 Park Ave. in Midtown Manhattan, the top-ranking finance execs — each of them 51 years old — were chummy and chatty, kept the conversation light and touched on how they were even friends socially, according to a source close to JPMorgan.
“We’ve been close colleagues for over 15 years,” Piepszak told employees at the meeting, according to the source. “We take barre class together.” Lake quickly added that Piepszak was far better at the ballet fitness class than she was, according to the source.
For good measure, the women emphasized a united approach in an internal memo sent Friday that was obtained by The Post. “Having known each other for decades across many businesses and roles, we will be very efficient in our management practices,” they wrote.
“When one of us makes a decision, it will stand for both of us,” they added. “We will make decisions together.”
But to many insiders and experts, that sounds like a hopelessly awkward situation — and a possible recipe for disaster.
Lake, previously the head of consumer lending, had been widely seen as the frontrunner to succeed Dimon. Now, she’s sharing an equal role with Piepszak, who succeeded her as chief financial officer when she was promoted two years ago.
“I’m sure they were very good friends … up until a week ago,” Dick Bove, Wall Street Analyst at Odeon Capital Group, told The Post. “If you put two people in the position where only one can survive, it’s difficult for them to work harmoniously.”
JPMorgan this week dismissed such concerns, as well as criticism that the C-suite shuffle looked like a textbook case of bad management, as “sexist and ridiculous.”
“The New York Post is sexist, falsely pitting women against each other,” spokesman Joe Evangelisti said in a statement. “That’s sexist and ridiculous.”
But experts including Sandra Sucher, a management professor at Harvard Business School, disagreed, arguing that it’s JPMorgan’s top brass that appears sexist after last week’s move.
“It looks like a bakeoff — we want to give it to a woman so let’s pit them against each other,” Sucher told The Post. “If I were Marianne I’d be embarrassed. I’m being made a co-head in a line of business that doesn’t typically have co-heads — it makes it look like by herself she wasn’t strong enough to do the role.”
Indeed, the two women will be sharing a role previously held by Dimon’s longtime right hand Gordon Smith, who at 62 has signaled plans to retire. “Marianne Lake emerges as the biggest loser—this was a downgrade for her.” according to Bove. “Why wouldn’t she be put in the same situation as Gordon Smith — why wouldn’t she be the natural successor to him?”
Not all analysts were entirely downbeat about JPMorgan’s unusual moves.
“JPMorgan denies it’s a horse race, but it seems to me like a horse race,” Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo said. But “don’t miss the forest for the trees — the big news is the successor will likely be a woman.”
Indeed, Dimon has told the board he plans to stay on for another five years. As such, Daniel Pinto, JPMorgan’s 58-year-old head of investment banking, is viewed more as an “emergency CEO” who would take the reins in a “Jamie got hit by a bus scenario,” but would be too old by the time the job becomes available.
Nevertheless, JPMorgan could use a more deft approach with female executives in the meantime, according to Sucher, the Harvard professor who is author of the upcoming book “The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It.”
“If we’re here to advance women into very senior roles, you do this carefully with the full understanding and explanation of the new appointments,” Sucher said. “It all begs the question of why wasn’t Marianne given head of CCB (Consumer and Community Banking).”
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