Is This the Face of Humility?

Last month (May 14) after JPMorgan Chase Chief Jamie Dimon acknowledged “sloppy, stupid” mistakes that led to a $3 billion (maybe more) loss by the big and risky bet division of the United States’ largest bank, I wrote that “Dimon needs a lot more intelligent decision-making, and at the top of that list I would put: HUMILITY.

So, how has he done since?

At the beginning of his testimony to the Senate Banking Committee, Dimon offered an apology.

“In December 2011, as part of a firm wide effort in anticipation of new Basel capital requirements, we instructed CIO to reduce risk-weighted assets and associated risk. To achieve this in the synthetic credit portfolio, the CIO could have simply reduced its existing positions; instead, starting in mid-January, it embarked on a complex strategy that entailed adding positions that it believed would offset the existing ones. This strategy, however, ended up creating a portfolio that was larger and ultimately resulted in even more complex and hard-to-manage risks.

“This portfolio morphed into something that, rather than protect the Firm, created new and potentially larger risks. As a result, we have let a lot of people down, and we are sorry for it.”

Good. Not great, but good. Dimon then goes on to explain exactly what went wrong, and I’ll let you read his statement and judge for yourself. I’m not a high-finance wizard.
Essentially, Dimon concludes that the investment strategy was “poorly conceived,” “traders did not have the requisite understanding of the risks they took,” and “committee structures and processes in CIO were not as formal or robust as they should have been.”

He then takes us through the steps to address the issue in the future.

“We have appointed new leadership for CIO… We have also installed a new CIO Chief Risk Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Global Controller and head of Europe. This new team has already revamped CIO risk governance, instituted more granular limits across CIO and ensured that appropriate risk parameters are in place…. Importantly, our team has made real progress in aggressively analyzing, managing and reducing our risk going forward. While this does not reduce the losses already incurred and does not preclude future losses, it does reduce the probability and magnitude of future losses. We also have established a new risk committee structure for CIO and our corporate sector.”

While Dimon concedes that mistakes were made and that “we take them seriously,” he also concludes that “we apply lessons learned to the entire Firm.”

What I did not hear from Mr. Dimon are the specific lessons hehas learned throughout this process. As Chairman, President and CEO of Morgan, what, specifically have you learned in terms of future leadership to avoid losses like this in the future?

During questioning from the Senate panel, Dimon acknowledged that he and others were perhaps a little too “complacent.” Frankly, I felt the Senate panel itself was a little too complacent in their questioning.

Why?

According to the web site ProPublica.org – an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest – reported that “Six of the 22 members of the banking committee have not received any money from JP Morgan PACs or employees in recent election cycles. Two of those members are retiring and aren’t collecting campaign funds.”

During the course of the questioning, several Republican Senators asked Dimon for advice on how he would regulate banks. This is a little akin to a driver who frequently surpasses the speed limit asked to offer police and the city advice on how to craft speeding laws.

In a 2009 speech to Harvard graduates, Dimon stressed openness to learning and that “Your ultimate success as a leader and as an individual will be determined not by how you deal with success, but how you deal with failure.”

While Dimon appeared fairly direct in his answers to Senate questions, his subtext struck me as someone who is not as open to change as he pretends to be.

So, was Jamie Dimon presenting the face of hubris or the face of humility?

You tell me.

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