In a 9-page Vanity Fair article “Wall Street’s Near-Death Experience,”giving us a sneak peek into the lives of bankers during the global meltdown last Autumn a hilarious quote of great significance was buried.
At issue was the near-death experience that Lehman’s demise caused for Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. After receiving a mysterious call from JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Colm Kelleher, Morgan Stanley’s CFO, is quoted as saying “Jamie is always hanging around the hoop”:
‘Listen, [JPMorgan Chase C.E.O.] Jamie [Dimon] just called me fishing around for something,” Colm Kelleher told John Mack midday Thursday as he marched into Mack’s office. “He said he was calling to see if he could be of help. It was strange.”
James Gorman, the firm’s co-president, had just reported receiving a similar call, Mack replied, and Geithner had phoned earlier to suggest that he talk to Dimon as a possible merger partner, too.
“It’s clear that, for him to be calling us, he wants to do a deal,” Kelleher said. “Jamie is always hanging around the hoop.… You know Jamie’s saying, ‘Let’s make friends with these guys before I eat them.’”
Mack was irritated by these suggestions; he didn’t particularly want to do a deal with Dimon, as he believed it would involve far too much overlap. But he decided to stop guessing what Dimon might be up to and ask him directly.
“Jamie, Geithner says I should call you,” Mack said abruptly when he reached Dimon on the phone a few minutes later. “Let’s get this out in the open: do you want to do a deal?”
“No, I don’t want to do a deal,” Dimon said flatly.
“Well, that’s interesting,” Mack retorted. “You’re calling my C.F.O. and you’re calling my president—why would you do that?”
“I was trying to be helpful,” Dimon repeated.
“If you want to be helpful, then talk to me. I don’t want you calling my guys,” Mack said, hanging up the phone.
I think this is a brilliant quote because it encapsulates the situation perfectly. (For readers who are not basketball fans, this was a sports reference to basketball players who stay close to their basket to score easy lay-up points). Dimon, a classic keep-your-powder-dry-when-everyone-else-is-losing-his-head conservative banker, is also an opportunist. In a move straight out of Warren Buffett’s game plan, he was looking for some easy lay-ups when the chips were down and everyone was panicked. That’s how he got bear Stearns and it’s also how JPMorgan Chase got Washington Mutual.
Update: I just picked up Chris Whalen’s piece on BofA, where he contrasts Bank of America’s management with JPMorgan Chase’s. He says:
As we have noted before and we’ll probably state again, the difference between BAC and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), on the one hand, and JPM on the other, is that Jaime Dimon had the good sense to buy WaMu from the FDIC after it was restructured via the resolution process. All of the legacy liabilities of WaMu, including the legal liabilities from the massive securitizations sponsored by Washington Mutual Inc., were left in the DE bankruptcy court after the FDIC took control of the bank unit. That is why the cleansing process of bankruptcy is so important to the restoration of a healthy, growing economy.
Notice the focus on bankruptcy. WaMu was effectively nationalized and put through the bankruptcy process – a clear sign that it is completely disingenuous to claim that nationalization was not an option for other large financial companies. It was – but they were deemed to important to fail.