Here are a few words from Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, about U.S. energy policy:
Shame on us. This is our third energy crisis. And we still don’t have the fortitude as a nation to do anything about it. And we’re going to earn a fourth.
We need a real energy policy and it’s going to have to include taxing people on energy so that energy costs stay up and people buy smaller cars and smaller homes.
This is not just a financial issue. This is a geopolitical issue. We are arming the people who want to kill us. That’s what we’re doing.
What the hell is wrong with us?
If you’re a reporter, you’ve got to love Jamie Dimon. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks. In a world where most big-company CEOs choose their every utterance with care, and where many are carefully managed by their media relations people, saying what you really think turns out to be not only endearing, but a surprisingly effective way to communicate. Imagine that.
You hear a lot about the importance of transparency these days in the corporate world, but you don’t hear a lot about candor. Maybe that’s because candor is in such short supply in the executive suites. I can think of only a few CEOS I’ve interviewed over the years who I would describe as open and candid—Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines comes to mind, as does Ted Turner. T.J. Rodgers of SunPower is a great interview, and Jack Welch could be blunt. But it’s a short list. Jamie is a more restrained that Herb or Ted or T.J., but not by much.
Jamie delivered the remarks above recently at Yale CEO Summit, which gave him a leadership award. (You can watch the entire video here.) Jamie also did a couple of great interviews with Charlie Rose last summer, available here. I’ve never written about Jamie, but I had a chance to see him in action a few years ago at a company retreat in Deer Valley, Utah. (His vice chairman, Bill Daley, the former commerce secretary, invited me there to talk about corporate responsibility, shortly after the publication of my book, Faith and Fortune.) At the time, Jamie expressed outrage about the Enron and Worldcom scandals and how much damage they have done to corporate America.
This has been quite a year for Dimon. Yale give him a leadership award even though J.P. Morgan Chase’s stock is down by close to 30%. That tells you what kind of a year it’s been on Wall Street. J.P. Morgan Chase appears to be one of the very few companies that have emerged stronger from all the turmoil, by acquiring Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual as they were about to collapse.
At the Yale event, Dimon talks a fair bit about the financial crisis, taking some blame for mistakes at J.P. Morgan Chase. What I found most interesting, though, were his observations about corporate culture, both at Bank One (where he used to be CEO) and J.P. Morgan Chase. (They come about 35 minutes into the video.) He talks about trying to take the politics out of big companies, and about finding people who have strong opinions and personalities but understand that, in the end, they are working for a company and its clients, and that they need to see themselves as part of a team. Interestingly, when my FORTUNE colleague Shawn Tully did a cover story about Dimon and his “swat team” last summer, Dimon insisted on being photographed with the bank’s other senior execs.
“Business is more Shakespearean than MBA,” Dimon says. “Look at these companies, with these neurotic bursts of energy and firings and mass changes and it doesn’t work. You can compare any industry. In the best companies, things get better. Wal-Mart. GE. Others are blowing up, people are being fired, boards are bringing in new mgmt teams, which is a Hail Mary pass, unless you really know the person.”
Investment decisions matter, he went on, but in the end the job of a CEO is to find the right people and create a climate in which the right decisions get made. “The best thing I can do for JPM leave with place with high integrity, high powered people, who are always learning, always changing. That DNA will set the company forward for a hundred years.”
That’s another benefit of a candid CEO: The people around him are likely to speak their minds, too.