Hubris at the Top: The Imperial and Tone Deaf CEO

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 21, 2014

One of the Scenes from the Christmas Card of Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase

There are lots of reasons to worry about America’s future. But one worry that we seldom hear discussed in any comprehensive way is the growing brand impairment resulting from the loss of Americans’ belief in their country’s sense of decency and the loss of credibility abroad from the too-big-to-discipline CEO – who, for better or worse, is acutely aligned with the corporate brand.

Whether we like it or not, great corporate brands create jobs in America and tarnished brands result in job losses.

There seems to be an intellectual disconnect in the thinking of the corporate Board of Directors who continue to lavish obscene pay on the discredited CEO and the reality that the corporate brand – the most valuable asset the corporation owns – is being severely diminished in the eyes of the consumer whose trust or distrust in that brand is central to the survival of the corporation.

When we think of Goldman Sachs today, what comes to mind? It might be Lloyd Blankfein’s quip that he’s “doing God’s work.” Or the backdoor payments from taxpayers’ bailout funds to AIG that landed at the front door of Goldman Sachs to bail out their bets on credit default swaps. Or maybe the Abacus deal where Goldman concocted an investment product designed to fail and sold it to their own customers.

Yesterday, at the JPMorgan shareholders’ meeting, which has been held in Tampa, Florida for the past three years, more than 1,000 miles from the JPMorgan headquarters in New York (ostensibly to avoid mass protests), CEO Jamie Dimon’s pay package was rubber stamped by shareholders at $20 million for 2013. Over the past 18 months, the bank has been charged with ever alarming amounts of crimes, including the unprecedented two-felony count charge for aiding and abetting the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme which devastated financial lives across America. The bank was given a deferred prosecution agreement and put on probation for two years along with $2 billion in fines.

Financial skullduggery under the unwatchful eye of Jamie Dimon is not JPMorgan’s only problem with its CEO. He has a perpetual knack for arrogance that insults the sensibilities of average folks.

Less than two weeks before JPMorgan became the first major Wall Street bank in history to receive a deferred prosecution agreement for felony actions, and in a year in which it rarely left the front pages of the business press for various and assorted crime charges, Jamie Dimon was mailing out a Christmas Card so lacking in humility that it went viral within moments of arriving in mailboxes.

Matt Vella at Time Magazine called it “maddeningly tone deaf.” The card featured panoramic views of Dimon and his family in casual clothing, gleefully playing tennis in their lavishly appointed living room. Chris Hayes at MSNBC said the image suggests “hey, we’re so rich we can destroy our own stuff.”

Stephen Colbert Suggested This Christmas Card for Jamie Dimon

Comedian Stephen Colbert dedicated a skit on his show to the card, saying tongue-in-cheek that the 99 percent need to believe that money has made people like Dimon miserable. Colbert suggested that Dimon’s card should have illustrated him “weeping alone on a pile of money clutching a sleigh.”

Colbert was not so far off the mark according to this post from Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times:

“…for me, the ostentation wasn’t in the ludicrously wealthy interior, nor in the gorgeous slim figures in their casually ripped jeans. It wasn’t in the fabulous dentistry of Dimon’s womenfolk as they roar with laughter playing a riotous game of indoor tennis, blithely oblivious of the priceless pottery vases, and the huge canvas that looks like a Jackson Pollock.

“I don’t mind bankers being really rich. So much money is vulgar and undeserved, but it does not upset me. It is this gratuitous (and probably phoney) display of over-the-top happiness that sets my less than perfect teeth on edge.”

Jamie Dimon’s Christmas Card is not just a reflection of his values. As the long-tenured Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the card reflects the values of the corporation and its major brands – JPMorgan and Chase Bank — as do the nonstop charges against the company. As shareholders were rubber stamping Dimon’s $20 million pay package yesterday, along comes a new headline. JPMorgan has been charged by the European Union, along with two other banks, for being part of a rate-rigging cartel.

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