JPMorgan CEO’s Health Emergency Casts Shadow on China Plans

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s emergency heart surgery has put the spotlight on succession, and in Asia, on how much of the lender’s push into China hinges on his commitment.

Dimon, who underwent surgery after suffering acute aortic dissection, has temporarily handed control of the largest U.S. bank to his lieutenants. His plan to bring JPMorgan’s “full force” to China and his relationships on the ground are seen as pivotal in a year when global banks are being allowed to take ownership of ventures in the world’s second-largest economy. A spokesman wasn’t immediately available to comment.

“Jamie is a symbolic figure of Wall Street in China and you probably couldn’t find anyone with similar commitment and popularity in China’s financial circles in recent years,” said Bei Duoguang, who worked with Dimon as the former CEO of a securities venture in China JPMorgan exited years ago.

With Dimon at the helm, JPMorgan last year became the first U.S. bank to take majority ownership of a securities joint venture and it’s now in the process of seeking full control of its futures and fund management units in China. The nation’s opening of its $45 trillion financial industry gives global banks the opportunity to vie for an estimated $9 billion in annual commercial and investment banking profits in the years ahead, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

JPMorgan’s competitors, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Nomura Holdings Inc., are also seeking to push into China at full speed.

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JPMorgan just reshuffled its senior leadership in Asia in charge of the expansion, appointing a new regional CEO, and the U.S. bank recently boosted its space in Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest skyscraper, by a third.

“We’re building here for a hundred years,” Dimon said on China, in a Bloomberg Television interview in May 2018. “One day you’ll probably have a tower here that looks like the tower we have in New York.”

For any firm to succeed in China, it needs a leader willing to take a long-term bet on the market and for JP Morgan, that person has been Dimon, said Nick Xiao, chief executive officer of Hywin International, the Hong Kong arm of Hywin Wealth that services 100,000 high net worth clients mostly in China.

According to Bei, Dimon is realistic about the prospects in China and has a long-term strategy in mind.

“It’s hard to predict how his successor would cope with China,” he said. “It’s hard to make money in China and they can easily switch focus to other countries over time.”

Even so, the U.S. bank has laid the groundwork in China for years, which will mitigate the impact of any absence, Brett McGonegal, chairman and chief executive officer of Capital Link International in Hong Kong, said by phone.

Co-Presidents Daniel Pinto and Gordon Smith have taken temporary charge at JPMorgan during Dimon’s recuperation, which typically takes at least a month, including a week in hospital, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The bank said his condition was caught early and the surgery was successful, with Dimon “awake, alert and recovering well.”

— With assistance by Alfred Liu

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