One sign of what Lee faces came earlier this year, amid a high-stakes showdown between Chrysler bondholders and the Obama administration. As the automaker teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, Lee initially demanded JPMorgan and Chrysler's lenders be paid "not a penny less" than the $6.9 billion they were owed, according to The Wall Street Journal. They ended up settling for $2 billion, as Lee "butted heads" with Steven Rattner, Obama's chief auto industry adviser, the paper reported.
Lee whiffed on another important, albeit extremely difficult, assignment last year when government officials asked him to try to raise private money for American International Group (AIG - Get Report) ahead of its bailout in September.
Also last September, when a Fortune magazine cover story praised Jamie Dimon and his "Swat Team," for helping him weather the credit crisis, The Wall Street Journal noted Lee was not among the more than a dozen executives pictured, calling it, "perhaps the most conspicuous absence this week after that of North Korea's Dear Leader."
"Perhaps Mr. Lee's friends could dub him Jim Jong Il," the paper quipped.One of Lee's private equity admirers says he raised an eyebrow at Lee's absence from the Fortune article, though he says Lee's skills as a client guy are clearly more valuable in a bull market. Lee has had to step aside somewhat as risk managers, Democratic power brokers and the like take an increasing share of the spotlight at JPMorgan, the source says. Lee scored a recent victory, however, when JPMorgan, Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) and private equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co. backed out of a deal to buy Sallie Mae (SLM) in 2007, early in the credit crisis. The student lender sued those firms over their refusal to pay a $900 million breakup fee, but Lee convinced Sallie to drop the lawsuit in exchange for helping it refinance about $30 billion in debt, according to Dealmaker magazine.