NEW YORK ( Reuters Blogs) -- Jamie Dimon is wagging his finger from newstands across America this week, above the kind of headline his PR team can only dream of: "DIMON IS FOREVER: Why Jamie Dimon is Wall Street's Indispensable Man".
The story itself, by Nick Summers and Max Abelson, consists mainly of rich corporate insider types talking about how wonderful Jamie Dimon is, and how ridiculous it is that anybody might consider stripping him of the chairmanship of JPMorgan Chase. Here's a doozy:
Admiring rivals have been known to call Dimon "the sun god." That cosmic aura has real use, says Kathryn Wylde, who served on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's board with Dimon until his term ended last year. "There's no doubt that it helped the bank, because so much of that business is built on confidence." The intrusion of shareholders, in the form of a vote on Dimon's dual roles, she adds, is "indefensible if the company is performing well."
Wylde is one of those great-and-good people who turn up on boards all over the place: not only the New York Fed, but also everything from the NYC Economic Development Corporation and the Manhattan Institute to the Lutheran Medical Center and the U.S. Trust Advisory Committee. Her day job is serving as the president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a partnership made up exclusively of large companies and the rich people who lead them. JPMorgan is unshockingly among them. Her view of the role of shareholders in corporate governance is fascinating: It's "indefensible" for them to care about such things so long as they're getting paid.
But clearly shareholders do care about governance: Both Institutional Investors Services and Glass Lewis, advisory firms paid to work out what is in the best interests of shareholders, have come to the entirely reasonable conclusion that Jamie Dimon should not keep his job as chairman of the board.The battle line between principals and agents has never been more clearly delineated than it is here. The shareholders of JPMorgan -- the owners of the company -- want a board which represents their interests, and which can control what the CEO does. The managers and captured professional board members, on the other hand -- the CEO class -- have rallied around Dimon in an impressive display of high-wattage solidarity. Bloomberg Businessweek quotes Bill Daley, John Mack, Jimmy Cayne, Phil Gramm, Dick Kovacevich and "two dozen of Dimon's peers and colleagues" in his defense; Andrew Ross Sorkin, for good measure, adds Barry Diller and Hank Paulson. Will shareholders see this awesome display of PR firepower and decide that Jamie's right, he should stay on as chairman after all? If they're narrowly focused on the short-term future of the JP Morgan share price, then probably they will. After all, Dimon has petulantly threatened to quit if the motion goes through, which would be bad for the share price -- and as all of these articles are at pains to point out, there's not much evidence that splitting the chairman and CEO roles is likely to do any particular good for JP Morgan's share price over the medium term. (It can help underperforming companies, but that effect disappears with respect to relatively strong ones.)