June 9, 2017 / 4:23 PM / 3 months ago

Jamie Dimon succession becomes mystery-horse race

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon speaks at a Remain in the EU campaign event attended by Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (not shown) at JP Morgan's corporate centre in Bournemouth, southern Britain, June 3, 2016. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez - RTX2FHIE

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Who takes over from Jamie Dimon has just become a mystery-horse race. The JPMorgan chief executive is losing his leading successor candidate, Chief Operating Officer Matt Zames. Granted, the bank’s division heads are all more than capable executives, but age or inexperience probably means they’d be interim CEOs at best.

Zames is both young and well-traveled. Now 46, he was head of fixed-income trading before Dimon in 2012 asked him to clean up the mess left when the bank’s chief investment office lost $6 billion in the infamous “London Whale” fiasco. His duties as COO then grew.

He wants, though, to go back to running a business, he told the New York Times on Thursday – possibly in financial technology. Zames is the latest top executive to leave the bank in recent years as Dimon, 61, extends his now 11-and-a-half-year reign at the top.

Former investment banking bosses Jes Staley and Bill Winters now run Barclays and Standard Chartered, respectively. Frank Bisignano, Zames’s co-COO for a time, now heads up First Data, while one-time retail chief Charlie Scharf stepped down last fall after four years as boss of Visa.

JPMorgan’s board is by no means bereft of alternatives now that Zames is joining the exodus. Trouble is, none of them is an obvious candidate to run the bank long term. Gordon Smith has had great success overseeing the consumer and community bank, not least in keeping the retail-banking and credit-card division’s tech skills ahead of the pack. But at 58 he’s only three years younger than Dimon, who has no intention of leaving any time soon.

Daniel Pinto has kept the investment bank powering ahead, but has little experience in other parts of the organization. The same applies to asset-management boss Mary Erdoes. Commercial bank chief Doug Petno used to be an investment banker, but has a relatively low profile in a smaller part of the company.

There is one other candidate: Marianne Lake, who has shone as finance chief and is well known to investors. She, though, has never run a major business. Handing her the reins to the CIO is a start. If Dimon gives her a larger P&L to manage, it’ll send a strong signal that she’s the next anointed one.

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