Ina Drew, Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase’s $6 Billion Mistake
In February of 2011, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, approached the podium of one of the ballrooms at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Key Biscayne, Fla., where 300 senior executives from around the world were attending the bank’s annual off-site conference. By that time, the cold fear of the financial crisis was cordoned off in the near-distant past, replaced by a dawning recognition that the ensuing changes in business — the comparatively trifling risk limits, the dwindling bonuses, the elevated stress levels — might actually be permanent. That day, Dimon took the opportunity, according to a bank employee in attendance, to try to inspire his team, to rouse them from the industrywide sense of malaise. Yes, there were challenges, Dimon said, but it was the job of leadership to be strong. They should be prudent, but step up — be bold. He looked out into the audience, where Ina Drew, the 54-year-old chief investment officer, was sitting at one of the tables. “Ina,” he said, singling her out, “is bold.”
Perhaps by now when bankers hear that kind of public praise, they simultaneously hear a distant clanging, a dim alarm that provokes an undercurrent of anxiety. It seems inevitable that an acknowledgment of such star power will eventually lead to a fall, a big one, and one year and three months later, Drew succumbed. Her team had been bold, so bold that along with Dimon, she had become the public face attached to a $6 billion mistake, a trading loss so startling in size that it dominated the business press, put Dimon on the defensive and cost Drew her job. Over and over again, online and on television, in stories about the loss, the same corporate headshot appeared: a woman wearing a hot pink bouclé jacket, showing a smile so faint it was almost frank in its discomfort.
Drew never craved public recognition, which is one reason, up until the trading error, almost no one outside of Wall Street had heard of her. Her longstanding anonymity is astonishing only in retrospect: All told, she invested nearly $350 billion for JPMorgan Chase. Drew had her hand on a major economic lever and was one of the key figures whose judgment Dimon relied on in keeping the bank steady through the financial crisis. Drew was part of the team that helped establish him as a model of restraint at a time when other bankers offered only tongue-tied defenses of their reckless behavior. Now she was responsible for the traders who had made Dimon look as fallible as everyone else, and at the very moment when he was trying, once again, to assure government regulators that banks could manage themselves, that bankers could risk-proof their balance sheets.