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Originally published July 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 3, 2009 at 11:31 AM

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Corrected version

On the Economy

Full Jamie Dimon: Chase CEO pays a visit to Seattle's business elite

Two of Jamie Dimon's aides left the Grand Hyatt as his speech was ending to bring around the black SUV conveying the boss around town. Friendly crowd, said one...

Special to The Seattle Times

Two of Jamie Dimon's aides left the Grand Hyatt as his speech was ending to bring around the black SUV conveying the boss around town. Friendly crowd, said one.

Oh, yeah. If the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase had been playing a nightclub Wednesday instead of the Seattle Downtown Rotary, he killllled.

About the least friendly question he received was asking how, amid all the accolades he receives, does he keep from getting a big head. With perfect timing, Dimon said, "I have a wife and three daughters."

When the laughter peaked, he started into a serious, multilayered answer about accountability.

He doesn't want just one truth teller on his team, but all truth tellers. "If they can't tell the truth in my presence, then damn it, I don't want them there," he concluded, the one oath that this famously salty tongued man allowed himself during the appearance.

And so it went, as for an hour some of the city's business elite were treated to the Full Jamie: barely contained intensity, intimidating command of the facts, fast talking and wry, stormy and street smart, tough as the steel color of his hair and yet still capable of compassion. And funny as, uh, heck.

Dimon is in many ways the last man standing in big banking. While JPMorgan Chase made its share of mistakes, it sidestepped the worst practices that helped create the crash.

As happened a century before with J. Pierpont Morgan, the firm was the one strong enough to step into crisis and help the government save a financial system that was in what Dimon characterized as "cardiac arrest."

Among its tasks was becoming the only bidder for failing Washington Mutual.

And much of JPMorgan's strength is due to the discipline and intelligent management Dimon brought to the bank. Not bad for a guy who wasn't even trained as a banker.

Dimon said much that would please a business crowd, such as not letting anger get in the way of smart policymaking and decrying the "vilification" of all business. Reluctant to make predictions, Dimon said the crisis has at least passed.

He said a few things that might have surprised, such as "our financial system needs a lot of work," and no institution should be too big to fail. But the failure should be managed "so that it doesn't hurt you." He slammed "egregious pay practices" on Wall Street.

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The most arresting moment of the high-octane talk risked going past like a fastball. If America doesn't do a better job about health care, pensions, infrastructure, the environment and education, "our competitors are going to kill us in 30 or 40 years."

The only absence in the packed ballroom was still vast, and telling. Nobody seemed to miss WaMu. Take it for what it's worth, for the loss of that local headquarters has left a sizable and still smoking crater here, and lingering questions about the nation's largest bank failure.

Except for a vocal group of angry shareholders and former employees, not represented at Rotary, nobody's blaming Jamie Dimon. But the absence was present.

For his part, Dimon said all the right things about building a strong company along with a strong community, that JPMorgan is "devoted to being a good corporate citizen" and its sizable charitable giving nationwide.

True enough. But we're no longer the headquarters of a major financial institution. We're just another market.

Laugh if you can.

You may reach Jon Talton at jtalton@seattletimes.com

The information in this article, originally published July 16, 2009, was corrected. In Jon Talton's Sound Economy column, he incorrectly identified the number of daughters that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and his wife have. They have three daughters.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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Jon Talton comments on economic trends and turning points, putting them into context with people, place and the environment in the Pacific Northwest
jtalton@yahoo.com

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