Oct 4, 2021 - Axios on HBO

"Axios on HBO": Jamie Dimon on China, his salary and racial equity

JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon is known for being outspoken. But he told "Axios on HBO" that global companies must be selective about public issues they dive into, even ones as stark as China's treatment of Uyghurs.

The big picture: "We do business in 100 countries," Dimon told Axios CEO Jim VandeHei. "But I've made it very clear: We believe in human rights. We believe in free enterprise. We believe in the capitalist system. That's all counter to China."

Asked about commenting on hot U.S. issues, Dimon said: "Some we do and some we don't. Some we can't."

  • As an example, he said: "I love my daughters. But after I went on Trump's business council, one wrote me a long, elegant, nasty letter ... 'How could you, Dad?' And I wrote her back saying: 'You got everything right except the conclusion. Martin Luther King would be going, seeing President Trump every time to fight for his people.'"

Dimon sat down with "Axios on HBO" at the Anacostia Arts Center in a historically Black area of Washington, D.C.

  • "We are a for-profit company, but we also do good," Dimon said. "And there's nothing wrong with that. ... After COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd, we kind of doubled down on: What can we do to help the Black community?"

JPMorgan's community branches — which hire local residents and feature neighborhood art, and give advice on mortgages and small business — are part of a $30 billion Racial Equity Commitment the bank announced in October.

  • Dimon has said it aims to "break down systems that have propagated racism and widespread economic inequality, especially for Black, Hispanic and Latino people."

Dimon told "Axios on HBO" that it's "incumbent upon all of us to have a healthy growth agenda. That is what helps most people the most."

  • "Why have the bottom-30%-of-income folks not gone anywhere for 20 or 30 years?" he added. "I came up with this long list. And it was infrastructure, taxation, regulation, health care, litigation, affordable housing."

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has criticized banks for "woke capitalism." VandeHei asked: "Is Jamie Dimon woke?"

  • "I don't even know what that means," Dimon answered with a laugh. "I just look at the issues: Is it right? Is it wrong? Should you do something about it? Is it proper for your company to do?"

VandeHei asked Dimon about his salary of roughly $30 million a year.

  • "We have a free market in this country, which ... everyone should applaud," Dimon replied. "We pay people to do a great job. They could all sell their services elsewhere. I need to maintain the best team on the playing field, and I need to pay them fairly."

Asked about his future, Dimon, 65, said: "I'm not quite sure yet. ... I love what I do. I'm not going to go play golf and smell the flowers."

  • "I don't play golf," he added. "I have hobbies: I read. I love history. I love wine. I love hanging out with my family. I like traveling.
  • "But I also like having a purpose. And my purpose is JPMorgan. ... I like doing it, and I'm going to do it till the day I die."

VandeHei finished with a speed round:

Who's the best CEO not named Jamie Dimon?

  • Dimon: "[Amazon's] Jeff Bezos ... [Apple's] Tim Cook."

What makes them so great? 

  • Dimon: "Innovation, drive. Serving customers — that singular focus ... If you look at Amazon, look at what they built to do that," including Amazon Web Services web hosting, and a logistics network that includes Amazon's own planes.

Bitcoin: Is it the fool's gold of the future? 

  • Dimon: "It's got no intrinsic value. And regulators are going to regulate the hell out of it."

Should they regulate it? 

  • "Yes. ... If people are using it for tax avoidance and sex trafficking and ransomware, it's going to be regulated, whether you like it or not. So it's not a moral statement. It's a factual statement."

What's the smartest thing the government does?

  • Dimon: "Military. ... Bob Gates talks about the 'symphony of power,' which includes the State Department, foreign aid ... Military's just a piece of that."

What's the dumbest thing the government does? 

  • Dimon: "Bad policy. I mean, almost nothing we touched has been done well in the last 30 years."

You've been in the room with Joe Biden, you've been in the room with Donald Trump. Compare them. 

  • Dimon: "It's impossible to compare them. ... I like the civility of Joe Biden ... President Trump is very different alone than in public. ... Joe Biden is the same."
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