CEO Jamie Dimon steers JPMorgan Chase through crisis

Five years ago, Jamie Dimon and his three daughters picked up an RV in Wyoming and drove through Yellowstone, Idaho, Nevada and Yosemite, and finally into the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Los Angeles, where his wife was meeting them. Arriving at the wheel of an RV, unshaven and in shorts, he was waved to a stop by the guard, who told him he couldn't park there.

"I got off and said, 'You do valet parking here, don't you?' " says a grinning Dimon, gleefully recounting the exasperated look on the face of the hotel guard. Little did the guard realize, but that scruffy hotel guest at the wheel of the RV would a few months later strike a deal to merge Bank One with JPMorgan Chase jpm, a step on his way to being CEO of one of the oldest blue-chip financial institutions in New York.

The image of Dimon, 53, barreling around the country in an RV is hardly one that matches with Wall Street CEOs, who have in the past year been vilified as greedy financiers who took the country to the brink with their risky appetites.

But RVing has been one of Dimon's favorite ways of vacationing with his kids. In a way, it almost seems an appropriate pastime, given that his acquisition last year of the failed Washington Mutual has catapulted JPMorgan from a primarily New York/Chicago-centric bank to one with a very broad national footprint. As WaMu signs come down, Chase signs are going up on about 2,000 bank branches and 4,500 ATMs that JPMorgan got from the acquisition.

Today, JPMorgan has emerged as a front-runner among the survivors of one of the most harrowing periods in the nation's financial history, which led to the collapse of large investment banks such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. and commercial banks such as Wachovia and Washington Mutual, the largest bank to fail in history, with $307 billion in assets. Of those, JPMorgan acquired Bear for $1.5 billion and WaMu for $1.9 billion.

The largest bank by market capitalization, JPMorgan is the only large financial institution that posted a profit during the financial crisis. This month, it posted its 20th-consecutive quarterly profit: $2.7 billion, a 36% increase from a year earlier, with record revenue of $27.7 billion. Its stock price is up more than 150% from its bear market low in March.

Dimon's reputation as a ruthless negotiator remains intact with his latest acquisitions, and he admits to being a tough manager. But his handling of the firm during the crisis has drawn praise from several quarters, including the highest in the land: President Obama, who commended Dimon "for doing a pretty good job."

"JPMorgan was conservative going into the downturn, and that strong financial position is enabling it to weather the current downturn better, and even be aggressive where required," says Tom Kersting, financial services analyst at Edward Jones.

Indeed, in one closely watched gauge on Wall Street, JPMorgan was No. 1 in investment-banking revenue in the first half of 2009, says Dealogic.

Fortress balance sheet

Among the four largest banks that received $25 billion each from the U.S. Treasury last fall as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), JPMorgan is the only one that has repaid the government. Citigroup and Bank of America went back to the trough, taking an additional $20 billion each, while Wells Fargo still hasn't been cleared to repay.

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