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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating - and flattering - profile of financial power
Duff McDonald's book covers a fascinating historical moment - the 2008-2009 Wall Street debacle - by profiling a pivotal character in the thick of it, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Having spent extensive time with Dimon, McDonald combines his reporting with published sources, Dimon's own writings and statements, and interviews with his associates, employees or...
Published on October 12, 2009 by Rolf Dobelli

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44 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Verbose and Vauge, but Still Useful
Wouldn't it be wonderful to read a book about Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, and obtain an increased understanding of banking, the 2008 crash, and how Dimon has successfully managed banks? Unfortunately, it won't happen easily via "Last Man Standing." The book fails to take a management emphasis, rarely defines terms and concepts, and is basically a chronology of...
Published on October 20, 2009 by Loyd E. Eskildson


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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating - and flattering - profile of financial power, October 12, 2009
Duff McDonald's book covers a fascinating historical moment - the 2008-2009 Wall Street debacle - by profiling a pivotal character in the thick of it, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Having spent extensive time with Dimon, McDonald combines his reporting with published sources, Dimon's own writings and statements, and interviews with his associates, employees or relatives. McDonald covers Dimon's youth, business school education and evolving career. Dimon was a nonconformist in business school and politics, an astute lieutenant of his mentor Sandy Weill, and a pivotal figure in the financial crisis. Notably, he preserved JPMorgan Chase, bought Bear Stearns and helped lead the market back to stability. Readers interested in a critical take on Dimon may find the book too flattering, but if you want to see how the financial wars looked from the CEO's chair, getAbstract recommends this intriguing perspective.
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44 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Verbose and Vauge, but Still Useful, October 20, 2009
Wouldn't it be wonderful to read a book about Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, and obtain an increased understanding of banking, the 2008 crash, and how Dimon has successfully managed banks? Unfortunately, it won't happen easily via "Last Man Standing." The book fails to take a management emphasis, rarely defines terms and concepts, and is basically a chronology of Dimon's life. Nonetheless, some good can be derived from its reading.

Dimon, without question, is highly talented. However, his career received two initial major boosts. The first was working for several Harvard Business School professors in finance prior to beginning his Harvard Business School (HBS) experience. This provided him with early high-level exposure to the area and undoubtedly enriched his education experience as well. The second was joining forces with Sandy Weill in 1982 upon graduating from Harvard (Baker Scholar - top 5%), and having the opportunity to participate in top-level analyses and decision-making with many a 'mover and shaker.' (Dimon's alternative was more remunerative, but much lower level positions in investment banking.)

Weill had recently been pushed out of American Express, so Dimon was taking a bit of a gamble joining up with Weill. Fortunately, it wasn't too long before Control Data asked for help with its newly acquired Commercial Credit unit - lender to those with relatively low household incomes. Weill was appointed CEO in 1986, a leveraged buy-out soon followed, assuring a rich options opportunity for both himself and Dimon. Other steps included a 10% staff cut, selling off the car leasing and accounts-receivable insurance businesses (too much risk), and cutting executive perks (magazine subscriptions, country club memberships, flowers). Return on equity jumped from 4% to 18%. McDonald also lets readers know that Dimon was seen as abrasive and arrogant, as well as an incredible fact-digger and student of corporate financials. (If your child's report card says "Doesn't work well with others," don't worry.)

The business model Weill and Dimon adopted was that of running the business conservatively, building fortress balance sheets (high-quality capital - common and preferred stock, conservative accounting and loss reserves) to make acquisitions during downturns when assets were cheap. Aim to make the firm either more distinctive (eg. provide customers with a more comprehensive accounting statement), or the low-cost producer - aka Porter's HBS strategic advice. They went on to buy Primerica (Gerry Tsai's over-leveraged American Can, plus acquisitions), then Drexel Burnham, Barclay's American/Financial, and ultimately Traveler's Insurance. (The latter was caught between real estate defaults in its investments and annuity investors wanting their returns.)

Weill eventually became jealous over the publicity and attention afforded Dimon (New Yorkers had seen this movie before when Mayor Giuliani pushed the highly successful Police Chief Bratton out for the same reason), was outraged that Dimon denied Weill's daughter a promotion (McDonald says Dimon was correct in doing so; regardless, probably not a good career move by Dimon), and shortly after Weill acquired Citibank, Dimon is pushed out in 2000. (How Weill got the laws changed and the Federal Reserve to go along is a whole other, 'dark,' topic.)

After about a year, Banc One, 4th-largest bank in the U.S. was having problems with its most recent merger involving a Chicago-based bank. Banc One had been built up by buying competitors with the promise they'd be allowed to keep on doing what they had been doing. The result was more willing sellers, and a failure to take advantage of scale or synergies. Another problem was top-level political infighting between the two banks over who would remain. A third problem was First USA - a credit card unit bought for $8 billion in 1997 that was losing 16% of customers/year due to rate hikes and poor service.

Dimon resolved the infighting problem within a year - all but one of the thirteen executive committee members were replaced (seven came from Citibank), he reduced the combined board from 22 to 13 and put his own allies on it. New hires from Citibank were given a one-year contract at 2/3 their prior salary, for a smaller job at a worse-off company. (Weill complained, Dimon told him to look at his own operation to see why they were leaving.)

Another early focus was on standardizing computer systems (seven deposit systems, five loan systems- these were combined), improved financial controls (Dimon believed the bank had taken on excessive risk, and also wrote-off $15 billion in bad assets from 2000-2003), and revised reporting structures. Neither grand strategy nor acquisitions were on the agenda - Dimon wanted to first get a solidly executing base. Cash was conserved by cutting the dividend in half, freeing up $1 billion/year, despite objections from some shareholders. Twelve thousand were laid off, and accountability improved by establishing P&L reports for each branch. Management motivation was intensified by switching from the historic 5-12% raises for all, to 100% for the top 10%, 50% for the next 10%, 30% for the following 50%, and nothing for the lagging 30%. Hours were extended to match competitors. Consultants, especially those working on implementation, were cut to a minimum (anything over $100,000 required Dimon's approval - he believed managers should do their own work), executive coaches and perks were eliminated, and options were restructured to expire in six years rather than ten.

Another major initiative was Dimon's canceling the bank's large IT outsourcing deal - he saw this area as a core competency. Finally, some lines of business were exited - eg. auto leasing (Dimon disliked involvement with rapidly depreciating investments, especially mobile homes).

Meanwhile, back in New York City, the head of J.P. Morgan Chase was concerned about succession, and decided to solve that problem (and a few others) by acquiring Banc One and Jamie Dimon. A 14% stock premium was paid, Dimon pocketed $44 million on the shares he bought when moving to Banc One, and a new #2 bank ($1.1 trillion in assets, vs. Citigroup's $1.3 trillion) came into being.

Dimon then basically repeats the actions he had learned and taken previously. Perks went out - including the 15 corporate gyms, golden parachutes, deferred compensation, first-class air travel, chiefs of staff at any level, and 401(k) matching. Executive health insurance premiums were increased. Twelve thousand lost their jobs, and 80% of unallocated corporate expenses were pushed down to lower levels of responsibility. The bank's $5 billion IT outsourcing contract with IBM was canceled, and staff were given six weeks to decide on what the new single computer system would consist of. (Dimon promised to do it for them if the decisions weren't made by then.) The bank exited the business of providing loans for mobile homes, reduced exposure to sub-prime loans, SIVs, and derivatives because the risk premiums were not great enough. Dimon reasserted that borrowing short-term to finance long-term assets is a fundamental commandment that cannot be violated. And Dimon also found time to review the compensation of each of the top 500 managers, along with a committee.

The year 2007 ended with J.P. Morgan Chase leveraged at 12.7X, vs. 19.2 at Citigroup, and 33.5 for Bear, Stearns. 2008, however, would not be a good year for Bear, Stearns. It began the year paying 2.3% for credit insurance (2X that of Morgan, and 4X Deutsche Bank). This rose to 6.26% by March 10. Bear eventually asked for help - telling Morgan it needed between $4 - 20 billion. (This spread made it obvious to Morgan personnel that Bear leaders didn't know what they were talking about.) Eventually, J.P. Morgan Chase acquired Bear for $10/share (the price would have been $2 except for a major error by the outside attorney's used by Chase), and 10,000 of Bear's 14,000 employees left or were laid off. Market share was not emphasized by Dimon; building reserves and reducing risk (eg. returning to 80% loan-to-value standards, exiting business originated by loan brokers - formerly 30% of their home loans originated this way, and continuing to stay away from ARMs) was. (Unfortunately, this section of "Last Man Standing" was especially verbose and vague. The good news is that Dimon's "Letter to Stockholders" helps, and is included herein.)

The year 2008 brought the largest S&L failure in history - Washington Mutual. J.P. Morgan acquired its banking subsidiaries (including 2,200 branches) for $1.9 billion from the FDIC. (The FDIC and J.P. Morgan were subsequently sued for $13 billion by those believing the sale was a 'fire-sale' price. Chase is now the largest credit-card issuer in the nation, but only earns 5% on equity - hardly rapacious as many would claim. (Was 21% in 2007.) It now is raising credit-card lending standards and increasing loan reserves - anticipating greater losses due to unemployment, and no profits at all in the coming year. In each of its businesses, Chase ranks in the top three of that industry (aka Welch's mandate to G.E. - insure scale economies and focus on growth); however, Dimon insists market share is not the goal. Thirteen million square feet of excess real estate has been shed 2003 - 2007.

TARP money was accepted - not because Chase needed it, but to preserve unanimity and avoid other banks trying to avoid accepting it because it would signal weakness to the financial markets. Chase has reduced it dividend. Dimon also points out that 'this is not your grandfather's economy' - traditional banks now provide only 20% of lending in the economy; right after WWII it was 60%. Substitutes include money-market and bond funds, etc.

Bottom Line: "Last Man Standing" has too much fluff and unexplained material. However, careful reading, combined with reference to Dimon's 'Management Letters' make this a valuable endeavor.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Account, October 1, 2009
This is a terrific book, beautifully written, and highly useful. If you want to really understand the banking business, and the people that make it work, this is the book to read. And it's not just for Wall Street insiders. And it's not a vanity piece for a banker on top of his game. This book has specific relevance to anyone who pays taxes in this country or has a bank account. McDonald had unprecedented access to Dimon and and he nailed it. Great book. Loved it.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only the first of many chapters yet to be written about Jamie, October 8, 2009
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There will be obvious bias in this review. I have been with the bank for over 12 years. Having met Jamie on a couple of occasions, his attention to detail blows my mind. Years ago, I was invited to participate in a focus group soon after Jamie took over as CEO of B1. We were at a conference room on the executive floor throwing around some ideas, "best practices". A day before, we had some system issues. During our meeting, Jamie walked in and briefly listened in on our meeting. He asked the group about the system issue and whether or not it was causing any customer service quality issues. He cared. I was fortunate to meet him on a couple of more occasions. Each time, I walked away more inspired. He has that effect on people. His drive and determination is infectious. You just want to sit there, listen to him; then, go back and try even harder. As a top executive, he never seems to look down or turn his back on the junior soldiers in the company. He cares. He listens. He motivates and inspires.

It's a good feeling working for a company where what I do everyday for our clients (despite being just 1 out of over 200,000) actually matters. No one here is insignificant. And every detail, every employee, matters. And that's a healthy culture for any business to have. I am proud to be part of this great company; proud of our leader and our management team's diligent handling of our bank's financial affairs; proud to have been able to help our clients during a very difficult period for our country.

Duff's account of Jamie's career is a must read for any aspiring manager/leader. From his detailed account of Jamie's early career to the more recent events, this book is an easy, addictive read. It's hard to put it down. Great job researching the stories, issues and conducting interviews. In the aftermath of this complex system meltdown, it is refreshing to read a book in which complex financial issues can be easily understood by anyone. Strongly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jamie Dimon, superstar, February 24, 2010
I first picked up this book, intending to only read a section dealing with a company I formerly worked for. After 20 minutes, I was fascinated, and decided to read the entire book. It offers an interesting biography on the most prominent banker in the country. I liked the overview of the financial collapse of 2008. The day to day activities of JPMorgan during the fall of Bear Stearns was very informative. It was refreshing to read an account of this time written without condemning all participants. I believe it will take a few more years before we can fully and accurately assess credit and blame for what has happened.
I only gave the book 3 star, because I felt it was written in a more favorable light than was deserved. It read more like hagiography than biography. The book is worth reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read with lots of practical applications, March 23, 2010
I really enjoyed this book. It was both well-written and full of personal applications. Personally, I was glad it didn't recite in gory detail all of the discussions surrounding the financial bloodbath in fall of '08. I think there are plenty of books out there right now for that.
What I enjoyed was the up-close description of 1) Dimon's leadership style, and 2) how he thinks about businesses. In those respects, the gems in here were too many to count. On the career/leadership side, the take-homes were plentiful. For example: Dimon's willingness to voice dissent, his decision to eschew the typical investment banking path for a riskier position with better training potential, and his ability to be a good father and husband during a demanding career (here, so many other business leaders fail spectacularly--see The Snowball on Warren Buffet for an example).
The insights about how to think about businesses were also abundant. Dimon's concept of a fortress balance sheet is something that will stick with me for a long time. I also admired his relentless attention to detail, and his insistence that acquisitions and new product launches are meaningless without successful integration and implementation.
This book set out to lionize Dimon, and it did that. A good "friendly" biography should challenge the reader to aim a little higher and work a little harder. This book had that effect on me, and for that reason I recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Respect, December 14, 2009
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Duff McDonald's new book is titled, Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase. This is an engaging and readable story of a talented and intriguing personality whose leadership of a major financial institution seems to have beaten all competitors. Dimon comes across in Last Man Standing as a hard worker, who digs into details deeply enough to gain insight and understanding. Rarely one to suffer fools gladly, his blunt communication style leaves little doubt about the meaning behind his messages. As a leader he's strongly supportive of those talented people who work with him, and wants to be questioned and challenged in making key decisions. McDonald calls close attention to the impact of people decisions, especially the cost of the decision of Sandy Weill to fire Dimon. Throughout Last Man Standing, I came away with the perspective that Dimon respects others, and prefers honesty over anything else. While bordering at times on hagiography, Last Man Standing conveys the impact that one leader can have on a large organization, and how sticking to principles can lead to long term success. Every time I started to think he is too good to be true, an example of his success made me think he is really quite good at what he does. On top of his business success, Dimon places high priority on his family life, and that aspect of his life comes across in the book as normal and functional. When I finished the book, I thought of Jamie Dimon as the Winston Churchill of banking. Any reader with an interest in finance or leadership will find much to enjoy about Last Man Standing.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Last Man Standing, November 10, 2009
I enjoy the study of economics, markets and big business. Last Man Standing cleverly covers all of these topics within the outline of a biography, making it a very interesting read. Last Man Standing is a captivating biography of Jamie Dimon, with emphasis on his experiences with Sandy Weill, Bank One and JP Morgan Chase. The Bear Sterns and WaMu takeovers are also covered.

For perspective, I reviewed the Amazon book reviews for this book. Two of the reviewers had actually worked with Dimon and describe him as inspiring with drive, determination and great attention to detail. This is the same Jamie Dimon described in the book!

I appreciate the effort McDonald put into this insightful book. And I thank him for not including minutia detail; his level of detail is enough to tell the story in a fast and captivating pace.

Last Man Standing is a great read and I recommend it to anyone.

Robert F. McLaughlin AIA, NCARB
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Read, November 17, 2009
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J.S. MEWS (Connecticut, USA) - See all my reviews
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Although I doubt it will win any awards, the book was an interesting and easy to read synopsis of where Jamie Dimon came from and the major events shaping the 'banking' crisis. Lots of things likely not included but that's to be expected. The whole relationship with Sandy Weill was quite an interesting tale.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Privilege - A Pleasure - An Honor - Magnificent!!!, March 27, 2010
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I just finished Duff McDonald's "Last Man Standing - The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase." This book should be required reading for every person in the financial services industry, anyone studying business in college, as well as entrepreneurs, M&A types, accountants, and investors. It's just a fantastic, incredible story - woven together by a master literary artist.

This is a tremendous biography. Yet, it's vastly more than that. It is a crucial contribution to the the burgeoning insights into the development of the financial services industry in the U.S. Moreover, it is a story about the development of character - human character - the character of a man (Jamie Dimon) whose life, intelligence, compassion and instincts continue to shape the landscape in America. In many ways, Dimon's life represents something that is lacking today in U.S. culture -- living role models for a younger generation to yearn to emulate.

The writing by Duff McDonald is balanced, provides the reader with a tremendous sense of Jamie Dimon as a human being, as well as financier/CEO. The writing has a pulse, provides a perspective into both the personal and corporate world - an existence that is often perplexing. The dimensions of struggle, insight, learning and persistence all resonate throughout this non-nonsense non-fiction account of one of America's true leaders.

The history of the development of the U.S. financial services industry is also quite detailed and anything but boring.

After Alexander Hamilton founded the Bank of New York - purportedly the first commercial bank in the U.S. in 1794- he had the industry to himself until 1799. About this time, his political rival Aaron Burr started the Bank of Manhattan. A banker named John Thompson started Chase National Bank in 1877. He named it after Salmon P. Chase who'd been President Lincoln's secretary of the treasury as well as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

J.P. Morgan & Company emerged in what has been referred to as the "gilded age" of American finance. Founded in 1871 by J. Pierpont Morgan and a Philadelphia banker by the name of Anthony Drexel. (P. 203).

The essence of the book is captured in the following paragraph from author Duff McDonald:

"After years of being considered a glorified number-cruncher who only knew how to cut costs, he was finally acknowledged as a leader who knew how to make a company grow. What's more, he was recognized s both a creative thinker and a man with the ability to shape the culture not just of his company but also of his industry and even the country itself. It says something about Wall Street today that only a few people command both the respect of their peers and the genuine curiosity of the outside world." P. 322

Of course the years as Sandy Weill's protege are well documented and shared frankly, yet with uncanny dignity. However, there are some lessons you can identify in the book that should serve readers requirement for a perspective on the real Sandy Weill, as evidenced by the following:

"Weill had acquired the dreaded CEO disease, which made him unable to hear anything but what he wanted to hear." p.115.

Sandy Weill, on the other hand, is proof that you should never underestimate the man who overestimates himself." p.130

The Dimon family's dedication to giving back to community is well documented in the book:

"The Dimons give generously from their family foundation as well as from their personal accounts. Jamie also gives gifts above and beyond annual bonuses to the people with whom he works closely, including his driver. And just like Sandy Weill, he has tried to spread stock ownership through every company he's run, from top to bottom, driven by a desire to see his colleagues get rich along with him." P.114

Dimon's insights into deal making and mergers and acquisitions activity are numerous, useful and characterized in the following:

"On a call with analysts in May, he tried, once again, to make explicit his view of acquisition opportunities. "There are three things that have to make sense," he said. "And they are not in order of importance. One is the business logic. There should be clear business logic to it. The second is the price. Sometimes there is a price at which you cannot make it pay for shareholders. And the third is the ability to execute. You have to be able to see clearly getting done what you need to get done, whether it is management or systems or marketing or culture or something like that. If those things make sense, you can then weigh and balance them. Meaning, if you have exceptional business logic and an easy ability to execute, you could pay a higher price. And conversely, if those things are a little more complex, you want a margin of error by getting a lower it price." Pp.216-217

The tidbits that Warren Buffet shares about Dimon are priceless: Here's a couple to chew on:

"Warren Buffett thinks Dimon separated himself from the pack by relying on his own judgment and not becoming slave to the software that tried to simplify all of banking into a mathematical equation. "Too many people overemphasize the power of these statistical models," he says. "But not Jamie. The CEO of any of these firms has to be the chief risk officer."

"You have to have somebody that's got a real fear in them of what can happen in the markets. They have to know financial history. You can't evaluate risk in sigmas." - quote from Warren Buffett p.232

Duff McDonald refers to sayings of Dimon as DIMONOLOGY. These are precious sentences of wisdom, uncommon sense, and the voice of both character and experience. Allow me to share a few here I particularly enjoyed, to whet your whistle:

"a consistency to performance, rather than someone chasing the flavor of the month," p. 206

"One of the toughest jobs of the CEO is to look at all the stupid stuff other people are doing and to not do them," p.214

"Everyone was trying to grow in products we didn't want to grow in," he later told a reporter. "So we let them have it." P.214

"There is one financial commandment that cannot be violated: Do not borrow short to invest long-particularly against `illiquid, long-term assets." "You know what sinks companies?" he asked an audience in late 2008. "Financing illiquid assets short." P. 230

"Well, sometimes you can't grow. Sometimes you don't want to grow. In certain businesses, growth means you either take on bad clients, excess risk, or too much leverage." P.231

"I don't want to be big and stupid. I want to be really good at what we do." P.240

"The issue is not just whether someone has the intellectual capacity to manage it. Someone must also have the desire." P.325

"Individual units may have volatile results, but the combination is more stable. P.324

"It is no surprise that a lack of corporate intrigue tends to go hand in hand with long-term success." P. 303

"He actually trusts the people working for him, and trusts, too, that they can learn from their mistakes, as he has learned from his own." P.304

"When talking of the most important things in his life, he once said, "My family, humanity, my Country, and the world. And way down here is J.P. Morgan." P.309

"A lot of those mark-to-market losses will end up being real losses," he'said. "They are real losses that are simply being recognized in the market before they're being recognized in expected cash flows." P.310

"What we aim for is continuous improvement. It's not like we think we get to a perfect place." P. 320

Problems don't age well; denying or hiding them guarantees that they will get worse. Bureaucracy, silos, and politics are the bane of large corporations; they must be combated vigorously and continually." P.160

No company has ever had much of a future by cutting costs. Success is measured by top and bottom-line growth." P.169

Review our businesses and what we're doing well organically. That kind of growth will get you a higher value for your shareholders. By the way M&A is risky and tough, so the discipline is different. You really need to think about the landscape, to ask yourself what's changing." Pp.173-174

"I think it's important that you're open-minded to other people's ideas." P.176

"Many of the previous decade's mergers had been nothing more than "stacking doughnuts"- the holes in the business that had existed before were still there." P.181

On large outsourcing contracts - "We want patriots, not mercenaries," p. `93

"open architecture" -- in which the firm's brokers were allowed to offer any number of funds, not just those from JPMorgan Chase." P.194

`If you admit your mistakes, Dimon's theory went, you save yourself the hassle of having your critics point them out to you." P. 196

"Every single risk you're taking can be broken down to its smallest components and therefore be better understood. All it takes is time and effort." P.197

As Duff concludes this volume, he shares the following:

"Jamie Dimon has emerged as a moral and managerial compass for both his industry and the country itself." p. 328 ----

Frankly, after 328 pages of absolutely wonderful investigative journalism, the obvious discipline of a superb historical biographer, and being immersed in the rare literary talents of a master story-teller (I am referring here to author Duff McDonald) -- I unequivocally agree!!!

To Jamie, Judy, family, colleagues and to Duff McDonald - It was a pleasure and a privilege to have the honor of reading about your lives. My sincere thanks. Your story shall endure with me.

To the reader - Buy This Book - One of the Best I've devoured in 2010 and likely to make my Top 10 for 2010. ENJOY!
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Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase
Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase by Duff McDonald (Hardcover - October 6, 2009)
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