Bank One Corp.’s chief executive James Dimon said Wednesday that the Chicago banking company will reduce its large corporate lending business this year as it combs through a 1,700-client portfolio for the most profitable relationships.

Despite the number of long-standing relationships, some with Fortune 1000 companies, this business line “is not a high-return business,” because we’re losing money on credit products, Mr. Dimon told attendees at a Salomon Smith Barney conference in New York Wednesday. The announcement came just a week after Bank One’s fourth-quarter earnings took a battering when it unveiled a 19% increase in nonperforming assets during the quarter, for a total of $2.573 billion.

“We’re probably one of the last banks to do this,” he said, referring to the process of identifying which relationships to develop and which to cull to shore up profits. “We used to look at these products as if they all had the same profit margin.”

Mr. Dimon said he wants the bank to expand its cash management sales and build other product areas where it has shown strength, such as syndicated lending, asset backed securities, and conduits.

“Yes, it is a difficult cultural change. We are going to do it respectfully, carefully, relentlessly,” he said.

For the past few quarters, the commercial banking unit has focused on credit quality, overlooking other concerns regarding the commercial bank.

Mr. Dimon, who had a colorful career as head of Salomon Smith Barney, started off the presentation with a wave to many of his old Salomon colleagues in the audience, as well as his father, who works at Salomon as a broker. Mr. Dimon’s mother was also in the audience.

“Now I’m really under pressure,” he quipped.

And in the same vein, he stepped into a role that has become quite familiar in the past ten months since he took charge of the bank — as a recruiter. Referring to the pending retirement of Geoffrey L. Stringer, 57, the head of Bank One’s $10 billion corporate investment unit, Mr. Dimon said: “In fact, we’re looking for a really supersmart investor,” so “if you have some resumes for me, give me a call.”

Mr. Stringer is expected to retire by the end of the quarter.

Over the last year, Mr. Dimon has turned to former colleagues at Salomon and its Citigroup affiliates for several management appointments.

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