Warren Buffett, who has said he personally owns shares of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), is backing the bank's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon as shareholders vote this month on whether to split his roles.
"I'm 100% for Jamie," Buffett told Bloomberg Television's Betty Liu yesterday in Omaha, Nebraska. "I couldn't think of a better chairman."
Calls for Dimon, 57, to relinquish the chairmanship have mounted since New York-based JPMorgan disclosed risk-control lapses on derivatives bets last year that fueled more than $6.2 billion of losses. In March, the company's board urged investors to vote against naming a separate chairman at the May 21 meeting, saying that Dimon's dual role remains the "most effective leadership model."
Buffett said in November that Dimon would be the best candidate to lead the U.S. Treasury Department in a financial crisis. President Barack Obama eventually nominated Jacob J. Lew to the post vacated by Timothy F. Geithner.
Investors would risk shortening Dimon's tenure if they appoint a separate chairman and their company's stock may lose its "premium valuation," Charles Peabody, an analyst at Portales Partners LLC, said last month in a note to clients.
JPMorgan, the largest U.S. bank, has advanced about 9.4% since Dec. 31 through yesterday in New York trading after climbing 32% in 2012, the third straight year in which the company posted record profit. A coalition of retirement plans, including the AFSCME pension fund, is pressing to separate Dimon's roles.
Buffett, 82, holds both roles at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the company he built into a $264 billion business with operations in insurance, energy, railroads, manufacturing and retail. His remarks yesterday came in advance of Berkshire's May 4 annual shareholder meeting, which draws tens of thousands of attendees to Omaha's CenturyLink Center each year.
Succession is often a topic at the gathering. Buffett wrote in a letter last year that the board had agreed on a candidate to fill the CEO role once he's gone, without identifying the individual. He has said his son, Howard, a board member since 1993, could be chairman, after he's gone.
Berkshire will probably raise pay for the next CEO, Buffett said yesterday, though the ultimate decision about compensation will rest with directors.
"I've written a memo to the board in terms of how they should design a pay package," Buffett told Liu. "It isn't $100,000 a year."
Buffett, the world's third-richest person, with an estimated fortune of more than $57 billion, has earned a salary of $100,000 from Berkshire for more than 25 years, according to the company's most recent proxy statement. Last year, he gave back half of that to cover personal expenses, such as postage and phone calls.
The next CEO "can probably make a lot more money running Berkshire than any other job they can find," Buffett said. "It's a huge enterprise. If they can take a company that's worth $250 billion and turn it into something that's worth $500 billion, they are entitled to make a lot of money."