As Jamie Dimon accelerates his search for a new job, the former Citigroup executive - some say once the heir apparent - has been hitting the lecture circuit, talking about the events surrounding his abrupt departure in October 1998.
But he has not told the whole of his story to open audiences, as he searches for work, possibly as a bank president. What he says privately is that his forced resignation last year as Citigroup president was more the result of a simmering personal conflict with Sanford I. Weill, the company's co-chairman, than of business issues, say people close to the former executive.
At the time of Mr. Dimon's departure, Mr. Weill complained about the sluggish pace at which Salomon Smith Barney was being integrated into the newly merged Citigroup, a combination of Citicorp and Travelers Group.
Mr. Dimon, now 43, had been co-chief of Salomon Smith Barney, and was responsible for integrating Salomon into Citicorp's wholesale bank. That led many to believe the company's integration woes were behind Mr. Dimon's departure.
But Mr. Dimon, who declined to be interviewed for this story, sees it differently, the sources say. He casts himself as a victim in a "Shakespearean tragedy," in which his long-time associate and mentor, Mr. Weill, plotted Mr. Dimon's downfall after a long-running, behind-the-scenes feud.
Mr. Dimon is said to believe that Mr. Weill became irritated as Mr. Dimon gained more attention and publicity for his growing role in a number of companies that had been headed by Mr. Weill: American Express Co., Commercial Credit, Primerica, and finally Travelers. Specifically, Mr. Weill was annoyed by frequent reports in the press that Mr. Dimon was Mr. Weill's "heir apparent,'' the sources say. Even within Citigroup, some executives say they suspect the 66-year-old Mr. Weill, who has made no retirement or succession plans, was irked by the suggestion he would retire at all.
The rift grew after Mr. Dimon had a falling out two years ago with Mr. Weill's daughter, Jessica Bibliowicz, a childhood friend of Mr. Dimon's who resigned as head of asset management at Smith Barney in early 1997. During the last year of his employment, Mr. Dimon believed Mr. Weill was looking for an excuse to push him out - but when it finally happened, he was surprised.
"I came home from work early," Mr. Dimon said at a lecture in New York Thursday evening. "I said, `Judy, sit down. I have something to tell you, and please, please, don't tell me I'm kidding.' "
Since his departure, Mr. Dimon has had little contact with Mr. Weill except a few chance encounters at a mutual favorite restaurant, the Four Seasons. Indeed, in the last year Mr. Dimon spoke more with John S. Reed, Mr. Weill's co-CEO, who had been chief executive of Citicorp. Contrary to some published reports, Mr. Dimon has been saying his relationship with Mr. Reed was free of clashes and that Mr. Weill, in fact, viewed an alliance between the two as a threat.
But last week, Mr. Dimon invited Mr. Weill to lunch "in the spirit of Christmas," a source said, adding that the two parted on good terms. At Thursday's lecture, Mr. Dimon said he has appreciated his time away from work. "You have to be successful in your family life and your business life," he said. "And people destroy their families, they're so busy working. And it takes time and effort."
Mr. Dimon told the audience at the 92nd Street Y that he is looking to return to the financial services industry and indicated he had a strong interest in joining a bank.
"There's a very good chance I'll end up with a company in a very senior role of some sort," he said. "I have a preference for financial services but it doesn't have to be."
He added that he was specifically interested in venture capital, "securities, bill payment banks where I can add value."
Mr. Dimon has been among the most closely watched and courted executives this year. He confirmed Thursday that he had turned down jobs with amazon.com, Barclays Bank PLC, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
"He got very far at a young age," said T. Lee Pomeroy, an executive recruiter at Egon Zehnder International. "He's played at the big table and very close to people who are very close to Wall Street and finance. His reputation is that he's smart, charismatic, energetic, mature beyond his years."
To be sure, there is no financial compulsion for Mr. Dimon to return to work - he is worth an estimated $125 million, at least. And he does have some commitments as a board member for Mount Sinai-New York University Medical Center and the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (he is not interested in working full time for a nonprofit group).
But not everyone is sure Mr. Dimon is a perfect job candidate. An executive recruiter said his 14-month absence from financial services has also raised the question "Where's Jamie? No one asks where Frank Newman is. But someone as young and talented as Jamie Dimon, well, it makes you wonder."
Another strike against Mr. Dimon is that he has worked for no one other than Mr. Weill. A long-time friend of Mr. Weill's family, the recruiter said there is doubt about how well Mr. Dimon might perform on his own.
Mr. Dimon dismissed that argument. "My net worth was tied to my former employer," he said. "Not my self-worth."
Sources close to Mr. Dimon say the executive likens his lengthy job search to an engagement - he doesn't want to commit too soon. "I don't want to move overseas. I don't want to get into a situation where I might be unhappy," he said Thursday. "I want to do one thing for the next 10 years."
Still, Mr. Dimon clearly has a passion for work. Much of his hour-long talk was devoted to the Internet and banking. Asked by an audience member if he had any regrets about his career, he paused and said, "I love what I did, except for that ending part I have been blessed." As for the merger of Citicorp and Travelers, Mr. Dimon said the idea originated as a joke in 1997. A Travelers management meeting included a slide presentation. One slide included a list of potential - and unlikely - mergers from which executives were supposed to pick "the mother of all deals," Mr. Dimon said. At the top of the list was Citicorp.
Somehow the idea was put to the company's lawyers and Travelers senior management came to a conclusion, said Mr. Dimon. "Most companies can do what they want before the regulation changes," he said. After the deal was cemented in May 1998, the combined executive team set out to integrate the companies. Until the recent passage of the financial modernization bill, banks and insurance companies were not allowed to combine. Travelers was an insurance company with large nonbank financial activities.
"Execution is much more difficult than just saying, `Let's move the divisions,' " Mr. Dimon recalled. We said, "there will be parts that are not managed that well but hopefully the whole thing will take off."
Since he's been away from Citigroup, Mr. Dimon has turned some of his attention to other industries. He said he's particularly impressed with big companies that are managed well: Home Depot, Coca-Cola, The Gap, and Wal-Mart among them. Though he warned that some big banks were "crippled by political or cultural inadequacies," he warned that the industry should not be underestimated as "dinosaurs."
"I would argue banks are more like elephants," he said. "They're not as dumb as they look and if you don't look out for them, they'll kill you."