JPM brand avoids damage from Dimon's ties to Trump ... for now
Throughout the wild ride of recent political fiascoes in Washington, Jamie Dimon has reaffirmed his commitment to advise President Trump and has avoided damaging his company’s strong reputation — so far.
But criticism of the JPMorgan Chase CEO a reached a higher decibel level Monday, when Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary and Harvard University president, questioned the banking icon’s judgment in remaining on the president’s strategic and policy forum.
During a televised interview on Bloomberg, Summers blasted Dimon’s decision to continue advising Trump, after two of his peers — Disney CEO Bob Iger, as well as SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk — quit in protest of the White House’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change. Dimon has said repeatedly that while he disagrees with the president from time to time, he views his service on the council as a patriotic duty.
“Jamie should be prepared — and I would be prepared, I hope any business leader would be prepared — to offer the president advice,” said Summers, who worked in two Democratic administrations. “That is a very different thing than offering your prestige and that of your company [by] joining an advisory board of [the president’s] creation.”
A company spokesman declined to comment on Summers' remarks except to point back to Dimon's official statement on the pullout from the climate accord.
"I absolutely disagree with the administration on this issue, but we have a responsibility to engage our elected officials to work constructively and advocate for policies that improve people's lives and protect our environment," Dimon said last week.
Dimon, a larger-than-life figure in the banking industry, traditionally has had no qualms about sticking his neck out into the sometimes messy political fray. There are no signs Dimon's association with Trump has tarnished JPMorgan's marquee brand, but the company will have to stay on alert in the months ahead, experts said.
“Is there potential brand risk? Yes,” said Eric Dezenhall, an expert in damage control at a Washington firm that bears his name. “But I think it’s still under the category of potential because I don’t see a lot of evidence of the consequences.”
Dimon has taken steps to distance himself from some of the president’s most controversial positions. Besides disagreeing with the decision last week to exit the Paris climate accord, he was one of several CEOs who criticized the White House’s proposed immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries.
Still, Dimon has held firm in defending his role on the advisory council. Asked recently by social activists to step down from the role, Dimon flatly refused.
“He’s the pilot flying our airplane — I’m trying to help,” Dimon said during the company’s annual meeting last month.
Dimon’s calculation could change quickly, if the risks of aligning the JPMorgan brand with the White House increase in the months ahead, experts said.
Any escalation in the ongoing investigations into collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials could force Dimon to consider resigning from the panel, according to Dezenhall.
“If there are active impeachment proceedings, based on demonstrable allegations of financial corruption and collusion with the Russians, we’ll be having a different conversation,” Dezenhall said.
There is also the possibility that influential clients at JPMorgan could make their political concerns known — potentially putting business deals at risk, according to Gene Grabowski, a partner at kglobal.
But branding experts also concede that, as the head of a large, profitable bank, Dimon is nonetheless immune to many of the political risks faced by other CEOs.
Consumers rarely switch banks in droves, unless they view their accounts as being at risk. Investors, meanwhile, typically care more about profitability than politics and would prefer to see Dimon remain on Trump’s business council, promoting business-friendly policies.
Additionally, unlike Musk, Dimon simply doesn’t face the pressure of operating in a realm of the business world world where left-leaning political values are considered the norm, according to Dezenhall, who noted that the SpaceX CEO largely moves in progressive circles.
“People don’t want to have their chops busted among the people they eat quiche and drink Chablis with,” Dezenhall said.
Musk and Igor weren’t the first CEOs to resign from the council. Earlier this year, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from Trump’s business council after users began deleting their accounts, accusing the company of profiting during a protest among New York cab drivers of Trump’s travel orders.
In a Washington Post op-ed published Sunday evening, Summers reiterated his warning for CEOs, saying that “history will judge poorly business leaders who retain positions on Trump administration advisory boards.”
In the months ahead, Dimon will face a test of balancing his desire to assist the president in forming policy and upholding his company’s reputation.
“He’s got to make a personal decision on when he’s reached his limits,” said Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, who now focuses on crisis-management issues as an attorney in private practice. “There’s a limit between disagreeing and being repelled.”
Rob Blackwell contributed to this article.