Talk to Mary Callhan Erdoes for more than a few minutes, and one word is likely to keep coming up: intensity.
The chief executive of JPMorgan Chase's asset management unit not only says the word often, it's also a quality she exudes. It's enabled her to lead her division through five consecutive years of record revenue growth — and to reign as American Banker's Most Powerful Woman in Finance for three years running. Erdoes attributes her professional dynamism in part to the example set by her late friend and former JPMorgan Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack this year at age 62.
"It was game day every day for him, and that's certainly a life lesson that he instilled in me," Erdoes says while on a family road trip through the American West in August. "I believe in working hard and playing hard, whether that means logging 14 hours in the RV yesterday or pulling long hours trying to help clients. It's about giving it your all and really feeling like you've accomplished something."
Erdoes has plenty of accomplishments to point to. She's one of two women on JPMorgan's 12-person operating committee (the other is Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake). She led her team of 20,000 employees to produce $12 billion in revenue in 2014, up from $11.4 billion the previous year. She's also committed to ensuring that other women at JPMorgan Chase have the opportunity to realize their potential.
In the past few years, Erdoes introduced a program aimed at helping women who have taken a career break return to wealth management, and helped launch the bankwide Women on the Move program, which sends senior women executives around the world to share advice and ideas with lower-level female employees.
While Erdoes wants to help women climb the ranks at her $2.4 trillion-asset company, she suggests it's not necessary for JPMorgan to introduce quotas like the one recently set by Lloyds Banking Group.
"If the tone inside the company is to promote people based on their accomplishments, and if it's a special and safe place to work, you'll get diversity," she says. She notes that JPMorgan Chase has women at the helm of its marketing, private banking and card divisions and recently appointed Stacey Friedman as general counsel.
"We do a good job of listening to the issues — that's what Women on the Move or the LGBT pride group where I'm a senior sponsor are for," Erdoes says of JPMorgan's efforts to create an equal-opportunity workplace culture. "You want people to tell you the truth and what needs to be changed so that you can take action and make where you are a better place to work."
Erdoes also dismisses the notion that the industry holds dwindling allure for top talent, female and otherwise. Some industry observers have pointed to Morgan Stanley veteran Ruth Porat's recent departure for Google as evidence that finance is on the losing end of a recruitment struggle with Silicon Valley.
"The fact that the most exciting, high-growth, high-tech, leading companies of the world are hiring talent from Wall Street in general and particularly leading women like Ruth is a fabulous testament to the talent and breadth and depth of the people on Wall Street," Erdoes says. To her way of thinking, Wall Street will always be the ideal place for bright, ambitious people to hone their skills.
"There's a fertile training ground to either stay on Wall Street or to do lots of other things," she says. "The intensity of the training on Wall Street is second to none."