JPMorgan Chase's Mary Callahan Erdoes, celebrated Thursday evening as American Banker's most powerful woman in finance, took a humorous if slightly vexing experience at passport control during a recent trip to Europe and used it as both an allegory of her employer's recent reputation troubles and a rallying cry for her fellow bankers in the audience.
Asked Monday by a customs agent about where she was from and what she did, Erdoes, who oversees more than $2 trillion as head of her company's asset-management division, elicited some disparaging comments on the state of the U.S. government and her chosen profession. Then she was asked who she worked for.
"Lady," the agent told her upon learning she worked for JPMorgan, "you got a lot going on."
Initially put off by the exchange, Erdoes quickly came to view it as an "a-ha" moment.
"I walked away with this somewhat funny feeling," she told the crowd of 675 colleagues, peers and supporters in a packed ballroom at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel. "And then I thought to myself ... I shouldn't have a funny feeling. I live in one of the greatest countries in the world. I'm so proud to be a banker. I'm so proud to work at JPMorgan."
A veteran at the nation's largest bank, Erdoes has spent the last four years overseeing more than $2 trillion in assets as CEO of JPMorgan Asset Management. Her group frequently tops money manager lists and she's viewed by many as a pillar of stability at her firm, which has seen a series of executive departures and regulatory run-ins since the uncovering of the bank's $6 billion "London Whale" trading loss last summer.
In addition to a string of recent settlements, the bank is reportedly facing a record $11 billion fine to resolve a series of investigations tied to mortgage-backed securities.
"We spend a lot of time with the regulators and they work very closely with our business. We have a great relationship with all of them," Erdoes told American Banker in an interview this summer. "It's a very good, healthy dynamic. It doesn't mean we won't trip up on something, somewhere in the future, and then we'll learn from it, we'll work hard at it and we'll move on. ... Trust me, there's self-learning every second of every day."
During her speech Thursday, Erdoes cited expertise, passion and working for a company that fosters equality as the keys to being a successful woman in banking.
"I was promoted in the middle of three different pregnancies," she said, before mentioning that JPMorgan had six other women being honored that night on American Banker's lists of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, the 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance and the 25 Women to Watch. These honorees include Joyce Chang, global head of fixed-income research; Catherine Keating, head of Investment Management Americas; Elizabeth Myers, head of Global Equity Capital Markets; Eileen Serra, CEO of Chase Card Services; Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake and Treasurer Sandie O'Connor.
Lake, No. 3 on American Banker's 25 Women to Watch list, did not attend the gala.
"[She's] at home preparing for tomorrow's earnings," Erdoes said.