Jamie Dimon’s $50 mln award is sane in a mad world

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Jamie Dimon, chairman & CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co., speaks during the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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NEW YORK, July 21 (Reuters Breakingviews) - As white-collar workers worldwide rethink their life priorities, many companies will have to dig deep to retain talent. Not many will dig as deep as JPMorgan (JPM.N). The U.S. bank’s board granted Chief Executive Jamie Dimon a slab of stock options on Tuesday to make him stay for a “significant number of years.” The award is actually pretty rational, but only in an absurd pay climate.

Dimon already gets paid more than most bank chiefs – his $31.7 million package for 2020 was second only to Morgan Stanley (MS.N) boss James Gorman. These new options are worth around $50 million today, based on a Breakingviews analysis using the Black-Scholes option pricing model. He has to wait five years to turn them into shares, and another five to turn shares into cash. Still, it’s a bonanza. Dimon already received 395 times the median pay of a JPMorgan employee and around 1,500 that of the typical Walmart (WMT.N) worker.

As payouts go, it’s not that bad. Options, unlike commonly doled-out future stock awards, don’t pile up unpaid dividends in the years before the recipient gets hold of them. While JPMorgan’s earnings are juiced up by government support for markets, so is the bank’s share price, which reduces his potential future gains. Other firms have paid more and in worse ways. Industrial giant General Electric (GE.N) in 2018 awarded Chief Executive Larry Culp a potential $232 million award and then adjusted it to make it easier to achieve.

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The question is whether this is really necessary. Dimon said last month that he was “perfectly willing to stay for five years.” His latest annual shareholder letter, at 66 pages, gave no sign of a boss ready to give up his bully pulpit. Also, underlings will now require incentives to stick around. Perhaps Dimon can remain as chair while someone else steps into the chief executive role – though nearly half of JPMorgan investors voting at this year’s annual meeting said they didn’t want that.

Meanwhile, bosses of other companies will use Dimon’s riches to argue that the market price for their own talent has just gone up. Chief executive pay already grew 16% in 2020, the Economic Policy Institute found in May. America’s corporate elite continues to pull itself up by the bootstraps.

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CONTEXT NEWS

- JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon received 1.5 million stock options on July 20 to induce him to stay in his role for a “further significant number of years.” Dimon, the best paid of the big U.S. bank chiefs in 2019 and second-best in 2020, has been CEO of JPMorgan since 2006.

- The options would be exercisable at the average of July 20’s high and low trading prices. Dimon can exercise them from July 2026 but must hold the resulting shares until July 2031. If he leaves to work for the government, the board can allow Dimon to exercise his options for the following two years if certain conditions are fulfilled.

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Editing by Swaha Pattanaik and Amanda Gomez

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