A Dimon in waiting?

September 29, 2009

It’s a natural impulse of journalists to herald a top-level corporate management shake-up as setting the stage for a new heir apparent to a strong-willed chief executive. And not surprisingly, that’s how some in the financial media are reacting to news of today’s changing of the guard of JPMorgan Chase’s investment banking division.

But it’s way to premature to draw any conclusions from the announcement that Jes Staley will become sole CEO of the investment bank, following the departure of Bill Winters and the elevation of Steve Black to a new post within the investment bank.

Winters and Black had been co-CEOs of the investment bank. Black is being bumped-up executive chairman of the investment bank and will work with Staley as he becomes sole CEO sometime next year.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean Staley, 53, becomes the man to succeed Jamie Dimon as the big kahuna at the head of the entire banking enterprise.

For starters, Dimon, who is the same age as Staley, isn’t leaving JPMorgan anytime soon. Unless Dimon makes a career move into politics–there has been speculation about him wanting to be Treasury secretary–he’s pretty well-entrenched at JPMorgan.

Also, the assumption that Staley is the heir apparent stems from the old-line thinking that the investment bank will continue to set the pace at JPMorgan. But maybe it will be the commercial banking group may that will someday rise in dominance at JPMorgan, especially if investment banks are finally required to set aside higher levels of capital in the future.

And finally it doesn’t appear Black, 57, is out of the picture either.

Could Staley someday replace Dimon as CEO and chairman? Sure, but it will probably be years before we find out. And a lot can happen in that time too.

Update: It appears Black is indeed out of the picture. He’s apparently told some news organizations he intends to retire in a year. That said unless Dimon is ready to step down in the next or two, there’s plenty of time for other potential successors to emerge.

Really, the big questions concern Winters. Why is he out and is he heading somewhere else?

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