The Woman Who Took the Fall for JPMorgan Chase

Even Drew’s friends do not feel that she could have stayed in her job, especially in the current regulatory environment. She was, after all, in charge of the unit that lost $6 billion. “She had to go,” one friend said, “and she would have seen that.” One Wall Street headhunter said: “That’s what they pay you so much money for. To take the fall when things go wrong.”

Ina Drew

In February of 2011, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, approached the podium of one of the ballrooms at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Key Biscayne, Fla., where 300 senior executives from around the world were attending the bank’s annual off-site conference. By that time, the cold fear of the financial crisis was cordoned off in the near-distant past, replaced by a dawning recognition that the ensuing changes in business — the comparatively trifling risk limits, the dwindling bonuses, the elevated stress levels — might actually be permanent. That day, Dimon took the opportunity, according to a bank employee in attendance, to try to inspire his team, to rouse them from the industrywide sense of malaise. Yes, there were challenges, Dimon said, but it was the job of leadership to be strong. They should be prudent, but step up — be bold. He looked out into the audience, where Ina Drew, the 54-year-old chief investment officer, was sitting at one of the tables. “Ina,” he said, singling her out, “is bold.”

Perhaps by now when bankers hear that kind of public praise, they simultaneously hear a distant clanging, a dim alarm that provokes an undercurrent of anxiety. It seems inevitable that an acknowledgment of such star power will eventually lead to a fall, a big one, and one year and three months later, Drew succumbed. Her team had been bold, so bold that along with Dimon, she had become the public face attached to a $6 billion mistake, a trading loss so startling in size that it dominated the business press, put Dimon on the defensive and cost Drew her job. Over and over again, online and on television, in stories about the loss, the same corporate headshot appeared: a woman wearing a hot pink bouclé jacket, showing a smile so faint it was almost frank in its discomfort.


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