3 Things JPMorgan Chase Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee Taught Me

by | Jun 22, 2015

Wall Street lost a giant last week when James “Jimmy” Lee, the vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) – died unexpectedly.

Business leaders including GE (GE) CEO Jeff Immelt and Facebook (FB) – COO Sheryl Sandberg issued public statements praising him. Jimmy didn’t just inspire confidence in those at the top, however. He also was a source of motivation and guidance for the rank and file.

I worked as a junior banker at J.P. Morgan for several years, and I admired Jimmy from afar, and how he won business for the bank.

I eventually grew restless with my job, so I asked Jimmy for career advice. He graciously invited me to his office on the 48th floor of 270 Park Avenue for a meeting. I’ll always remember his counsel:

1. Create your own niche. Jimmy began by telling me how he carved out a niche for himself. He focused his efforts in an area that he truly enjoyed: client-facing investment banking.

“I love what I do, closing deals, even if it means working weekends,” he explained. “This bank is big enough. Find something you are passionate about, and go after it.”

I was passionate about developing markets, so I focused my efforts on emerging-market investing. I traveled the world to scout investment ideas for institutional money managers.

Jimmy helped me realize that even at a global investment bank, you can find your own neighborhood.

2.Connect with everyone. When dealing with clients, it’s important to make a strong connection with everyone, no matter where they are on the organizational chart.

He taught me that it’s not just essential to know the CEO but his or her administrative assistant, and the junior employees.

In 2014, I got to see Jimmy in action, practicing what he preached. During the roadshow to promote the Alibaba (BABA) initial public offering, I introduced Jimmy (and Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s vice chairman), to one of my clients.

Before the meeting began, Jimmy went out of his way to shake everyone’s hand, from the junior analysts to the most seasoned portfolio managers. He regaled them with a story about his recent trip to China.

Over the years, I followed Jimmy’s guidance as I tried to win the business of some of the largest institutional funds on Wall Street and made sure to get to know everyone.

3. Embrace the arts. Jimmy enjoyed poetry. During his commencement address at his alma mater (which he told me to watch on YouTube), he read Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.

While in high school, he took the road less taken, as a jock who wrote for the school newspaper. During our meeting, Jimmy encouraged me to “stay connected with the music,” as I was a lifelong jazz musician. “It’s what makes you different,” he said. His advice put me more at ease about my interest and career in the arts, while working at a large investment bank.

Before writing this piece, I watched Jimmy’s commencement address again. I was moved when he read the inscription on the Mark Hopkins gate at Williams College: “Climb high, climb far, your goal the sky, your aim the star.” You embodied these words, Jimmy.

[This article was also published in TheStreet]

\This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held shares of JPM.