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Financial Communications

J.P. Morgan - A Profile in Leadership

In 1907, the collapse of the Knickerbocker Trust Company triggered a financial panic similar to what we are experiencing today. Confidence in the markets plummeted, credit dried up, and even healthy businesses couldn’t secure the capital needed to prosper and grow. Enter J.P. Morgan – the man, not the company. He didn’t wait for direction from Washington or a federal rescue – he came to the rescue himself. Though semiretired at the time, he assembled leaders of the healthiest financial institutions and hammered out a plan to save ailing trusts and stabilize the monetary supply. The private initiative posed great risk to the fortunes and reputations of Morgan and every other banker present. But it stemmed the crisis and, ultimately, led to the formation of the Federal Reserve. What’s different today is how few business leaders appear to be willing to do the same. While some companies have taken positive steps toward restoring public confidence, the vast majority seem content to let politicians, columnists, bloggers, and regulators provide the narrative by which they, and these times, are defined. History makes clear that recessions and depressions, far from being periods of creative stagnation, bring out the best in those willing to take calculated risks. As such, the time is now for the private sector to articulate its vision of recovery. Whether it is to restore confidence in financial markets; find more accurate ways to link risks and rewards; help boards lead rather than manage by fear of executive liability; embrace shareholders’ ideas on executive pay and other initiatives; or inculcate a culture of accountability, there are myriad paths the financial services sector can take to begin to reassert itself as a responsible steward of nation’s economic welfare. Without that, dissolution, anxiety, and anger will continue to fill the vacuum – and the lessons of John Pierpont Morgan will have gone to waste.

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