Is James Gorman of Morgan Stanley the next king of Wall Street?
Jamie Dimon has long been considered the King of Wall Street for running the nation’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase, for 15 years — profitably and for the most part scandal-free.
But there’s competition afoot for the crown, and it’s coming from an unlikely source.
One of the least-public CEOs in banking is making moves. His name is James Gorman, an Australian-born former McKinsey consultant-turned-chief executive of Morgan Stanley.
Gorman, 62, is one of the least public CEOs of the very public banking business. That’s unlike Dimon, who frequently comments on public-policy issues; or Larry Fink, the chief of investing giant BlackRock who spews woke political assessments every chance he gets; or even Goldman Sach’s David Solomon, the part-time DJ spinning records in the Hamptons as “DJ Sol” between CNBC appearances.
Gorman spends more time on business than on posturing, and it’s been paying off.
Morgan Stanley was historically a white-shoe investment bank and trading outfit that catered to providing high-end advice to corporations and, on a few occasions, lost money on risky bets. Gorman has transformed it into an investment behemoth, with earnings that are less contingent on the vicissitudes of trading or deal flow.
That’s why Morgan Stanley, despite its relatively modest size (a market value of about $90 billion compared to JPMorgan Chase’s $300 billion-plus), has become a go-to stock. Just pull up a one-year chart. You will see that while JPMorgan and Goldman often suck up many of the dealmaking headlines, Morgan Stanley’s shares are up around 20 percent. Goldman will be lucky to break above 1 percent during this time frame, and JPMorgan is down double digits.
Going almost unnoticed (except maybe for investors) is that Morgan Stanley reaps a continuous flow of fees. It now boasts Wall Street’s largest contingent of financial advisers. After Gorman’s $7 billion purchase of money manager Eaton Vance earlier in the month, the firm has doubled down on the slow-but-steady business of asset handling — with $1.2 trillion under management.
And he keeps buying stuff. Since joining Morgan Stanley in 2006, Gorman has snapped up Citigroup’s brokerage department (known as Smith Barney) and some smaller wealth-management businesses. The biggest fish he caught: Discount brokerage firm E-Trade, which he bought for $13 billion.
“I don’t think he’s done yet with buying,” said one financial executive who used to work for Gorman and knows his management style. “He’s 62 and has at least three more years at the company, and he wants to make it bigger.”
Gorman does have his skeptics, and early on I was one of them. His background as a management consultant at McKinsey — known for producing boring technocrats more interested in org charts than deal-making — rubbed analysts and some colleagues the wrong way.
His low-key personal mannerisms conflict with the swashbuckling raconteurs (like his former boss at Morgan John Mack) that often dominate banking. He also has an annoying habit of reminding people to call him “James” whenever they refer to him as “Jim.”
As people (like myself) got to know “James,” they realized that behind stoicism was an incredible drive and determination.
JPMorgan’s asset-management business is still larger at around $1.9 trillion, as is Goldman’s at $1.8 trillion. Gorman’s vision of a one-stop shopping wealth-asset management firm is dicey because such financial supermarkets have failed in the past. (Recall the travails of Citigroup under Sandy Weill and Chuck Prince.) Forcing brokers to be giving preference to in-house mutual funds, like Eaton Vance, over others to double up on fees can lead to trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Some analysts also say Gorman is the flavor of the month. Take a longer view of a Morgan Stanley stock chart, like five years, and its lead over JPMorgan evaporates. Crunch metrics like return on equity and Goldman still beats Morgan.
Good points all. But Morgan’s stock is also up this year because investors are betting on the future that Gorman envisions. In terms of assets under management in its fund business, with the Eaton Vance deal, Morgan is within striking distance of JPMorgan and Goldman, and neither have the army of financial advisers that Gorman does to organically grow the business.
Talk to seasoned financial executives and they see Dimon, for all his skill, as sitting on a massive and well-run bank with possibly nowhere to grow. They see Solomon at Goldman as being too timid and unwilling — at least so far — to pull off a transformational deal that Goldman so desperately needs.
And they also see Gorman, the quiet guy, methodically building a new firm and possibly snatching the crown in the years ahead.
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