On the 50th floor of JPMorgan Chase's global headquarters on Park Avenue, CEO Jamie Dimon announced plans to expand The Fellowship Initiative to Chicago and Los Angeles. TFI is an academic and social enrichment program first launched in New York City four years ago to help young men of color achieve their potential and compete at a higher level.
I spoke to Dimon about the program's expansion as well as broader economic issues facing the country. Dimon told me he believes America is in "extraordinarily good shape" compared to other countries and that U.S. companies are in a strong position to compete. But he shares with me some worries he has about the future. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Lulu Chiang: JP Morgan started the TFI program four years ago and is now expanding to Los Angeles and Chicago. How does this program aim to change society?
Jamie Dimon: Four years ago, the U.S. was almost at the bottom of the recession. Even though we had a bad economy, we wanted to do productive things for communities. One of the terrible things we saw in America is that in most inner cities, less than 50 percent of the kids graduate and they're often young men of color. In certain school districts, it's 30 percent.
So our folks had this idea, it wasn't me, to really think through how we can get kids who are at risk, through high school and into college. It was a turnkey program that included everything from mentoring, Saturday workshops, leadership training, and even travel and outdoor adventure. So they're getting a lot of experience and they get to have a mentor to help them through some of the tougher parts. There are 24 kids in the program. I met a lot of these kids today. They're going to get through.
LC: Today you have 24, you're expanding to 120 in three major cities -- that is still a very small group that we are talking about. Is it really going to make a dent in the problem?
JD: I learned a long time ago that if you figure something out that works, you can amplify it. Other people may do it, other companies may do it, and we can do more. We also can work back the other way. What can the school districts do on their own to help? And families and local civic groups? So you learn a lot in the process and if you get it right, you can expand it dramatically.
LC: Is America investing enough in educating its workforce?
JD: I don't think it's a question of money. It may be a question of method.
LC: Running a global company, you have a great window into the global workforce. Is America more competitive now versus other countries?
JD: America is in extraordinarily good shape. We have the best military on the planet, the best universities, the widest and deepest capital and financial market, which is a good thing. I'm not talking about banks, I'm talking about venture capital and private equity. We've got an unbelievable innovative workforce. I'm not just talking about the CEOs, but across all levels, from the factory floors to top executives.
We've got a great work ethic and we're very vibrant in large, middle and small businesses -- some countries aren't. We have very low corruption. You may laugh at this a little bit, but we have a functioning democracy. You may not like what's going on sometimes, but the fact is it's a strong democracy and we will have a democratic future. A lot of democracies out there, you aren't quite sure of. If you said, "Where is the best place to be born -- where and when?" It would be in America today.
But that does not mean we have a divine right to success. We commit errors like everybody else.
Of the big problems out there, immigration would be one. We have to have immigration reform, both for moral and economic purposes. Infrastructure planning -- every city, every state, the federal government -- should have much more thoughtful infrastructure plans in place. Inner city education needs to improve. I also would include that we need a real, thoughtful long-term energy policy.
If we don't get all of those things right, we won't be in the same position in 30 to 40 years. The rest of the world has gotten much better, which we want them to. But it's going to be competitive; you better look at it as a little bit competitive. And we need long-term fiscal and tax reform because those things can cripple this country, too.
LC: The Labor Department recently released the strongest inflation numbers since 2012. Are you worried about inflation right now?
LC: Why not?
JD: There are too many other things to worry about.
LC: What do you worry about?
JD: I just told you what good shape the country is in. But there is obviously a list of things you should worry about, like geopolitical events. I'm just not sure I'd put inflation on the list.
To me, what you really want in America is strong economic growth. Strong economic growth is great for foreign policy, it's great for, obviously, equality. It's a great way to lift up the middle class, the lower and poor. And it's also great because it gives you the capital to reinvest in infrastructure and schools. I wish we had some real key focus on growth so we could do all the good and important things we need to do.
One other thing -- there are a million veterans coming back, and we owe it to them to help them get jobs. So one of the things we did, in addition to this program, is join the 100,000 Jobs Mission for veterans, which we've now increased to a goal of creating 200,000 jobs by 2020. We were a founding partner. A total of 140,000 vets have been hired, 7,000 by JPMorgan Chase alone.
LC: You mentioned that when you started the TFI program, the country was coming out of a recession. How much better off are we today than we were five years ago?
JD: Well, we're certainly better off than where we were in the depth of the recession in '09. So, if you go back to the worst time, values were way down, and worst of all, about 8 million people had lost their jobs. I think we finally added more jobs back to the economy than were lost.
We haven't grown fast enough -- we need to grow faster to be able to do all the things we need to do -- but we certainly are in better shape today. The banking system today is in good shape, the markets are in good shape, businesses are in very good financial shape, housing has turned a corner. So it's not even close, but it's just not good enough.
LC: So, speaking of businesses being in great shape, they've got so much money on their balance sheets. Should they be hiring or doing some more deals out there?
JD: Businesses always want to grow products and services and clients. But they're all not going to hire in advance of having orders. You know, a stronger economy is going to help all of those businesses hire. And you're starting to see it. We've had, you know, 200,000 jobs added a month for god knows how many months now.
You know, more people have jobs, more people want to buy homes, more people have families, more people are confident. So I'm hopeful we're going to see an acceleration of growth in the United States. Then companies will hire, and then there will be wage pressure, in a good way. I'm not talking about inflation. A company will be forced to pay their talent more because other people are going to want to try to hire them.