The story of Jamie Dimon is the story of modern Wall Street. He sits atop the country's largest bank, as CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase. He oversees more than $2 trillion in assets and a quarter million employees from Manhattan to Mumbai.
He was there when banking went from button-down and by-the-book to flashy and too-big-to-fail, through the 2008 financial crisis – and into today's era of even bigger banks. And now presidents, prime ministers, princes and sheiks seek his counsel.
So who better to ask about President Trump's tariffs and trade war, the income gap, and the recent criticisms of him by Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren?
Lesley Stahl: So Elizabeth Warren said in Iowa the other day, "Our democracy has been hijacked by the rich and powerful," and you jumped in and said this week about her that she was "vilifying successful people and having harsh words for Wall Street bankers."
Jamie Dimon: What I was commenting on is that anything that vilifies people I just don't like. I think, you know, most people are good, not all of 'em. I think you should vilify Nazis, but you shouldn't vilify people who worked hard to accomplish things. And so my comment is, I think it's American society – we're just attacking each other all the time.
Lesley Stahl: She said that, "The system is working great for the wealthy and well-connected, and Jamie Dimon," she brings you up, "doesn't want that to change."
Jamie Dimon: I'm not gonna comment on anyone in particular.
Lesley Stahl: But she's commenting on you. You've become a target. Whether you wanna respond to it or not, you're her target and you're Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's target.
Jamie Dimon: I understand that a person in this seat is gonna be a target in this day and age of certain politicians and stuff like that. But the notion that I'm not a patriot or that some of these other folks aren't pat--, that's just dead wrong. So-- you know, my view is let's all working together. And I don't mind if I-- a few barbs are thrown my way by anybody.
Lesley Stahl: You're tough.
Jamie Dimon: I'm not that tough, but I-- there's nothing I can do about it.
Lesley Stahl: The stock market is going through the roof, and yet manufacturing production is down over the past year. Wage growth is slowing. So when you look at the state of the economy right now, what do you see? Do you see strength? Do you see petering out?
Jamie Dimon: The consumer, which is 70% of the U.S. economy, is quite strong. Confidence is very high. Their balance sheets are in great shape. And you see that the strength of the American consumer is driving the American economy and the global economy. And while business slowed down, my current view is that, no, it just was a slowdown, not a petering out.
Lesley Stahl: You sound pretty optimistic about the economy.
Jamie Dimon: Yeah. Well, I am.
Lesley Stahl: Well what about the issue of unpredictability right now on the economy. Is that worrisome to you. It must be worrisome to every businessman in the country.
Jamie Dimon: The world is unpredictable. I think it's a mistake.
Lesley Stahl: Well, more unpredictable than usual.
Jamie Dimon: No. If you look at history, if you take a newspaper and open it at any month of any year, you'd have the same list of hugely unpredictable things.
Lesley Stahl: Why doesn't it feel that way? Why does it feel as if we were in a particularly uncertain time?
Jamie Dimon: Human nature looks at fear and reacts to the short run. But again there've been like 50 or 60 international crises since World War II. Only one really affected the global economy in the short run.
Lesley Stahl: What was that? Vietnam?
Jamie Dimon: No. Vietnam did not. Vietnam obviously totally changed America, but it was the oil crisis in the Middle East in 1973 when oil went from 2 to 20 and we had a global recession. There've been wars with India and Pakistan, we got Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Vietnam, China had wars with Vietnam, China had wars with Russia. None of those things affected the global economy. And the other thing is: people look at the negatives. There are positives. The Berlin Wall went up, the Berlin Wall came down. So…
Lesley Stahl: And the economy wasn't affected, is that what you're saying?
Jamie Dimon: Barely. This is the most prosperous economy the world has ever seen and It's going to be a very prosperous economy for the next 100 years.
Dimon's even unfazed by the trade war and President Trump's imposition of tariffs on China.
Jamie Dimon: I've been in China and the Chinese will say he brought us to the table.
Lesley Stahl: You know, the tariffs, it's like a bomb that you detonate and the problem is it falls on you. The bomb falls on them, but the bomb falls on you.
Jamie Dimon: The risk of tariffs was that-- that it sends up being more a trade war as opposed to a quietly negotiated thing. It has to be resolved. This is not going to war. Okay, this is trade and economics and resolution would be a good thing. And so I hope that takes place.
China is the far eastern frontier of Dimon's global financial empire that he oversees from his office at JPMorgan Chase's headquarters in New York City.
This is the heart of the bank's empire…
Little trading is done on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange these days. Traders mostly buy and sell over computers on their own trading floors. This is one of several at JPMorgan Chase.
Jamie Dimon: This is one of six trading floors in the building. There's like 450 people in this trading floor. An equivalent to this in London, half of this in Hong Kong, and in 23 other countries around the world.
JPMorgan Chase moves more money in a day than most countries earn in a year.
Jamie Dimon: We move $6 trillion of money every day.
Lesley Stahl: Every day?
Jamie Dimon: Every day. We deal with, like, 10,000 clients, which include governments, central banks, mutual funds--
And wealthy individuals, including about half the world's known billionaires, an exclusive club that Jamie Dimon himself belongs to.
He was born in Queens, New York, the grandson of a Greek immigrant who did well enough to become a stock broker. Dimon's dad became one too, so, it was in the family.
After Harvard Business School, he went straight to Wall Street where he climbed quickly and helped usher in the age of the mega-banks, earning a reputation as a ruthless cost-cutter. He became CEO of JPMorgan Chase in 2006, when profits were soaring on Wall Street and the financial crisis was brewing. In the early days of the crisis in 2008, Dimon got a phone call from the head of one of the largest investment banks on Wall Street at the time, Bear Stearns, which was teetering on the verge of collapse.
Jamie Dimon: The CEO of Bear Stearns called me up and said, "Can you lend me $29 billion before the night's out? Because if I don't get it, I'm gonna go bankrupt?" And I said-- I said, "Even-- even I can't get (LAUGH) $29 billion."
But then the treasury secretary, Hank Paulson leaned on him to buy Bear Stearns.
Jamie Dimon: And Hank Paulson said, "You gotta buy it, you gotta buy it, you gotta buy it. And I said, "If I can responsibly do it." I said can't jeopardize my own company, we'll do it.
Three days later he did it. He bought Bear Stearns for $1.2 billion.
Jamie Dimon: We thought we saved the system. You know, we thought that that would've been the domino that would've caused the whole system to go down. And it was because JPMorgan was strong that we could do it.
Lesley Stahl: Did they--
Jamie Dimon: As I pointed out in Congress, it wasn't like buying a house. That was buying a house on fire.
But it was banks and other financial institutions that started the fire by bundling trillions of dollars worth of risky mortgages and selling them, knowing in many cases that they were toxic, to investors around the world. This eventually led to the financial crisis that nearly brought down the global economy.
Lesley Stahl: Looking back, do you think that there were some bankers who were outright immoral and unethical, they knew exactly what they were doing?
Jamie Dimon: I believe there are people, I'm not gonna use the names, who were greedy, selfish, did the wrong stuff, overpaid themselves, and couldn't give a damn. Yes.
Lesley Stahl: Greedy, reckless. Were you?
Jamie Dimon: No.
Lesley Stahl: Do you take any responsibility for the financial crisis--
Jamie Dimon: No.
Lesley Stahl: --in 2008? But your bank sold those same kind of mortgages.
Jamie Dimon: We-- we-- we-- yeah, okay, I--
Lesley Stahl: Toxic mortgages.
Jamie Dimon: I do take some. We participated - so did mortgage brokers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the government, government policy. But yes, we did. And it was a huge error. And it was hugely damaging.
Lesley Stahl: The banks were bailed out, and the little guy, whose mortgages crashed, lost-- his or her home. Many families were destitute. And that unfairness has just really hurt the sense that this country's working correctly.
Jamie Dimon: I totally agree that, you know, if you're the average American, you would be angry at what happened. There was no Old Testament justice. Too many people – a lot of people lost their reputation and money, but too many people didn't and you know, the small guy got hurt. So I completely agree with that.
Lesley Stahl: I mean, the idea that the banks were bailed out and they caused the problem, to begin with. I mean, the sense of unfairness doesn't begin to explain the fury.
Jamie Dimon: I would feel the same way.
Lesley Stahl: You're agreeing with that.
Jamie Dimon: I'm agreeing with that. I think we let the American people down. But also at the same time, because we were strong, we brought Bear Stearns, we saved 15 or 20,000 jobs. And so there's two sides to that story too, a little bit. And only one has been told well.
Lesley Stahl: Let's talk about the wage gap in this country between the rich and almost everybody else. How much of a problem do you see that?
Jamie Dimon: I think it's a huge problem and I think the wealthy have been getting wealthier too much, in many ways. So middle-class incomes have been kinda flat for maybe 15 years or so. And that's not particularly good in America. But in particular, at the low end, 40% of Americans make $15 an hour or less. They've particularly been left behind.
Lesley Stahl: You're talking about people who earn very little money. Listen to this statistic. Compensation for executives, CEOs, grew 940%, 940%, in the last 40 years. Your average worker, so middle class, middle class, grew 12%.
Jamie Dimon: We haven't done a good job growing our economy. And that would fix a lot of that problem.
Lesley Stahl: Executive pay: Last year you were paid $31 million. Too high?
Jamie Dimon: The board sets mine. I have nothing to do with it.
Lesley Stahl: Well, you could return some of it.
Jamie Dimon: I could. Is that gonna solve any of those problems?
Lesley Stahl: I don't know.
Jamie Dimon: Is it going to solve any of those problems?
Lesley Stahl: No but you could set an example and say, "I'm not going to take all that money. I don't need it."
Jamie Dimon: I could. I'm going to leave it to the board to set my comp. Not you, not the press--
Lesley Stahl: You've answered every one of my questions but this one you're fobbing off.
Jamie Dimon: Yeah, the board has to do it.
Lesley Stahl: Well, let me ask it-- in a general way. Should executive pay in this country be curbed?
Jamie Dimon: What does that mean?
Lesley Stahl: Cut back. Should there be a way to say, "We're not gonna have such a spread between our workers and the guy at the top"?
Jamie Dimon: You know, when you say somethin' like that, you gotta say, "How are we gonna do it? What does it make sense?" I think you use the tax system to do that. I would not have cut the tax on the rich. I would've extended the Earned Income Tax Credit instead – which is like a negative income tax credit for lower-paid people. We probably should change the minimum wage, which I don't think has been changed for like 10 or 15 years. There are solutions to these problems. The problems are real. It does not mean Free Enterprise is bad.
Free enterprise has been very good for Jamie Dimon and the bank. Last year JPMorgan Chase earned $32 billion in profits.
One of the things he does as CEO is hold regular town hall meetings with employees, like one in Delaware, to build a sense of team spirit.
It struck us, though, as less like a bankers convention than a political rally.
Which led us to ask...
Lesley Stahl: Did you ever think of running for president?
Jamie Dimon: I thought about thinking about it.
Lesley Stahl: You thought about thinking about it.
Jamie Dimon: I talked to one person, and I decided to think no more.
Lesley Stahl: I'm asking you because we came upon a quote of yours. You said, "I think I could beat Trump. I'm as tough as he is…"
Dimon in ABC NEWS Video: …I'm as tough as he is, I'm smarter than he is. And by the way, this wealthy New Yorker actually earned his money. It wasn't a gift from daddy.
President Trump responded in a tweet about Jamie Dimon: "...he doesn't have the aptitude or 'smarts' & is a poor public speaker & nervous mess."
Jamie Dimon: And I've seen him after that, and y-- and I walked in the Oval Office and he said, "So you would love to have this office, wouldn't you?" (LAUGH) And I said, (LAUGHTER) "Not really." (LAUGHTER)
In his office, Dimon's known as the great survivor. In a career that spans nearly 40 years, he's managed to navigate his way through just about every panic, boom and bust.
Lesley Stahl: You're the only CEO who was running the big bank back during the financial crisis who's still there. You're the survivor, last man standing.
Jamie Dimon: It's a dangerous place to be.
Lesley Stahl: Talking about survivor, you did have cancer. Tell us about that. How did you discover it? It must've been terrifying.
Jamie Dimon: Yeah actually I was shaving, I felt a little lump here. And I went to see my doctor and he felt it and said, "You have throat cancer." And when some-- when someone says to you, "You have cancer," it is-- I mean, it's almost un-- unimaginable, like-- a punch in the face, and a fear and of course, but the hardest part, honestly, was telling my family. I just didn't know how to do it. I said, "I am gonna tell you somethin', but I'm gonna be okay." And they-- and the second I said it, it was mayhem. You know, and the thought that I couldn't tell my parents, so I had my wife call. I just couldn't tell 'em that their son may die before them.
Lesley Stahl: Oh, my God.
Jamie Dimon: And so you-- you're going through all this stuff, and-- so—
Lesley Stahl: And you're clean.
Jamie Dimon: I'm-- I'm on my fifth year, so that's--
Lesley Stahl: That's it. That's what they say.
Jamie Dimon: So far-- so far, so good.
Lesley Stahl: Did you ever say, "I should resign"?
Jamie Dimon: No, I love what I do.
Produced by Richard Bonin. Associate producer, Ayesha Siddiqi.