Editor’s Note: Tune in to CNN on Friday at 9 p.m. ET for “The Age of Amazon.”
Jamie Dimon had recently been fired from Citigroup and had visions of living on a houseboat when he flew to Seattle after receiving a call from an Amazon headhunter in 1997.
On that trip, Dimon had lunch with Amazon (AMZN) founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. That meeting became the start to a decades-long friendship that has spurred new ventures and inspired the leadership style of the JPMorgan Chase CEO.
“We just hit it off and we’ve been friends ever since,” Dimon told Poppy Harlow in an interview for the CNN documentary “The Age of Amazon.”
Bezos wanted Dimon to join Amazon, which at the time was a three-year-old, money-losing company with fewer than 300 employees. But Dimon, who had spent his life in financial services, felt he’d be a “fish out of water” at the e-retailer. He told Bezos a job at Amazon wasn’t for him, though he now wishes he’d bought the stock when the company made its public listing that same year, at $18 per share. Now it trades above $1,700.
“Most of my money was always involved in my companies,” Dimon said. “But in this particular case I should have said, ‘You know what, this is different. I’m going to make an investment in that guy.’”
Today, more than 20 years later, Dimon, 63, is running America’s biggest bank and Bezos, 55, is the world’s richest person heading the world’s most valuable company. Amazon, of course, now sells much more than books on its online marketplace, and it has developed a massive distribution network and hardware business and led to the adoption of cloud computing.
Dimon calls Amazon a “business miracle” — comparing its success to such game changing products as the Ford Model T or Apple’s iPhone, while noting that Amazon is unique because it has disrupted and generated growth in so many different sectors. But he stresses that Bezos has retained the qualities that drove him as a startup entrepreneur.
“He’s very curious, very responsive, very smart, and I use the word humility because he’s humble about what he knows and doesn’t know,” Dimon said. “Like, I read a quote recently about CEOs that like to be wrong, he likes that. It wasn’t about him, but that’s the kind of humility that he has.”
Dimon says he’s learned from Amazon and Bezos lessons that changed the way he runs JPMorgan Chase (JPM). Among them are Bezos’ focus on speed and his obsession with meeting customer needs. After watching Amazon target tiny details, such as how many milliseconds it takes to go from one screen to the next, Dimon urged his tech team to take similar steps.
“And we didn’t really think about it very much until I was reading something about Amazon and I said, ‘My God. We’re just — we’ve got to be much faster,’” Dimon said.
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The latest development in the Dimon-Bezos relationship is a joint venture created along with Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett. It’s a nonprofit called Haven, founded last year, that aims to fix American health care with better outcomes and lower costs. The three found their dinner conversations often revolving around such failings as widespread obesity, the high cost of life-saving medical procedures and a lack of wellness education for children. Buffett, Dimon and Bezos decided to pool their resources in an effort to find solutions.
“What we said is, ‘Let’s look at that and hire some really smart people, talk about the problem and then let them go take a crack at it,’” Dimon said. “Can we find ways to crack it? Little ways. Telemedicine, you know, a drug, chronic care, better design of an insurance package. … We want to do it for our people and then if we can, help America in some way.”