Mary Callahan Erdoes, JPMorgan’s quiet force in asset management

September 14, 2013

JPMorgan Chase’s Mary Callahan Erdoes got her first assignment managing money when she was 6 years old. The eldest of four children, Erdoes showed an early aptitude for math that was fostered at her grandmother Kay’s suburban Chicago breakfast table, where she helped balance her grandparents’ checkbook on an adding machine.

“It was my first foray into money management,” says Erdoes, 46.

Today, Erdoes oversees $2.2 trillion as chief executive of JPMorgan Asset Management, the sixth-largest money management operation in the United States, according to data compiled by Pensions & Investments, a publication that caters to the industry. Erdoes’s unit includes everything from 401(k) assets to hedge funds. It produced a 24 percent return on equity last year compared with 9.7 percent at BlackRock, the largest U.S. money manager, and 15.4 percent at Fidelity Investments.

JPMorgan Asset Management’s profit, before provisions for credit losses, was up 14 percent from 2009 to $2.8 billion in 2012, compared with a 37.5 percent decline at the larger bank.

Total client assets rose 29.2 percent from September 2009, when Erdoes took the helm, to the end of June. JPMorgan oversaw $1.47 trillion directly plus $687 billion in client money invested with other firms.


Mary Callahan Erdoes. (Photo by Miller Mobley/Photo by Miller Mobley)

“The flows are coming from every single region that we have around the world,” Erdoes says, “and, equally important, they are coming from every single channel and every single product.”

Compared with her outspoken boss, JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon, Erdoes keeps a low public profile. Yet she’s among the most powerful and respected executives in finance, says bank analyst Michael Holland, chairman of Holland & Co., a long-term investor in JPMorgan.

“Quietly, she is a force, one of the most influential executives in the business,” Holland says. “Jamie Dimon promotes people who are the best at what they do. She is the best.”

Neil Rue, a managing director at Pension Consulting Alliance in Portland, Ore., says that under Erdoes, JPMorgan has risen from a middling player in pensions to the top of the heap.

“Their track record is such that clients can be reasonably confident they’ll deliver on expectations,” he says.

Although asset management generates just 10 percent of revenue at JPMorgan, it’s become an increasingly attractive business for U.S. banks as regulators step up capital requirements, says Jason Goldberg, an analyst at Barclays Capital in New York. Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, banks have to hold more capital against risky activities, such as trading, beginning next year.

Companies are also building capital to meet new Federal Reserve rules beginning in 2016 that require the largest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan, to hold an extra buffer against an economic downturn.

“Asset management is a great business, particularly in the new environment,” Goldberg says. “It’s a high-return-on-equity, high-fee-income, global business that is not capital intensive and that’s growing.”

Erdoes was a standout even in high school, says Mary Crook, who taught her calculus at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, an all-girl Catholic high school in Lake Forest, Ill. She graduated No. 2 in her class and was an accomplished pianist, says Crook, who wrote Erdoes a recommendation for the mathematics program at Georgetown University in 1985.

Erdoes was the only woman to graduate from Georgetown with a math degree in 1989. She went on to Harvard Business School for her master of business administration.

‘Always there’

Erdoes is a survivor at a bank whose senior management ranks have been thinned in the past four years by a series of shake-ups, including one after last year’s $6.2-billion-plus trading loss at the ­London-based chief investment office, which isn’t part of asset management. The scandal cost Ina Drew, the head of the unit, her job and in August resulted in criminal charges against trader Julien Grout and his supervisor, Javier Martin-Artajo, alleging wire fraud and other crimes.

Erdoes replaced James E. Staley as head of asset management in 2009, when he was promoted to run the investment bank. Staley, who left JPMorgan last year to join hedge fund firm BlueMountain Capital Management, says he met Erdoes in 1999, when he took over JPMorgan’s private bank, where she had worked since joining JPMorgan in 1996 from Meredith, Martin & Kaye, a fixed-income advisory firm.

“The private bank was a pretty demoralized place,” Staley says. It was losing money, clients and assets. Staley says he would walk the private bank’s six floors late at night. “Amid the sea of empty desks, this one young woman was always there,” he says.

Erdoes, who was an adviser on short-term fixed-income investing at the time, replaced Staley as head of the private bank four years later. Assets in the unit, which serves ultra-high-net-worth individuals, swelled 88.9 percent from September 2009 to the end of June, to $340 billion.

Erdoes says she’s a worrier. She starts her day around 5:30 a.m., scanning the overnight financial news. By 6:30, she’s in the office on calls with Asia and Europe as executives in those offices are winding down and before she runs the 8 a.m. global asset management call.

Throughout the day, Erdoes watches her team’s performance on five computer screens in her office, which is down the hall from Dimon’s in the executive suite on the 48th floor of JPMorgan’s headquarters on Park Avenue in New York.

“You worry just as much about great performance as you do about underperformance,” she says. “So we spend a lot of time making sure we know why we’re getting great performance. Are we getting it for the right reasons or for lucky reasons? You never want lucky reasons.”

JPMorgan runs the world’s sixth-biggest mutual fund company, according to Morningstar. The bank says its mutual funds managed $407 billion as of June 30, up 59 percent since September 2009.

“If they’ve stood out in an area, it’s in bringing in assets,” says Laura Lallos, a senior mutual fund analyst at Morningstar. “They are proving very popular with investment advisers.”

Because JPMorgan’s portfolio managers tend not to take dramatic risks, their funds are consistent performers and are less volatile than those of other firms, which makes them easier to sell to retail investors, Lallos says.

One unit under Erdoes’s command that has underperformed is institutional money management, which caters to big pension funds, governments and central banks. Assets under management declined 1.9 percent to $723 billion in June from $737 billion in September 2009.

Institutional money management’s fixed-income holdings lagged their benchmarks from 2005 to 2007, Erdoes says. In 2008, most fixed-income managers were replaced, and it has been Erdoes’s job to rebuild, an especially difficult job in the middle of the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression. “We had a lot of assets that had us on probation, and we wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing,” Erdoes says. “We persevered, and we now have a really strong three-year, almost four-year track record.”

More than 80 percent of JPMorgan’s fixed-income mutual funds now rank in the top 25th percentile among investments tracked by Morningstar for five-year performance.

Change at Highbridge

Erdoes is in the middle of a tricky transition as Glenn Dubin, 56, the longtime head of Highbridge Capital Management, gives up daily oversight of the hedge fund company he founded in 1992 and in which JPMorgan took a controlling stake in 2004. Highbridge, with about $30 billion in assets, is part of a suite of JPMorgan Asset Management alternative offerings that include funds of hedge funds, funds of private-equity funds and real estate.

Wealthy clients had invested $147 billion in alternatives as of the end of the second quarter, up 56.4 percent from late 2009. The bank doesn’t disclose performance figures for alternative assets.

The new head of Highbridge, Scott Kapnick, whom Dubin hired in 2007 from Goldman Sachs, was named on July 12. Dubin remains Highbridge chairman. Erdoes says her worry was that when Dubin stopped running Highbridge, longtime clients loyal to him would take their money elsewhere.

“Lo and behold, here we are,” she says, “and our clients continue to give us assets.”

Erdoes broadened the bank’s alternative investment portfolio and international reach in 2010, when JPMorgan acquired a majority stake in Brazilian hedge fund firm Gavea Investimentos, founded by former Central Bank of Brazil head Arminio Fraga.

With assets in almost all of her fiefdoms growing, Erdoes has been on a hiring binge. Asset management took on 1,366 new employees in the 12 months through June — an 8 percent increase — even while JPMorgan announced plans to cut 19,000 people in the consumer bank through 2014.

Many of the hires in asset management are outside the United States. The division has received record amounts of new money from Japan during the past year, Erdoes says, plus a surge in private-bank deposits from Hong Kong and Taiwan and strong institutional and mutual fund flows from Italy and Spain.

“Clients are becoming more global. They’re realizing that markets are more interconnected,” Erdoes says. “It’s no longer the local regional clients buying the local regional flavors. It’s everybody asking for everything.”

Erdoes mixes often with those clients, says E. John Rosenwald, the 83-year-old vice chairman of the private bank and former vice chairman of Bear Stearns, which JPMorgan took over in 2008. She has a second office at the private bank so she can meet important customers, he says.

“She’ll always make herself available for a lunch or a drop-in,” he says. “She leads by example. There is nothing she asks anyone to do that she won’t do herself.”

The full version of this Bloomberg Markets article appears in the magazine’s October issue.

$2.2 trillion

Amount of funds Erdoes oversees as chief executive of JPMorgan Asset Management

29.2%

Rise in client assets from September 2009, when Erdoes took over, to the end of June.

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