Merger Menagerie Today, Melting Pot Next Year

There is a very real and, to me, touching photograph in today’s New York Times of James Dimon crossing Park Avenue in the rain, from JP Morgan Chase’s offices on one side to Bear Stearns’ offices on the other side. I have been a client of both of these banks at one time or another and I can tell you that Bear Stearns’ offices are nicer than James Dimon’s.

JP Morgan Chase has been, over time, JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan and also The Chemical Bank of New York. When each of those mergers happened there was confusion and pain and turbulent disruption. Executives in, executives out. Each time there was an inner split because no two banks ever have the exact same strengths in abilities, experience, clients and employees. It is a menagerie in the beginning. Very, very tiring. And very, very sad for many employees who have put their trust and faith in the bank they worked for, but discovered they were no longer needed.

Today, there is probably no trace of those early banks at JP Morgan Chase. All their aspects went into the universe’s microwave and became a melting pot that now operates smoothly, almost magically, as one strong bank — as if it had one history. If you stopped a JP Morgan Chase employee in the hall and asked him about The Chemical he would probably say, “Huh?”

But right now James Dimon looks like Mephistopheles to the employees at Bear Stearns. There are many employees there who have worked for Bear Stearns for over 20 years and have lost almost all of their savings that had been carefully kept in Bear Stearns stock, so trusted for so long. After all those years — gone. Money for colleges. For retirement homes. For the care of older parents with serious health issues.

Mergers of all types of companies usually bring a lot of heartbreak in the beginning. This is “Heartbreak Time” at Bear Stearns, no matter how skillfully James Dimon and his executives try to pull things together — as they will. It doesn’t help at all that in a few years the magic microwave of life will have melted the two companies together and that — as a victim of who-knows-what, who-knows-who — Bear Stearns will have been saved.

What matters today are the hearts breaking.

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