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Second Acts in Finance: The 5 Most Astonishing Comeback Stories

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Tales of the previously powerful being brought down to earth with a thud only to rise again, are irresistible. Here, a "fierce five" of corporate American comebacks.

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Jamie Dimon

Jamie Dimon's path to the top was an especially circuitous one, its ascent never actually encompassing a revenue-producing position on Wall Street. His paternal grandfather Panos Papademetriou arrived in New York from Greece just as the Twenties really started to roar. Dimon himself grew up relatively humbly in Queens but was imbued with an immigrant's hunger and graduated from Harvard Business School precipitously enough in 1982, when the biggest bull market in history began. He thus embarked upon a 16-year working relationship with fabled financier Sandy Weill, first at American Express (NYSE:AXP) and later while cobbling together the myriad companies which would one day become financial giant Citigroup (NYSE:C). Weill initially took almost paternal care of his protégé, even going so far as to make him president of Citi predecessor firm Primerica in 1991, relinquishing the title to the 35-year-old wunderkind in the process. Yet this tale of two mountainous egos was destined to end in tears. No sooner had the ink dried on the duo's crowning $9 billion deal to buy Salomon Brothers in 1997 than the end game played out as Wall Street's most widely-watched soap opera. The sandbox psychodrama saw Weill blow his top at Dimon's stubborn refusal to promote the elder man's daughter, and take serious offence at a New York Times photograph showing Dimon strutting front and center, while the senior partner pointedly paced several steps behind. At the prestigious Greenbriar Resort in November 1998, Weill finally fired a man he saw as casting overly covetous eyes on his own CEO position, with the two reputedly almost coming to blows during the dramatic dénouement.

Dimon, his hitherto meteoritic rise at an abrupt end, spent the ensuing 18 months unemployed, adrift, and in exile. The onetime rising star was quickly cast aside, fatally seen as yesterday's man in an industry where being even temporarily out of the loop is often tantamount to a kiss of death. He rejected an overture from Amazon and was, for a time, viewed as a viable candidate for the top job at Home Depot (NYSE:HD). Real redemption, however, only arrived in March of 2000 -- the very month the stock market topped out -- when Dimon became head of Chicago's Bank One. His five years at the helm turned an ailing organization into one which JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) was sufficiently impressed with to acquire for $58 billion. The New Yorker's chastening experience at Citigroup now but a bad dream, Dimon in turn ascended to the top of America's biggest bank. His attention to detail was the stuff of legend, and in 2008, the CEO cemented a walk-on-water reputation among Wall Street peers by basically rescuing capitalism from itself. In March of that fateful year Dimon famously picked up a beleaguered Bear Stearns for less than it cost to buy David Beckham. Six months on he was hailed as a hero for keeping Washington Mutual afloat as financial calamity raged all around it. In a tale worthy of Dickens, the worst of times for American finance truly was the best of times for one James Dimon.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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