Former Bank One CIO, now corporate CIO for JPMorgan Chase, Austin Adams knows how to get the job.
By Austin Adams & Alice Dragoon
When my boss at Bank One told me last January that he was in serious discussions about merging with JPMorgan Chase, I was more excited than surprised. Before becoming CIO at Bank One, I’d been CIO at First Union for 17 years and had lived through more than 90 mergers. That’s how I spent my life.
John Schmidlin, the CIO at JPMorgan Chase, and I were initially named coheads of IT. I immediately moved from Chicago to New York, where John and I had offices right next to each other. For two months, we met three or four times a day and discussed how we’d handle the merger.
As we got started, I recommended that John bring his management team to Chicago to visit Bank One’s headquarters, which he did. By having the larger entity (JPMC) extend itself to the people in the smaller, acquired entity (Bank One), you show respect. It’s important to listen before you direct.
CIO Austin Adams’s budget went from $1.8 billion at Bank One to $6.5 billion at JPMorgan Chase.
Then we set about making our decisions as quickly—and crisply—as we could. On the day we announced the merger, we had thousands and thousands of technology developers asking, “Do I finish working on the project I’m working on today? Or do all projects stop?” So our first priority was to get decisions made very, very quickly. Before we knew which one of us would become the CIO, John and I agreed on who our direct reports would be, whichever one of us got the job. We also had to go through all our systems and decide which ones we’d use.
And we had to make sure those decisions were final. If there are 10 commandments of integration, one of them is that a mediocre decision is superior to no decision.
Even though I didn’t know whether or not I’d be chosen as the CIO of the new organization for more than two months, I didn’t feel like I was in limbo. I just felt like the decision had not been made. In the meantime, John and I just made management and systems decisions and did so at a pace that was, in my opinion, unparalleled for a transaction this large. I won’t say there was no anxiety; the truth is that yes, I wanted the job. But if I didn’t get it, I knew I’d helped select good people, systems and methodologies and I’d just go do something else. In fact, I didn’t find this as stressful as overseeing a major conversion. Stress is when you convert millions of customers over one weekend.
When I got the call in March that I’d be the new CIO, I was pleased, but I’d been ready to accept the decision had it gone the other way. Good people end up with key jobs and good people are not chosen for key jobs. I don’t take it personally, and I try to get people to whom I have to communicate changes not take it personally.
The technology budget at Bank One was roughly $1.8 billion. Now at JPMC, I’m responsible for a total technology spend of $6.5 billion. But the fundamentals of my job are the same. The biggest difference for me is that we have a goal—which I think is credible—of being the best financial services company in the world. And that’s terribly exciting.