The Many Loves of Ken Langone

Photographer: Michael Goldman/Getty Images

Corporate love is more likely to come with an open palm.

When it comes to Kenneth Langone and the titans of finance, there is rarely a shortage of affection. For JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief executive Jamie Dimon, Langone provided a double helping today on Bloomberg Television. “I love Jamie, I know him well personally,” Langone told Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker and Sara Eisen, “I love Jamie.”

That’s two “loves ” in less than a minute for the man Langone calls “probably the finest CEO across any business in America.” Is this a good omen for Dimon? Based on past experience, it feels like it might be, because over the years there seems to have been some correlation between Langone’s love and fabulous and/or humongous wealth.

The New York Times‘s Landon Thomas Jr. wrote that Langone ends most business calls with “a throaty ‘I love you, pal.’” That was in 2004, back in the days when among U.S. corporate directors, Langone was among those most willing to put their money where their hearts were. The investor, co-founder of Home Depot Inc., and active philanthropist has been associated with some of the most amazing pay packages in U.S. history.

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Langone chaired the New York Stock Exchange compensation committee that authorized ex-NYSE chief Dick Grasso’s infamous $190-million exit payment (which, incidentally, Grasso ultimately got to keep). And Langone was the prime mover in bringing General Electric Co.’s Robert Nardelli to run Home Depot. Even when things don’t turn out perfectly in Langone’s efforts,  the all-around atmosphere of affection persists. “The board loved [Nardelli] and hates the way this ended up,” an anonymous source (maybe not Langone) chimes in when  Nardelli and Home Depot split up.

The issue at hand with Dimon is whether, after the multi-billion dollar loss on derivatives in the “London Whale” trades, JPMorgan should split up Dimon’s chief executive and chairman role. That’s likely a theoretical discussion. All the evidence is that JPMorgan’s board is not eager to take the chairman title away from Dimon, and Dimon is not rushing to give it up. Should things ever turn less friendly, Langone is in less of a position to give Dimon an alternative than he used to be. Now 77, he is no longer on the boards of Home Depot and the old NYSE doesn’t even exist in anything like its old form. He’s now more in the business of funding hospitals (the NYU Langone Medical Center bears his name) than choosing CEOs.

Still, it has to be heartening for any chief executive to get the kind of praise Langone is capable of meting out. Here’s Langone on the Whale trade: “You know what that did for me? It proved what a great bank Jamie runs. He still had record earnings.” Would that we were all loved in such a way that even our multi-billion dollar fiascos turn into evidence of our worth.

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