A prom­i­nent deal­maker on Wall Street

JIMMY LEE , 1952-2015

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By E. Scott Reckard scott.reckard@latimes.com Twit­ter: @Scot­tReckard

The cream of the in­vest­ment and cor­po­rate worlds gath­ered nearly a decade ago when JPMor­gan Chase & Co. cel­e­brated Jimmy Lee’s 30 years in the bank­ing busi­ness — a seem­ingly end­less list of names in­clud­ing Henry Kravis, Stephen Sch­warz­man, Barry Diller and Jack Welch.

“They re­mem­bered how he stepped up and gave them what they needed to get deals done when no one else was there to help them,” said An­war Zakkour, a fel­low in­vest­ment banker who worked closely with Lee at Chase. “There was no big­ger banker on Wall Street than Jimmy Lee.”

JPMor­gan Vice Chair­man James B. Lee Jr., 62, known as Chase’s “tril­lion dol­lar man,” col­lapsed af­ter suf­fer­ing an ap­par­ent heart at­tack af­ter ex­er­cis­ing on a tread­mill at his home in Darien, Conn. He was pro­nounced dead at a hos­pi­tal.

Lee was one of the best deal­mak­ers on Wall Street and helped take hosts of com­pa­nies public, in­clud­ing Gen­eral Mo­tors, Alibaba, Visa and Face­book. He en­gi­neered high-pro­file merg­ers such as News Corp. with Dow Jones, and United Air­lines with Con­ti­nen­tal.

He was in­volved twice in deals af­fect­ing the Los An­ge­les Times, first when real es­tate mogul Sam Zell bought Times par­ent Tri­bune Co., and again when Tri­bune split into sep­a­rate broad­cast­ing and news­pa­per com­pa­nies af­ter Zell’s debt-laden ac­qui­si­tion landed the com­pany in bank­ruptcy court.

While work­ing at Chem­i­cal Bank, a pre­de­ces­sor bank to JPMor­gan Chase, Lee was the ar­chi­tect of the now com­mon prac­tice of banks pro­vid­ing enor­mous deal-fi­nanc­ing loans to com­pa­nies or in­vestors while ar­rang­ing to have dozens of other banks take on some of the debt, spread­ing risks too large for any one firm to shoul­der.

“He helped build some­thing that started as noth­ing into the lead­ing loan syn- di­ca­tor in the coun­try,” said for­mer Chem­i­cal Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Wil­liam B. Har­ri­son, who went on to be­come CEO of JPMor­gan Chase.

In ad­di­tion to cre­at­ing the syn­di­cated loan busi­ness, Lee founded a high­yield bond busi­ness at Chem­i­cal as well as an arm that catered to pri­vate eq­uity firms, en­abling the bank and later JPMor­gan Chase to of­fer one-stop shop­ping for com­pa­nies and in­vestors seek­ing fi­nanc­ing for merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions.

Af­ter JPMor­gan pur­chased Bank One in 2004 and Bank One’s Jamie Di­mon be­came CEO of the merged bank, “He and Jamie be­came very close,” Har­ri­son said. “Jamie col­lab­o­rated with him tremen­dously — not just as a banker, but as a guy who could help him think all kinds of things through.”

Di­mon said in a state­ment that Lee had made “an in­deli­ble and in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to our com­pany, our peo­ple, our clients and our in­dus­try over his nearly 40 years of ded­i­cated and self­less ser­vice.”

“Jimmy was a master of his craft,” Di­mon said, “but he was so much more — he was an in­com­pa­ra­ble force of na­ture.”

Born in Man­hat­tan in 1952, Lee dou­ble-ma­jored in eco­nom­ics and art history at Wil­liams Col­lege be­fore en­ter­ing the bank­ing world al­most ac­ci­den­tally, when his wife de­cided to pass on a job in­ter­view at Chem­i­cal Bank and he went in­stead.

With his suc­cesses, Lee in­evitably was courted by other firms and had agreed at one point to join Sch­warz­man’s firm, the enor­mous as­set man­ager Blackstone Group, be­fore Har­ri­son talked him out of it. Zakkour said he of­ten teased Lee by say­ing he must have re­gret­ted not tak­ing a job that would have made him a bil­lion­aire twice over, but Lee replied: “No — I love my job here.”

Sur­vivors in­clude Lee’s wife, El­iz­a­beth; daugh­ters Alexan­dra and El­iz­a­beth; and son James.

An­drew H. Walker Getty Im­ages

“TRIL­LION DOL­LAR MAN” JPMor­gan Chase Vice Chair­man Jimmy Lee

helped take hosts of com­pa­nies public.

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