No doubt Joe Kenney, intent since boyhood on creating a career in financial services, aimed at one day becoming a CEO. Chances are, however, he never imagined that happening at the onset of the country's worst financial and economic meltdown since the Great Depression.
Well, that's exactly what transpired -- but there's no question he rose to the occasion. Named CEO of J.P. Morgan Private Wealth Management, of J.P. Morgan Chase, in February 2008, Kenney, 43, calls the promotion "a natural evolution": after all, he's spent his entire, upward-bound career at JPMC, the number one U.S. bank by capitalization, number two by assets.
The PWM unit, with more than $120 billion in client assets, is one of the nation's largest providers of wealth management services. Kenney took over from Steve MacLellan, who retired from the firm.
"I've gone through many market crises -- the recession of the early nineties, the [Long-Term Capital Management] crisis, the bursting of the Internet bubble -- all the way through to this one. It's that experience that helps me manage [PWM] today," says Kenney, from his Park Avenue, New York City office. He previously ran the private client unit's investments practice, focusing on strategy and solutions.
Joe Kenney, CEO, J.P. MORGAN PRIVATE WEALTH MANAGEMENT, NEW YORK
AUM: $120 Billion
HIS KEY FOCUS: "This is one of the greatest times economically and investment-wise to build our business. We're not cutting back or laying off. We're in the opposite mode."
Now the accomplished Kenney is all about growing PWM, especially in California, where JPMC had little presence prior to its September 2008 acquisition of failed Washington Mutual. Many of WaMu's approximately 800 branches were located in the Far West.
"We're making a tremendous commitment to building our business on the West Coast," says Kenney. The firm has added advisors to its one Los Angeles office, in the upscale Century City district, and last February opened a brand-new branch in San Francisco. Target market: individuals with assets of $5 million or more. PWM's 20 California advisors, along with all others, serve high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients exclusively.
"Purchasing Washington Mutual was a very strategic fit for us and very opportune timing. We're leveraging that footprint to build an [excellent] business in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. The Coast's tremendous number of high-net-worth prospective clients gives us a [major] opportunity, and we're taking advantage of it," says Kenney, who hired long-time JPMC employee Simon Wise to manage the region from Los Angeles, starting in June.
Kenney, a native of Rumson, N.J., is the third of eight born to a now-retired portfolio manager, who often took a young Joe and his four brothers to visit his Merrill Lynch office.
"It was great," he recalls. "We all knew we wanted to be in some part of the financial industry. So for me, this has been a life-long passion."
But he insisted on finding his place without a hand from Dad.
"I wanted to find my own way and make my own mark."
And, to be sure, he has.
"Joe's indelible ability to connect with clients and lead a team has skyrocketed him to the top," says his boss, Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO, global wealth management. "He has a unique combination of client focus, sophisticated investment acumen and disciplined business management."
Now Kenney's mandate is to steer PWM with the same so-called fortress-balance-sheet approach created by the firm's CEO, Jamie Dimon. That means a surplus of high-quality capital, plenty of liquidity and superb risk management. It was Dimon's fortress balance sheet that last year made possible JPMC's dramatic rescue of Bear Stearns, which was teetering on insolvency.
"At the behest of the government," Kenney notes, "we were able to step up and purchase Bear Stearns. We were the only firm that could buy it and calm down the markets."
As for Kenney's growth strategy, it centers on continuing to build PWM's presence in markets that are under-served not only by J.P. Morgan but by the industry as a whole.
"We've been able to increase our presence in our target markets quite substantially over the last 12 to 18 months -- and it's really important for us to do that," he says.
Besides the West Coast, he is concentrating on penetrating the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and is aggressively recruiting advisors to add to PWM's 800 -- all on salary and bonus -- in place nationwide.
Kenney's ideal FA? "Someone that takes a broad fiduciary mindset who will advise clients across their entire balance sheet -- whether banking or investments or trusts -- and not just for the family of today but for the next generations," he says.
He launched his career working in JPM's back office -- prior to Chase's acquisition -- upon graduating, with a B.S. degree from Saint Michael's College right after the 1987 crash. Few brokerages were hiring. Kenney, however, got himself a job, on the institutional side, in the firm's loan swaps group. Two years later he joined the private bank, based in San Francisco, then moved up to run its West Coast investment practice. In 2006, he was promoted to national head of investments.
A stand-out basketball player during college, Kenney is a team player. "The strength of a team is much greater than a single person could ever be, as long as the team knows how to work together."
On the personal side, Kenney also values alone-time; and the way he grabs it is by going for a run.
"You get the chance to do a lot of good thinking when you're off and running."
Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.
PHOTO By David Lubarsky