The six best math students at the all-boys Browning School on Manhattan's East Side were given bad news, and then worse news. Their math teacher had suffered a heart attack and would not be returning to teach—that was the bad news. The worse news was that her replacement did not know calculus.
If the students wanted to continue to study calculus, they would have to teach it to themselves.
Three of the students decided the task was hopeless. The other three stuck it out. They'd go to class each day and work through the problems in their textbooks. There was no teacher in the classroom at all. Just the three students, trying to teach themselves one of the most bedeviling subjects a high school student ever faces.
One of the students who kept up with calculus was Jamie Dimon, the guy who would eventually become the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the largest bank in the country, JPMorgan Chase. At the time, math was not even his favorite subject—that was history—but it was his strongest.
You might think that the administrators and teachers at Browning would be deeply impressed by this academic dedication. But you would be wrong about that. Even though he graduated fourth in his class, Dimon was rejected by Brown University—in part because of a backhanded recommendation letter written by the assistant headmistress of the school.
"His lack of manners, due to his habits of making quick judgments and contradicting others, is greatly improved," the assistant headmistress wrote, according to Duff McDonald's biography of Dimon, Last Man Standing (from which this school days tale is lifted).
She praised Dimon's "keen, analytical mind" and his "dedication and seriousness of purpose." But she could not avoid mentioning what she saw as his problem with authority. Dimon was too headstrong to win her unqualified praise.
Forty years later, Dimon once again finds himself pitted against the corporate governance equivalent of a legion of assistant headmistresses. A pair of influential shareholder advisory groups, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis, have recommended that shareholders vote to split Dimon's role as chairman and chief executive. The AFSCME Employees Pension Plan, the Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust Funds, Hermes Equity Ownership Services and various New York City pension funds have issued a shareholder proposal calling on JPMorgan Chase to name an independent chairman.