Like so many executives in the private wealth business, David Frame, CEO of J.P. Morgan’s U.S. Private Bank, pursued a collegiate area of study that failed to indicate his professional destination. To wit: a bachelor’s degree in American civilization from Middlebury College, which involved an array of coursework encompassing history and American literature. Frame says his understanding of college at the time was a place to take classes in subjects that interested you.
“It didn’t occur to me that it was an opportunity to learn a skill that was viable in the real world,” he says. “I have always loved history, literature and reading, so to me American civilization was the perfect major. It wasn’t until I graduated and realized it wasn’t as easy to use as a card to get a job that I started to think, maybe a few courses more relevant to work life would have been helpful.”
Even so, Frame is doubtful he would have traded his studies in American civilization because, as he has come to learn, the value of a person’s opinion is based entirely on the strength of the argument he or she makes, because that is what supports the thesis. At some point, that is very much like writing an English or history paper that identifies a thesis and would ultimately be evaluated based on the support and logical progression of the evidence provided to support one’s thesis. From that standpoint, financial markets are almost synonymous with talking about the world and how it is evolving. The thesis and supporting evidence are knit together into a story that is considered compelling.
“Financial services is a really big phrase, but the equities and other markets are story driven,” he observes. “If we are going to talk about the story of a company, there is a whole narrative around a company, around what it is doing and how it is spending its money.”
Frame’s organization is one of the nation’s largest providers of wealth management services, with more than $850 billion in client assets. Among his duties is serving as a member of the Asset & Wealth Management Operating Committee.
Prior to his current role, he served as the global head of client advice and strategy for wealth management, responsible for developing and prioritizing investment and banking solutions across client channels globally. Previously, he served as global head of capital markets solutions, one of the industry’s largest providers of investment solutions for private clients.
Frame has also served as head of the Private Bank’s alternative investments group and spent 11 years at J.P. Morgan’s Investment Bank on the institutional equity trading desks in New York and London.
Based on your bio, it appears you have been with J.P. Morgan since day one of your career.
I did have a short period of time after college when I worked for an advertising agency, and then I worked for CBS Television for a year. I was a media buyer at J. Walter Thompson, and then I worked at CBS Television. I did that before joining J.P. Morgan in 1995 on the equity desk. I started as an equity sales trader in New York City and then moved to London in 1999 to do equity sales. I came back to New York in 2003 in equity sales and joined wealth management in 2006 in the alternatives group. It has now been a long time at J.P. Morgan, but I’m not quite a lifer.
What has kept you at J.P. Morgan?
I have been super lucky in that every job I have had — from equity sales on up — has been a job I really enjoyed. I really like markets, I really like engaging with clients, and all of my jobs have given me the opportunity to do just that. And as I grew a little more senior, I was given the ability to build out a business. The great thing about J.P. Morgan is that mobility is embraced.
As CEO, you must have some access to Jamie Dimon, who is a rock star in the banking business. What is that like?
Not surprisingly, Jamie is a very hands-on manager — he is always pushing and asking questions and trying to understand how we can better serve our clients, how we can better run the business. He always wants to know whether you, as a manager and a leader, know your business and whether you have thought through the details. We have regular meetings and business reviews with him, and he is incredibly involved. He has always read the PowerPoint deck in advance; he does not want you to go through the deck; he wants to ask questions and he wants to hear that you thought it through. Jamie said at one point he wanted to avoid people that preside over their business as opposed to drive their business. We work really hard to make sure we don’t have people that preside over their business, but they really think about it, they work at it, they analyze it, they ask questions and share their rationale for decisions. If people don’t believe in the reason you are making decisions, the decisions themselves won’t carry much weight.
Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you.
I’ve played in men’s hockey leagues for the past 10 years.
Best piece of career advice you ever received?
Identify what you most like to do at work and then put yourself in jobs that value those skills and behaviors most.
Most influential book you have read?
Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
What characteristic has contributed most to your success?
The phrase I would use is “enthusiastic curiosity.” To me, the most attractive feature in a person is curiosity and the opposite of that is apathy. I love when people want to know things that have no actual utility in their life — they are just curious. I think that is a defining characteristic. I like to know things even when there is no relevant purpose to it, so I don’t know whether that is a contributor to what I have achieved, and I don’t know whether or not that is my most defining characteristic, but it is a thing I guess I like about myself.
How do you start your morning?
During normal times I have an hour-long commute into the office that allows me a lot of time to catch up on reading and to go through my emails. I am constantly dropping emails into a folder I go through when I wake up in the morning. That folder contains things I want to spend more time thinking about, or more time going through but don’t have the time during a hectic day. If you don’t do that you can miss things. So I have an email folder that is called To Deal With and I drop things in it all day long and then use early mornings to go through that folder.
Did you have a mentor?
I stole this from someone: “Good leaders actively root for your success.” I have been blessed to work for people here who have actively rooted for my success. I have had a number of people that have been positive and constructive influences. The most durable of them has been Mary Erdoes, who runs our asset and wealth management division.
What was the turning point in your career?
There was a transitional moment, whether or not it was a turning point, when I joined J.P. Morgan Private Bank, when I went from being someone who was facile in talking to clients about equities to joining the alternatives group, which meant that we were talking about multiple asset classes, we were talking about fixed income, distressed debt, macroeconomic influences, private equity, private credit. That is what expanded my horizons to a level where I saw the whole picture. I went from the narrower conversation about an individual company to a much broader conversation about the drivers of long-term wealth creation, and that was an ah-ha moment, a bit of a recognition that this is the bigger story.
What would you point to as the most exciting thing happening in your profession these days?
Clients have historically made decisions based on investment acumen and expertise — and they still value investment acumen and expertise — but they are marrying it with a much wider range of expectations from their financial provider to include banking, borrowing, planning, long-term estate planning. Today, wealth management clients have much bigger expectations of financial providers. So, the good news is that means that, if you are able to meet that need, you can fulfill a significant portion of what a client wants and that could mean deeper relationships, that could mean more holistic servicing and longer-term relationships.
What phrase is most overused in your industry?
“Let’s take that offline.” It gets used in every single meeting.
First choice for a new career?
My dream job would be to run a movie studio.
If the most recent year were set to music, what would be the first cut on the soundtrack?
“The Good Stuff” by Kenny Chesney
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being on a boat with my family in our favorite vacation spot — the British Virgin Islands.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a good husband, father and brother.
Mike Consol (email@example.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.