NRF CEO Matthew Shay joined Jamie Dimon, chairman of the board and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, for a brief but impassioned discussion of current events during NRF 2021: Retail’s Big Show – Chapter 1. The conversation touched broadly on COVID-19, health care, infrastructure, legislation, technology, the changing work environment and the nation’s ever-growing economic and political divide.
“We’ve got a lot of issues and problems,” Dimon said. “Let’s come together in civil discourse, and figure out how we’re going to fix them. Because you can’t fix your problems if you don’t acknowledge them.”
In response to Shay’s welcome, Dimon noted that, with 5,000 branches and 50,000 people in those branches serving clients, JPMorgan could be considered “a little bit like a retailer, too,” in sharing standards for client satisfaction.
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He then kicked off the session with commentary on the “ridiculous” events of the recent week.
“We saw something terrible in D.C.,” Dimon said, “which was mobs violently attacking the Capitol. And that’s not justifiable on any basis. We had an election, it went through the courts, people raised issues, state governments, courts, certified it. We have a new president. Maybe people like it or don’t like it, but in no way should we ever condone violence like that.”
It’s incumbent on everyone, he said, “to very publicly say, ‘It’s OK to protest. No violence, no attacking government buildings, etc.’”
Shay and Dimon pondered what it meant for business and political leaders to be involved in civil discourse going forward. Shay said NRF’s board would soon meet to discuss its future political engagement activities. Dimon said it was a “very good thing to be involved in political process.” But he also said there are “17,000 lobbying organizations in D.C., and not even half are business-related.” Sometimes engagement, influence and reform are more local than national.
“Taking a pause, taking a little bit of a deep breath, figuring out what we should change, and how we should change it, what other people might change, I think is a perfectly reasonable thing to do,” Dimon said.
Shay said he thought all had been encouraged at the start of 2020, when bipartisan collaboration led to the CARES Act, as well as by the passing of the more recent $900 billion stimulus package and the actions of the Federal Reserve.
All the same, Shay and Dimon agreed that recent events have exacerbated economic divides in the nation. In this recession, Dimon said, almost all the job loss was among those who make $15 or less an hour.
“Most Americans don’t fully appreciate that 40 percent of Americans make $15 an hour or less, which is like $32,000 a year,” he said. “Fifty million of those people don’t have medical insurance … . The inner cities, the schools, the lower-income folks, they’re the ones that need the most help, and we should do it. I’m gratified that the government is doing that.”
But while some have suffered, others have kept their jobs, and even seen their financial statements go up.
“You raise a good point about the inequality of this country,” Shay told Dimon. “That’s been one of the fundamentally confounding and really tragic issues of the pandemic.”
The best way forward? To keep talking, keep collaborating and keep working, as Shay said, to “bring everyone along.”
“We need good government,” Dimon said. “And we need business involved.”