JP Morgan Leadership Style: The last few decades of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century were defined by the Captains of Industry. Sometimes referred to as robber barons, these exceptionally wealthy businessmen controlled critical infrastructure, built banks and corporations, and influenced the entire nation’s economy.
The period in which these leaders built their fortunes is referred to as America’s Gilded Age. Members of this elite group of movers and shakers included men like Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie.
JP Morgan played an important role in the world of business during this period, and he held significant power over the United States’ financial health. Some say he held too much power, but there is no dispute that JP Morgan’s leadership style got things done.
What Was J.P. Morgan Famous For?
JP Morgan is a household name more than a century after his death, because he founded one of the world’s leading financial institutions.
In 1871, Morgan and a partner launched a small banking service – the one that became JP Morgan & Company in 1895.
More than a century later, that tiny firm goes by the name JP Morgan Chase (JPM), and it boasts a market cap of over $300 billion. The company’s assets total approximately $3.2 trillion, putting JP Morgan Chase in the number one spot among its US peers by size.
However, banking isn’t all JP Morgan did during his time as a Captain of Industry. He founded (or co-founded) International Harvester, General Electric, and US Steel, the last of which was the world’s first billion-dollar business.
Morgan acquired and reorganized a large portion of the country’s railroads, and for a period, he controlled roughly 50 percent of all railroad mileage. That made it possible for Morgan to build his companies more quickly.
Some say JP Morgan achieved his success, because he had an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of unique opportunities. That may be true – but Morgan is also well-known for NOT being in the wrong place at the right time.
As part-owner of the White Star Company, Morgan had a ticket to sail on the Titanic in April 1912. He cancelled his passage, and so was safely ashore when news came of the Titanic’s disastrous end in the Northern Atlantic.
What Type of Leader was J.P. Morgan?
JP Morgan was a bold, visionary leader who knew that flexibility and adaptability were key to survival.
That applied to everything in his life, from creating new types of companies to embracing the very latest in technology and innovation.
Morgan never let the past dictate his present or future, and he was quick to throw out the playbook when it wasn’t working.
He rebuilt failing businesses from the ground up, setting them on a new course to ensure long-term success.
Characteristics of J.P. Morgan Leadership Style
JP Morgan was certainly open to hearing the opinions of trusted advisors, but he wasn’t the sort of leader who focused on collaboration, consensus, and employee autonomy. Morgan’s leadership style can be better described as autocratic. He set clear, unambiguous goals, and he knew exactly how to achieve them.
Morgan gave detailed instructions using a top-down approach, and he was careful to monitor his workforce for efficiency. He created policies and procedures based on his theories of the least expensive and most effective methods of achieving results, and he held each and every member of his workforce accountable for complying with his requirements.
This attention to detail and insistence that his workers conform to his methods ensured he could build exceptional companies that created products and services that transformed American culture.
If he didn’t win popularity contests with the employees who executed on his vision – well, it doesn’t appear that bothered Morgan in the slightest.
Was J.P. Morgan A Transformational Leader?
Transformational leaders are said to be those who create change by inspiring and motivating employees to work towards a common goal. This is typically accomplished by gaining team members’ buy-in on the strategy, then giving them ownership of specific tasks and the autonomy to produce independently.
While JP Morgan was certainly a person who transformed businesses, it can’t be said that he was a transformational leader.
Morgan wasn’t known for giving up control, and he certainly didn’t encourage ownership and independence. He preferred to create the methodology used to achieve transformational goals.
Rather than offering employees autonomy, he made it quite clear that workers were expected to follow his directions to the letter, or they would find themselves unemployed.
It’s unlikely such a leadership philosophy would work well today, with a workforce made up of empowered Millennials and Zillennials. However, at the time that Morgan ruled his business empire, his leadership style was comparable to that of peer Captains of Industry.
Is J.P. Morgan a Servant Leader?
In the tradition of Gilded Age Captains of Industry and Robber Barons, JP Morgan was cutthroat in his business practices. He leveraged his influence – and wealth – to change legislation, create monopolies, and wring every cent of profit possible from his workforce.
This type of leadership was wildly successful in terms of building a business empire, but it was the exact opposite of servant-leadership.
One of Morgan’s lesser-known, but brutally honest quotes clearly illustrates this element of his leadership philosophy:
“People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders. This is well known among our principle men now engaged in forming an imperialism of capitalism to govern the world. By dividing the people we can get them to expend their energies in fighting over questions of no importance to us except as teachers of the common herd.”
Is J.P. Morgan a Visionary Leader?
He might not have been a servant leader, but JP Morgan was most certainly a visionary leader. He saw possibility in areas that others did not, and he was able to transform his vision into reality.
Morgan did this by creating clear strategies to achieve audacious goals that others thought impossible. He was able to influence his workforce to execute on his plans, whether they thought the vision was realistic or not.
Morgan’s singular focus on results and his passion for excellence served him well in building his wealth over decades. He was able to lead through uncertainty, knowing this fundamental truth: Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther.
J.P. Morgan Leadership Quotes
There are a number of quotes from JP Morgan that have made their way into popular culture. For example, he is credited for the phrase, “You can’t unscramble eggs,” and he made the astute observation that, “If you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it.”
However, the quote that really stands out as his underlying philosophy on leadership is this:
The first thing is character…before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it…because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.
J.P. Morgan Leadership Style Conclusion
In many cases, discussions of influential leaders take on a strong theme. They are described as shining examples for all future leaders to emulate, or they are a vivid example of the corruption that comes with power. JP Morgan can’t be neatly categorized as all good or all bad.
On one hand, he was a highly-skilled, respected leader who delivered results. On the other, he did this by wielding his financial power, and he achieved his results by operating his businesses without regard for the needs of others.
Morgan’s autocratic leadership style was effective in building his wealth, and from that perspective, he was a successful man. However, some disagree that wealth is a measure of success – instead, success stems from service. When considered from that perspective, Morgan was a flop.
The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Financhill has a disclosure policy. This post may contain affiliate links or links from our sponsors.