Jimmy Keon, the bridge-playing chief executive who led Bear Stearns until it nearly collapsed in 2008, died on Tuesday. He was 87 years old.
Mr. Keane became a poster child for financial mismanagement when the investment firm he had run as Wall Street’s longest-serving CEO since 1993 collapsed due to a massive debt burden and business losses. It was sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co.,
In a fire-sale deal backed by the US government.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Alison Keene.
He was absent during key parts of the firm’s final year, golfing or playing competitive bridge, as The Wall Street Journal reported, and Mr. Keon later confirmed this to federal regulators. Under criticism for those absences and the firm’s cratering stock price—and feared by reports in the Journal that he smoked marijuana recreationally, which he denied—he handed the job of CEO to investment banker Alan Schwartz in January 2008. Gave. Two months later, Bear Stearns, hemorrhaging cash, reached a deal to sell itself to JPMorgan, a merger that was rejected by Mr.
The 85-year-old bear did not turn, but lost his independence, which is now the largest bank in the country. The deal turned out to be a headache for JPMorgan, which paid out billions of dollars in mortgage-related settlements tied to Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual Inc., its other crisis-era deal. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has said he will not do this again.
Bear Stearns was one of the first dominoes to become a global financial crisis that hit the economy and reshaped Wall Street. Six months later, Lehman Brothers failed, Merrill Lynch was absorbed by Bank of America Corp.,
, and the country’s largest banks took rescue funding from the government.
James Eliot Keene was born on February 14, 1934, in Evanston, Ill. He attended Purdue University, but left before graduating to join the military. He moved to New York City in 1966 to play bridge, and met his wife, Patricia, while playing cards.
“He loved that every single hand, every single time was different,” said his daughter, Ms. Keon. “He never got bored.” He lives with him along with his wife, another daughter and seven grandchildren.
Mr Keon, a blunt, competitive, cigar-smoking executive, remained a role model for Wall Street bosses who are rarely seen now. She once told a colleague, after meeting her son, “It is bad to shake that child’s hand. He’s not going anywhere in life.”
A former scrap-iron salesman, Mr. Keane joined Bear in 1969 and developed a rapport with its leader, Alan “Ace” Greenberg, who was also a bridge player, and the pair were regulars at the Regency Whist Club in Manhattan. Used to play He rose through its brokerage division and as CEO helped transform the trading powerhouse into a player in deal making and corporate finance.
Mr. Schwartz, who joined Bear in 1976, quickly judged him as the firm’s future CEO. In an interview on Tuesday, he called Mr. Kane a “loyal friend and companion… with one of the most powerful minds of any person I have ever known.”
Vincent Tess was the New York State Director of Economic Development in the late 1980s, when Mr. Kane came into his office to complain about the tax treatment of a business practice. “He had heard that I was someone who could improve it; he was misled into that,” Mr Tess said on Tuesday.
The pair formed a friendship that they maintained for decades, and Mr. Tess later joined Bear’s board of directors. When the firm was sold, thousands of employees lost their jobs: “They felt really bad about it,” Mr. Tess said.
While some other Wall Street executives washed up by the crisis found a second act, Mr. Cayenne never did. “Jimmy spent his entire life building Bear Stearns,” said Mr. Schwartz, the firm’s CEO in his final weeks. “I guess he couldn’t watch the next chapter after that.”
Instead, Mr. Kane returns to his first love – the bridge. A world-class player, he won more than a dozen North American championships, his daughter said.
When reached for comment on the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis, Patricia Cayne, to whom he had been married for 50 years, said: “He is retired and doing what he loves best. Indeed, It was second best. Bear was first.”
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