The one-time banking titan revisits his family's legacy in Columbus.
John B. McCoy was the last of three generations of McCoys who turned the once-tiny City National Bank & Trust in Downtown Columbus into one of the nation's largest banks, Bank One, through a series of acquisitions and innovations.
McCoy retired a year after orchestrating the bank's biggest acquisition, First Chicago NBD for $21 billion in 1998 after credit-card losses led to a spilt in the bank's board. JPMorgan Chase & Co. bought the bank in 2004, and First Chicago's top executive, Jamie Dimon, became Chase's CEO.
All in all, a McCoy ran the bank for 64 years, and Chase dates its connection to Columbus back 150 years. As part of the commemoration of that anniversary, McCoy, 75, returned to Chase's operations center that bears the family's name at Polaris where he spoke to about 500 associates during a town hall-style meeting and in an interview afterwards. McCoy also recently documented the rise and fall of Bank One in Here's the Deal, a book released in August by Orange Frazer Press in Wilmington, Ohio, he co-wrote with former Columbus Dispatch business reporter Jeff Sheban.
What does Columbus mean to you?
I'm a big supporter. This is my town. This is where I grew up. … It's always funny. We were growing so fast we had to move a lot of people to Columbus from New York. [An associate would say] “I'm not going to Columbus. I'm not going to Columbus.” We'd get them to come to Columbus, and then three years later, we tell them they'd have to go to Texas. [Then they would say] “I'm not leaving.”
The old City National badly trailed its competitors when your grandfather took over the bank. One strategy to increase business was to appeal to regular consumers during a time when banks were more focused on the affluent.
You saw the bars in the [teller] windows. It was not inviting. [Banks] didn't want the normal person here. The idea of individuals having checking accounts was not widespread at all. My grandfather talked about making automobile loans. It was unheard of. The consumer didn't exist back then. [Workers] got paid, and you put your money underneath your mattress literally.
Bank One always was known for innovation, including developments such as credit and debit cards, drive-through banking and ATMs.
The R and D was a big part of what we did. You only celebrate the successes. The Kingsdale thing [creating a one-stop shop for banking, real estate and other financial services] was a huge failure. The concept of online banking didn't work back then. But you learn from each one of those, and you go off again. It's been very successful. What it did [was to get workers to think about ideas]. Everybody said how about this idea as opposed to, we don't have any money to spend on this kind of stuff.
Any regret about the deal for First Chicago?
The issue [over the problemswith the First USA credit-card company that Bank One bought in 1997] was our fault. It wasn't managed the way it should have been. We should have known about it far sooner than we did. It was not First Chicago's fault. [McCoy has said the First Chicago board used the issue as a wedge that ultimately led to his leaving the bank.]
Would you have stayed with the bank had that not blown up?
Absolutely. The thing was a war, and I probably could have won the war. The point is, the company is more important than the individuals. I agreed to retire. … My plan would have been to bring Jamie [Dimon] in as president. Then I would have stayed CEO for two years and then have Jamie run the thing. Then it became clear that it would be better if I left.
In McCoy tradition, your middle name comes from your mother's maiden name, but it also led to some nicknames.
My mother's maiden name was Bonnet. When I was at work, I really couldn't call my father dad.
He was John G. and I was John B. So my son is John T. and my grandson John H. John the Bad is what [my father] called me. He was called John the Good or John the Great or John God. My son was John the Terrible by [my wife and I, he said laughing] and by my father, John Terrific. You wouldn't want to be called John the 8th would you?