Ina Drew: JPMorgan’s Sacrificial Ma’am

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Ina Drew
Ina Drew

“I need a head to feed these people,” the CEO told his top female executive after his bank was rocked by losses. “It’s you.”

The dialogue is from Margin Call, but it’s easy to imagine it playing out at JPMorgan in recent days, after a $2 billion loss hobbled the swagger of CEO Jamie Dimon and prompted the “retirement” of top female executive Ina Drew. Ina Drew isn’t the first high-ranking Wall Street woman to take the fall when a scandal threatens her boss's stature. It happened in 2007 at Morgan Stanley, when Zoe Cruz was sacked by her mentor, John Mack, after a trade gone bad, and in 2008, when Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers cut loose his mentee, chief financial officer Erin Callan, during the first wave of trouble. 

It’s not clear that Drew was the only one responsible: Bruno Iksil, the so-called "London Whale," was the one who made the ill-fated trade, and executives at the firm say it was Dimon who pushed the unit to take large, high-risk bets. “It was Jamie’s vision,” a former JPM executive told Bloomberg. The losses were “self-inflicted,” he said at the shareholder meeting on Tuesday.

Like Callan and Cruz, who’d managed to reach up and poke the glass ceiling before having the rug ripped out from under them, Drew was one of few women who were able to rise through Wall Street’s male-dominated ranks. “Ina knew how to play in the man’s sandbox,” says Jane Newton, a wealth management specialist for Regent Atlantic and the president of the Wall Street Women Forum. "She was very well-respected.”

Drew offered to resign — “tearfully,” according to the Times, and “multiple times,” according to the Journal. This is not surprising. “When things go wrong, women tend to make internal attributions,” says Katherine Phillips, a behavioral psychologist at Columbia Business School. “A man will say, well, it was these outside factors that caused the problem. A woman will say, these are things that Idid that contributed to the problem, which in this case would probably more likely lead her to say 'I’ll take the fall for it.'” In a male-dominated environment like Wall Street, “No one’s going to stop her,” Phillips adds. “She might be right to blame herself. But in that situation, it could also be that there are men who are not taking the blame."

Now there’s one fewer: For women on Wall Street, Drew’s resignation means the loss of one of their few remaining role models: “It’s so depressing that there’s another woman out,” says Newton. “The list of people at that level is such a small short list, it always stands out when someone leaves.” Standing out isn’t a bad thing for Dimon, who is already receiving kudos for his swift handling of the situation. (“Mr. Dimon gets an A for moving to stem the wrath of regulators,” one analyst told the Times.) In announcing Drew’s resignation, the CEO said she’d be replaced: By two men.