By Greg Roumeliotis and David Henry
(Reuters) - Jimmy Lee, one of JPMorgan Chase & Co's (JPM.N) most senior investment bankers, died on Wednesday, the bank's chief executive said in a statement. He was 62.
Lee felt shortness of breath while running on a treadmill at home on Wednesday morning, according to a person briefed on the matter who requested not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The sudden death surprised colleagues who were working with Lee as recently as this week.
"We're in total shock," said one senior JPMorgan banker.
A vice chairman in the investment banking group, Lee advised some of the world's biggest companies on deals, including buying rivals, selling themselves, and raising money.
He advised on the merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines to form United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N), the takeover of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones by News Corp (NWSA.O), and the initial public offering of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N).
Lee started his career with Chemical Bank in 1975, where he was one of the first to break up big corporate loans into small pieces to sell to other banks. These "syndicated loans," allowed banks to share risk on transactions and finance much bigger deals than they could on their own.
Along with junk bonds from bankers like Drexel Burnham Lambert's Michael Milken, syndicated loans helped fuel the leveraged buyout boom of the 1980s.
Chemical Bank merged with Manufacturers Hanover and a series of other banks to form what is now JPMorgan Chase. Over time, Lee built a junk bond business, a private equity advisory group, and a merger advisory group.
"Jimmy was a master of his craft, but he was so much more – he was an incomparable force of nature," Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan's chief executive, said in the statement.
Lee was a legendary rainmaker, but like a classic old-line banker, he cared about risk on the loans he was making, because JPMorgan would suffer when loans went bad. Enrico Dallavecchia, a former senior risk executive at JPMorgan, recalled meetings with Lee in the 1990s to decide whether the bank should make big loans.
"He was ahead of his time in terms of understanding risk," Dallavecchia said. "If he felt that the returns were not high enough for the risk, he would turn down a deal, even if people underneath him were telling him to do it," he added.
Lee's clients viewed him as a gatekeeper to the hundreds of billions of dollars that JPMorgan lends out as well as money from bond investors.
In a statement Henry Kravis, co-chief executive of private equity firm KKR & Co LP (KKR.N), praised Lee for "constantly finding new financing sources."
Kravis added, "He built lasting relationships unlike almost any banker I have ever known."
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc FB.N, posted on her company's website that Lee "believed in us long before many others did – when we were a small company with little revenue he told us and anyone else who would listen how much potential he thought Facebook had."
Lee is survived by his wife, Beth, and three children, Lexi, Jamie and Izzy.
(Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and David Henry in New York, Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba, Dan Wilchins and Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York,; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Leslie Adler and Bernard Orr)