At first glance, Dennis Weatherstone seems almost indistin guishable from his patrician predecessors. J. P. Morgan & Co.'s latest chairman and chief executive has served a lifetime -- 45 years -- at the bank. Weatherstone moves in social circles befitting the head of an elite institution. His friends include H. Brewster Atwater Jr. cf General Mills Inc. and other CEOs of blue-chip companies. Last year, Weatherstone even went his predecessors one better: He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
But on closer inspection, Weatherstone is anything but a cookie-cutter version of a typical Morgan banker. Self-made and unpretentious, Weatherstone, 60, rose through the Morgan ranks without the benefits of social privilege or Ivy League degrees. The son of a clerk for London Transport, he grew up in the middle-class London borough of Islington. He joined the bank when he was 15 and attended night school for five years to get a college-degree equivalent. "I needed the weekends just to catch up on the homework," recalls Weatherstone, a slightly built man who speaks with a soft British accent.
TEAM MAN. As Morgan finishes its second year under Weatherstone, now a U. S. citizen, it's clear that the boss's mild manner has produced subtle changes in Morgan's operating style. Unlike the previous CEO, Lewis T. Preston, whom many staffers considered aloof, Weatherstone is warm and accessible. A father of four, he is more apt to inquire about the health of staffers' families. "To the outside, it's imperceptible that things have changed," says one former executive. "But it's clearly a little less austere under Weatherstone."
Morgan's CEO prefers a team approach to decision-making. "I'm more inclined to work things out by consensus," he acknowledges. That has led to a higher profile for Morgan President Douglas A. "Sandy" Warner III. At 44, Warner, a 23-year veteran, is widely believed to be Morgan's next CEO when Weatherstone retires in five years.
When Weatherstone first took over, his consensual approach was seen by some critics as a sign of weakness. That, in turn, prompted unkind comparisons with Preston, an ex-Marine who ruled Morgan with a firm hand until 1990. But the bank's current CEO sees no reason to change his ways. "To many people, Preston had a stronger presence," says Weatherstone. "I'm not sure there's a huge amount of difference in the final result." Unlike most Morgan bankers, Weatherstone came up through the trading instead of the lending side of the bank. He started as a bookkeeper in the London office of Guaranty Trust, which later merged with J. P. Morgan. He entered everything in the bank's ledgers by hand. By his early twenties, Weatherstone was on the foreign exchange desk, where he was eventually noticed by Preston, who became the London office's general manager in 1967.
LONG VIEW. Although traders traditionally have a short-term outlook, Weatherstone was seen by superiors as a strategic thinker. "He's penetrating in his observation and analysis, whether he's looking at what the Deutschemark will do today or how an industry will perform over the next five years," says Sir David G. Scholey, chairman of Britain's S. G. Warburg Group PLC and a friend of Weatherstone's for 25 years.
In 1971, Weatherstone became head of Morgan's foreign exchange trading worldwide in New York. After Preston was named CEO in 1980, Weatherstone continued his rise. In 1986, he became president and helped mastermind Morgan's difficult transformation to a European-style universal bank. Weatherstone, whose family lives in the same Darien (Conn.) house they bought when they moved to the U. S. in 1971, sees little reason to change his low-key management. And for good reason. Judging by Morgan's recent success, Weatherstone's common touch is helping create uncommon returns for an increasingly uncommon bank.