The irony of speaking to 600 guests beneath a 94-foot replica of a blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History was not lost on JPMorgan Chase & Co. investment-banking chairman Jes Staley.
Staley’s division is busy unwinding trades that lost $5.8 billion in the first half of this year and were executed by the so-called London whale, a U.K.-based trader in JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office.
“I’ve had to sit here all night staring at a whale,” Staley said last night, a few hours into a gala for the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases and Center for Musculoskeletal Care. He was accepting an award for corporate leadership.
Staley then suggested the whale could be replaced with the squid in the room, which, he clarified afterward, meant Goldman Sachs Group Inc., represented by his friend Gary D. Cohn, chairman of the dinner and the hospital’s advisory board. Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi called Goldman a “vampire squid.”
All this took place about 20 feet from a diorama depicting a battle between a sperm whale and a giant squid. Which creature will triumph is unclear, though squid have been found in whales’ stomachs.
That bit of actual marine science, as opposed to financial-industry marine metaphors, came into play in the next speech from Cohn, who cast off any hint of competition.
“The only squid in the room is over there,” Cohn said. “I’ve never been so comfortable in a roomful of JPMorgan people in my life.”
Certainly the JPMorgan folks -- who included Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO of asset management, as well as Phil Di Iorio and John Duffy -- were in a safe setting. The president of the museum, Ellen Futter, is on JPMorgan’s board, where one of her roles has been overseeing risk management. She also sat on American International Group Inc.’s compliance and governance committee, resigning in 2008.
Cohn and Staley both said their comments were “all in good fun” -- and with good effect: The event raised $1.4 million for the hospital.
The speeches came after dinner, which consisted of a salad with goat cheese and roasted pine nuts, and Espelette-glazed hanger steak with parsnip puree, Swiss chard, baby carrots and purple cauliflower.
Staley and Cohn were seated together with their wives, Debora, who wore a red lace dress, and Lisa, who wore a sequined skirt.
Also at their table was Home Depot Inc. co-founder Kenneth Langone, who is chairman of the NYU Langone Medical Center. He was among a few dozen investors invited to attend a special analyst meeting at JPMorgan’s headquarters when it disclosed its losses during a second-quarter earnings announcement on July 13. Afterward on that day he told Bloomberg Television that JPMorgan is “one of the best-run companies.”
Staley said he met Langone through Stanley Druckenmiller, whom Staley knows through their alma mater, Bowdoin College.
Another guest was Staley’s brother, Peter, the subject of the documentary film, “How to Survive a Plague,” about his living with AIDS.
Early in the evening, Cohn had a post-op exam from Keith Raskin, the doctor who performed surgery on his thumb.
“He’s back and texting with greater ability than ever before,” Raskin said.
Cohn took out his BlackBerry and demonstrated his double-thumb typing.
Last night the Metropolitan Opera raised $6.2 million at its opening-night gala, which consisted of about six hours of entertainment.
First came the premiere of a new production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” starring Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani.
Afterward, 1,200 guests showed off long gowns and shiny black ties in a tent used earlier this month for New York Fashion Week.
“My goodness, don’t trust elixirs,” Zac Posen said as he entered the supper with two models wearing his creations.
Patrick Stewart had another take on the opera. “Alcohol is good for you, generally,” he said.
“Darling, that’s good,” Stewart’s girlfriend, Sunny Ozell, added.
New York Knicks basketball player Amar’e Stoudemire said he listens to opera on his 40-minute drive to practice.
“Music is always such a soothing thing, especially opera and jazz,” Stoudemire said sitting with his wife at a table brightened by sunflowers.
The scenery for dinner was intended to evoke the Italian-market setting of the opera. Umbrellas and large shafts of wheat on pillars were placed throughout the room.
“It’s all very fecund, as it should be. It has a sense of fertility,” said Bartlett Sher, the opera’s director, seated at a long banquet table in the center of the room.
The evening coincided with the birthday of fund manager Willem Kooyker, chairman, CEO and founder of Blenheim Capital Management LLC. Kooyker’s wife, Judith-Ann Corrente, underwrote the entire cost of the production.
“It’s my 70th birthday,” Kooyker said. As to his youthful look, he explained, “I’ve been coming to the opera for 46 years.”
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include: Manuela Hoelterhoff on country matters.