Maria Elena Lagomasino.

PositionCEO of JP Morgan Private Bank

Early-life family experience in fleeing repression and suffering devastating financial loss has molded this banker's mission of safeguarding assets.

THE TIME WAS 1960. The setting was Fidel Castro's Communist Cuba. The scene: an 11-year-old girl standing by her father's side while boarding a plane to the United States. Later that same day, her mother and brothers would board a second flight to join them.

Forty-one years later, Maria Elena Lagomasino has never returned to her homeland. "We came with one suitcase as if we were going on a week's trip. Everything else got left behind...We lost everything," she says.

"Everything" included her parent's properties, belongings, and her grandfather's cigar and cigarette manufacturing business. It was a loss that she would not soon forget. As the newly appointed chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Private Bank, it is easy to understand why Lagomasino is dedicated to protecting her client's funds as if they were her own family's.

When DIRECTORS & BOARDS caught up with Lagomasino, she had recently returned from a four-city business development trek through Asia. The trip was made following the merger of Chase Manhattan Corp. and J.P. Morgan & Co. into the newly formed J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Reports Lagomasino, who also had recently travelled much of the U.S. and visited most of the private bank's key Latin American countries, "I've been on the road 70% of the time for the last four months. I could be a poster child for a luggage company."

To put it mildly, the period was a hectic one. The deal combined not only two banking giants but the further melding of the acquisitions made by Chase of Hambrecht & Quist Group, Robert Fleming Holdings, and The Beacon Group just prior to the merger. "We are trying to put together five companies into one integrated company that really takes the best of the practices from all of those organizations," Lagomasino says. "So it's been a very complex, big-scale, and global effort." J.P. Morgan Chase is now the second-largest bank in the U.S. and the fourth-largest in the world. JP Morgan Private Bank, which offers a wide array of investing, credit, tax and estate planning products and services for "seriously wealthy individuals," as Lagomasino respectfully calls her clients, has $300 billion in assets under management. It is the largest private bank in the U.S.

In April, Lagomasino made time to join the board of Global Crossing Ltd., the $4 billion in revenue telecommunications...

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