J.P. Morgan's Jennifer Nason: the accidental banker

By Sophie Thomas

Alumna Jennifer Nason never predicted she'd end up working as a global leader in investment banking, but that's where life lead her.

When Jennifer Nason (BCom (Hons) 1983, BA 1980) first graduated from the University of Melbourne majoring in economics, she was firmly committed to pursuing a career in the Australian public sector.

More than 30 years later, she is now Global Chairman of Investment Banking at J.P. Morgan and based in New York City.

A dual-citizen and Chairman of the American Australian Association, Nason reflects on how a dedication to constant learning and risk taking has led her half way across the world.

Headshot of Jennifer Nason
Jennifer Nason.

How did you get into banking?

I call myself ‘the accidental banker.’ I graduated from university with a double degree in economic history and economics and I had no interest in the private sector whatsoever.

My first role out of university was with the Victorian Department of Management and Budget (now the Department of Treasury and Finance). I spent three years there doing some very interesting work, but it was clear I needed to build my finance skills. I decided to make the jump to banking at J.P. Morgan as a temporary move to equip myself with the skills to return to the public sector.

The reality of banking was incredibly different to my stereotypical view of the industry. I found the work and opportunities to be so varied - and very global.

This business had a way of revealing something new to me on a daily basis – it still does.

I’ve always been driven by that constant process of learning new things and having new experiences. It can be stressful to always be out of the comfort zone but I think it is what sustains a career. So here I am, 33 years later.

What is it like being an Australian living in New York City?

The Australian network in the US is extensive. I’ve lived here for decades now and I'm shocked every day at just how well-connected Australians are.

When you first move, you cling to the support of your fellow Aussie expats. Then time passes and you grow up a bit, and you may get married and have children and then you're networking with locals, and you find yourself more integrated in the community.

Then you get older, as I am now, and you get more nostalgic for home, and you reconnect. So, I've sort of travelled that journey, and it's a journey that I've heard a lot of people say that they go through.

You are the Chairman of the American-Australian Association. What do you think about the relationship between the two countries and how it’s changed over recent years?

There is a lot of traffic between the US and Australia going both ways in terms of people, ideas, capital, and so forth. I think Australia really punches above its weight in that regard. It feels like a much more equal relationship than you might think given the relative size of the two economies.

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US flag
Nason is the Chairman of the American-Australian Association and has lived in New York City for decades.

And then of course there's a flourishing arts and entertainment network between the two countries as well, and I'm very proud that Australian entertainers and those in the arts really, without exception, promote Australia over here at every possible turn. I think the relationship is very nuanced, much more of a web of connections now than it used to be, and I think Australia really stands tall in that regard.

I think Australia and what we can contribute is taken very, very seriously here.

What do you think has been the key to your success?

A lot of it comes down to taking calculated risks.

You could say joining J.P. Morgan without having studied finance or accounting was a risk. I moved countries, which was a risk. I had four children, which some might argue was a risk.

I am a huge believer in taking those chances. I think it is too easy for most people to get jobs and to shackle themselves to their chair and think that just doing better and better in that same job is the linear path to success.

How do you balance the various aspects of your life?

Being a working mother of four children, people have often asked me, "How do you manage all of that?"

And I say, "I think having my four children has made me the most efficient operator on the planet."

Decision-making and triaging are absolutely critical skills in business. You’ve got to assess information, read the situation, and make a call so people can move forward. I think mothers are really good at doing that.

I don't waste any time. I make informed decisions and good judgements. I've had to build those skills of quickly making decisions because I didn't want to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week grinding away on a financial model – I wanted to be there for my children and to have a full life.

I feel like that working mother label has given me an advantage career-wise, not the other way around.