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7 Things Restaurant Entrepreneurs Must Do to Survive and Thrive During the Great Pandemic Depression



October 13, 2020 11 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Great Pandemic has taught us that there are two nonessential things that our society can’t live without: toilet paper and restaurants.  Both were not considered survival essentials in my The Survival of the Richest book (2016); that is, we can technically live without them.  Yet, at the beginning of the quarantine, there were actual fights over toilet paper in supermarkets all over the world. 

Where toilet paper takes the cake for products, restaurants are the winners in the service industry.  With the new heavy governmental restrictions in place to combat Covid-19, our society has come to realize how dependent we are on restaurants to serve us .  But we don’t need restaurants to survive—we have been cooking our own food since humans learned how to make fire.  Actually, dining at restaurants by the masses is a modern phenomenon.  For an interesting read on the history of restaurants, please visit When Did People Start Eating in Restaurants? by Dave Roos of History.com.

Related: Ruby Tuesday Files for Bankruptcy After Closing Dozens of Locations in 2020

Although there have been so many restaurants that have went out of in the past few months, there are some that have pivoted and are prospering better than ever.  However, I would guess that the majority of small entrepreneurial businesses that are still open are hanging in there by a thread. 

If you are a entrepreneur, here are seven ways that you can fight to stay alive and thrive.

1.  Ensure that your business is “Covid Clean”

In the Pre-Covid-19 environment, cleanliness was always a priority for the average customer.  There are very few people who would encourage the cook to pile dirt on their burger. If the slightest hair was found in someone’s food, the customer usually expected to have their meal comped. 

What is Covid Clean? Covid Clean means the highest levels of cleanliness of the old restaurant standards applied exponentially. To accommodate the Covid Customer, you must understand the expectations and fears that they bring with them. You can make good money if you can demonstrate that you have raised the bar on cleanliness to the point where customers should have the same amount of risk or less of catching the virus in your restaurant as in their own home. Sparkling floors, sanitized kitchens, the best air filtration systems with top of the line filters replaced often, masks worn by all employees, plastic barriers where needed, tables seated at least six feet from each other, hand sanitizer stations, and the strictest requirements for all workers — this is Covid Clean. If you can hand deliver it, you will be miles ahead of the competition and can make serious money.

2.  Ensure that you maintain your maximum legal occupancy rate

Depending on where you are located, you are probably having a different restaurant experience. While some areas are still keeping restaurants closed, many have allowed them to open but on certain conditions.  One of the major restrictions that have been put in place is the maximum occupancy rate. In some major cities like Philadelphia, the maximum indoor occupancy rate is only 25%. This means that you can’t have any more than 25% of the normal occupancy in your restaurant at one time. Although most locations are allowed to open with a 50% occupancy rate, this is still a hard pill to swallow for many restaurant entrepreneurs.

Assuming that your only service offered is an in-dining experience, even a 50% occupancy rate means that at best your sales will be cut in half. In other words, even if you have the maximum amount of allowed customers every minute that you are open, you still could only make half of what you would have earned under normal maximum capacity.  Since these restrictions could starve out businesses that are not financially prepared to wait the Covid-19 out, it is extremely important that restaurants at least try to safely strive to keep their tables legally full all of the time. This might sound like common sense, but there are many restaurants that are amazingly still open without dine-in options. Assuming that you are Covid Clean, keeping your indoor dining service closed at this point of the pandemic is begging for death to come soon to your business. 

Related: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese, Which Just Filed for Bankruptcy

In my recent article called How Long Can Entrepreneurial Businesses Stay Alive Without Survival Essentials?, it was concluded that under the strictest assumptions entrepreneurs and their businesses generally cannot live more than thirty days without their immediate survival essentials.  Based on this conclusion, businesses that are still operating at this point of the Great Pandemic Depression are only doing so because they had an emergency reserve, are receiving income from somewhere else (for example, unemployment or loans), and/or are making at least enough money to pay the bills. 

Considering how low the legal occupancy rates are at this point, restaurants have to offer other products or services too besides dine-in services to survive and thrive.  However, that does not mean that you should waste the opportunity to retain the indoor dining portion of your business to the fullest.  Dining-in also keeps jobs for some of your employees so that they will still be around when it is time to scale-up.  Employee flight is a major problem for many businesses now.  Many restaurants that opened after a few months of closure sadly realized that their best talent is now working at other companies that were hiring, for example, at Amazon or their local supermarket. Lost talent might never be fully replaced.

Finally, it is important to utilize all outside seating available as much as possible. This generally is not included in your maximum indoor occupancy rate. Thus, any extra seats that you can add are all additional potential revenue. This point works well for warmer days, but might be more difficult as the winter starts approaching. This is where you might need to be creative and invest in resources that can keep those tables filled up safely and comfortably for the customers (for example, by using heat lamps and proper tenting).

3.  Pivot—adjust products and/or services if needed

In combination with the above two points, if restaurants wants to survive and thrive in the Great Pandemic Depression then they will need to think outside the box and offer products or services in ways that they might not have done before.  For example, restaurants that were 100% dine-in only could now offer take-out and delivery.  These are completely new skillsets that have to been learned and mastered. 

You will need the right people and technology to do a take-out and/or delivery pivot though.  There are many delivery services that you might want to consider partnering with to outsource this service.  The main idea here is to increase your revenue to compensate for the loss of dine-in revenue.  As noted above, a 50% maximum occupancy rate means that you will need another platform to make up at least half of your business.  Take-out and delivery could be the solution.  Inevitably, it is up to the entrepreneur to find her or his best pivot.

4.  Treat your customer right

This point is summarized clearly through Principle 13 from The Most Important Lessons in and Finance book: “Businesses must keep the customer happy at every encounter” (Criniti, 2014, p. 44).  Many customers might be grumpier than usual right now.  When you combine this with the unusual amount of stress that you might also be experiencing, it is tempting to backlash at them.  This is not the right long-term approach to making money in the restaurant business as it will lead to depletion of your customer base. 

Related: Free Webinar: How Can Restaurants Thrive In Today’s New Normal

This does not mean to compromise your own morals and allow disrespectful customers to run your business for you.  However, it does require entrepreneurs to have a heightened awareness to how valuable customers are, especially in the service industry.  They are the lifeline of your business and must be treasured.  No customers equals no income. 

5.  Take advantage of government funding available

There are multiples sources of funding that can help you get through the Great Pandemic Depression and build your business back up.  In particular, the U. S. (SBA) has various forms of assistance for small businesses due to Covid-19.  Please see this link for more information: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources.  Entrepreneurs might also qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in your state (PUA). 

It is the owner’s duty to find these resources for help to get through this crisis and keep her or his business alive.  The customers can only go so far to support local businesses, even if their existence has sentimental value to them.  This point is summarized clearly through Principle 2 from The Most Important Lessons in Economics and Finance book: “It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that her or his business survives, not the customer” (Criniti, 2014, p. 33). 

6.  Stay open as many hours a week as you can

This is an important one that every reader probably can relate to.  How many restaurants went from a full schedule to being open only a few hours a day and a few days a week?  You cannot control the legal maximum occupancy rate that might already be hurting your business, but you can control your personal businesses hours (as long as it doesn’t interfere with legal curfew laws, etc.).  If you reduced your hours, you might have upset loyal customers who attempted to eat at your restaurant when you were closed.  They might try again another day, or they might not. This is the chance that you took.  Opening up more helps to continue the branding of your business.  Further, this can help you add more customers; something that you will probably need right now since the pandemic might have naturally reduced many of your original patrons. 

7.  Learn about finance

Finally, this is an important time to improve your overall business skills by learning one of the most important (arguably the most important) subject in academia: finance.  As stated in my first book The Necessity of Finance: “Ignoring the lessons of finance equates to welcoming a lifetime of financial struggles for an individual, a group, or an organization” (Criniti, 2013, p. 48). You might have more free time than normal during this crisis.  It is the perfect time to learn about how to manage your wealth.  Even if your business does not succeed, you will learn knowledge that can be applicable to any business that you enter for the rest of your life. 


For whatever reason you originally decided to become an entrepreneur in the restaurant business, it is a time to reflect on whether or not you still share the same purpose.  If you still are passionate about owning a successful restaurant, then you might want to use this time to restrategize. Eventually this crisis will pass and you will be even smarter in your industry than before. This pandemic has taught restaurateurs (also called “restauranteurs”) better ways to serve their customers like none in history. Humans are social animals; we will eventually return to sharing good times while dining out more frequently — together with family, friends, and the good company of like-minded strangers. 

Remember—if you open up your business to the maximum extent of the law, there is always an extra risk of getting coronavirus while at work. However, there is also a huge risk of getting the Financial Coronavirus if you don’t open at all. Many businesses right now, especially restaurants, are stuck in the middle of two potentially deadly choices. The optimal solution is to keep open as long, and as safe, as humanly possible. Incorporating the seven ways above into your business strategy could help you and other restaurant entrepreneurs get through this mess, and not only to survive but to thrive during and after the Great Pandemic Depression.


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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.



As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.


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Good Is the New Cool When It Comes to a Successful Brand



October 27, 2020 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Afdhel Aziz is a thought leader, writer, speaker, consultant and board advisor with 20 years of experience working as a visionary marketer at companies like Procter & Gamble, Nokia, and Absolut Vodka. Despite creating world-class pop partnerships with everyone from Lady Gaga to the TED Conferences, he felt there was more he could be contributing to society. 

This search inspired him to co-write Good is the New Cool: Market Like You A Give a Damn. The book’s success led Aziz to quit his job and follow his own purpose. Now he is on a mission to help companies and individuals find purpose and meaning in their work and in their lives. 

An internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, Aziz is also the co-founder and Chief Purpose Officer of Conspiracy of Love. The purpose consultancy supports a long roster of clients, including iconic brands like Adidas, Red Bull, Oreo and Microsoft, to Fortune 500 companies like Unilever, AB Inbev, and .

“Goodisthenewcool.org is now a global movement of good, with events and podcasts in association with Soho House, conferences in LA, Sydney and Melbourne, and an online community of 20,000 purpose-driven leaders in and culture,” Aziz says.

Aziz spoke with Jessica Abo to discuss Conspiracy of Love, why businesses should take the “good is the new cool” approach and why it’s not too late for companies to do better. 

Jessica Abo: Tell us about your book Good is the New Cool: Market Like You A Give a Damn.

Afdhel Aziz: It’s an exploration of the whole world of purpose driven . Today, brands more than ever are asked to take stands. When you think about Nike with Colin Kaepernick, for example, consumers are asking brands to take positions in social issues. We wanted to explore that in this book that I co-wrote with Bobby Jones. The expectation for brands to help solve societal problems has never been more sky high.

In the wake of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter, consumers are demanding that the brands in their lives stand up for their values. Consumers are voting with their wallets, we like to say, and making sure that if they’re going to invest in a ‘s products and services, that brand better be helping solve issues, whether they’re environmental issues or social issues. There is an incredibly high level of scrutiny at the moment that brands are under and expectations keep growing as well.

What are some of the biggest mistakes brands make?

Aziz: One of the biggest mistakes brands make when they venture into this territory of social impact is positioning themselves as the hero, riding in on a white horse to solve the problem. We like to preach to our clients the maxim “be the helper not the hero.” Brands who do this find a way to make the consumers the hero of the journey to give them platforms to help society at large. And this way you can avoid the trap of coming across as too egotistical when talking about how you’re going to attack this problem. 

Do brands have to be perfect to start doing good?

Aziz: Brands do not have to be perfect to do some good. In fact, I would say that no brand is perfect, just like no human being is perfect. It’s important not to be paralyzed by the lack of perfection. Every brand has its problem, has its issues. As long as they’re transparent about it and say, “Listen, here’s the plan that we’re putting into place to solve this problem, bear with us while we do it. But in the meantime, here’s another problem that we really want to solve in society, will you help us?” Taking that humble posture really helps people understand the genuineness of your intentions and that really makes a difference when asking people to participate. 

What advice do you have for brands that want to do some good in the world?

Aziz: The advice that we have for brands who want to do some good in the world is, first of all, listen. Listen to your employees, listen to your consumers, look at the culture in the world today and try and find a way of thinking of people as citizens, not just consumers. Think about the broad range of issues that they care about, and then figure out a way that you, as a brand can get involved in helping to solve some of those problems as well. We like to say brands should solve problems from the everyday to the epic. It doesn’t all have to be about climate change and racial inequality. Maybe there are everyday problems as well that you as a brand can get involved in to make people’s lives a little bit better.

Related: Fighting Zoom Fatigue? These Cards Can Help


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What Counts as Race Discrimination? A Suit Against JPMorgan Is a Test



Over 18 years of working as a secretary at JPMorgan Chase, Wanda Wilson had learned to brush aside remarks directed at her race.

“Wanda, do you mind if I tell a Black joke?” a colleague once asked her. Another co-worker told her that she disliked Black people in general but made an exception for Ms. Wilson.

Ms. Wilson saw no reason to complain. JPMorgan had been a good employer, giving her opportunities to rise through the secretarial ranks and providing assistance during a fraught time in her personal life. She felt proud defending her career to her family, which included several prominent civil rights activists. (Her mother is the poet Amina Baraka, and her stepfather was Amiri Baraka, the playwright and poet. Her younger brother is Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark.)

But things soured in 2016 after a new colleague began to bully Ms. Wilson and order her around, according to a lawsuit Ms. Wilson filed against JPMorgan and its chief executive, Jamie Dimon. For the first time, Ms. Wilson felt that she was not on equal footing with her white colleagues, according to the suit. She complained to JPMorgan officials, but the bank’s response shattered her faith in her employer, she said. After she was unable to find a different job within JPMorgan, the bank fired her. She then sued, alleging race discrimination and retaliation and seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

JPMorgan said its officials had done everything in their power to make things right for Ms. Wilson. “The firm denies that it engaged in any race discrimination or harassment or retaliation with respect to Ms. Wilson’s employment,” said Joe Evangelisti, a JPMorgan spokesman.

The bank tried to have the lawsuit, filed in 2018, dismissed. This month, a judge ruled that the two sides should engage in mediation instead.

Wall Street has come under growing scrutiny for how it treats people of color, and Black employees in particular. Last year, The New York Times detailed allegations of racism at Phoenix-area branches of JPMorgan. Recently, a former head of global diversity at Morgan Stanley, a Black woman, sued the bank for discrimination.

ImageTwo Black employees at JPMorgan said race was a constant undertone in their interactions with non-Black employees.
Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

But while such cases claim broad and systemic discrimination involving banks, Ms. Wilson’s lawsuit tells the complicated story of interactions between co-workers that can carry racist undertones. It shows how allegations of racism in a workplace can be difficult to verify, even when a company conducts an investigation. That’s especially so in the absence of explicit language or actions — such as a racial slur or blackface — that are easily identifiable as racist.

“This isn’t the ’60s or the ’50s,” said David Carlor, a financial adviser who is Black. “No one’s going to tell you: ‘Because you’re Black, go get us coffee.’ You’re just going to find that you’re the one that’s being treated most disrespectfully in the office.”

At JPMorgan, Ms. Wilson was often the first to arrive and the last to leave, according to three of her former colleagues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She got lunch and coffee for her superiors and ran errands that seemed well outside her job description, like buying a mirror for her boss’s office.

In March 2016, Ms. Wilson joined the audit department as an executive administrative assistant — a coveted position among secretaries because it involved handling duties for one senior executive in that department.

Around the same time, Janet Jarnagin was also assigned to Ms. Wilson’s boss as a team leader. A midlevel executive, Ms. Jarnagin’s duties included helping the audit department prepare presentations and reports, according to a publicly available résumé.

Over the next few months, Ms. Jarnagin began ordering Ms. Wilson to hang coats, get coffee and lunch, or carry out requests — such as making photocopies — by visitors to the department, according to the lawsuit.

Once, Ms. Jarnagin stood up from her desk and announced that she was “sending Wanda out for coffee,” asking if anyone else wanted to place an order with her. Other Black secretaries who had overheard Ms. Jarnagin later teased Ms. Wilson about being treated like Kizzy, an enslaved character in the book and television mini-series “Roots.”

Ms. Wilson said that she asked Ms. Jarnagin not to use the term “sending” any more, but that Ms. Jarnagin ignored her. Ms. Wilson described the incident in a 2017 interview with a JPMorgan official, a recording of which she provided to The Times.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Wilson described how Ms. Jarnagin had been making these demands only of her — the lone Black secretary in the vicinity. She tried to distance herself. When she rearranged her desk so that the two women no longer had an unobstructed view of each other, Ms. Jarnagin mocked her for trying to build a “Mexican wall” out of a stack of folders on her desk, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Wilson complained about Ms. Jarnagin to their boss, who told her to work things out on her own, according to the complaint. She then told a human resources representative that Ms. Jarnagin was ordering her around and bad-mouthing her work. JPMorgan’s Mr. Evangelisti said the bank had begun investigating Ms. Wilson’s complaints immediately.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Henry Klingeman, a lawyer for Ms. Jarnagin, dismissed the allegations. “In the high-intensity, high-stress world of New York banking, Janet was no more rude than a male employee who is assertive,” he said in an email. “That she asked an administrative assistant to get coffee for senior management is one of the criticisms made against her. There is nothing to this, much less implied racism.”

Ms. Wilson eventually emailed Mr. Dimon: “I have followed the chain of command and have not received any assistance.” Mr. Dimon did not personally respond, but her complaint was promptly shared with senior bank officials who stepped up their investigation.

Bank officials interviewed people in the immediate vicinity of Ms. Wilson and Ms. Jarnagin, two people familiar with the investigation said. The investigators determined that Ms. Jarnagin had behaved rudely toward Ms. Wilson. However, since Ms. Jarnagin had been rude in the past to other employees who were not Black, they concluded that her behavior was not racially motivated, the people said.

Mr. Evangelisti said the officials’ conclusions had been “based on information provided by Ms. Wilson at the time.”

Ms. Jarnagin was given two “coaching” sessions, including one by her boss, the people said. She was never formally disciplined, but was advised to treat Ms. Wilson more gently, they said. Ms. Jarnagin left JPMorgan in November 2017.

JPMorgan officials also did a broader “climate study” of the area where Ms. Wilson worked, the people familiar with the matter said. The study concluded that there did not appear to be a problem with racism.

However, two Black employees interviewed for the study, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, told The Times that race was a constant undertone in their interactions with non-Black employees. One said Black secretaries felt it was harder for them to get promotions, and they believed they were underpaid. But the Black employees said they downplayed the racism they witnessed to bank officials, partly because it wasn’t directed at them.

JPMorgan officials have recently acknowledged that some employees still do not feel safe speaking up. In March, the bank announced that it had reviewed its anti-discrimination practices and identified several areas for improvement.

Things didn’t improve for Ms. Wilson after her complaint.

Mr. Evangelisti said JPMorgan gave her nearly a year to search for a new job inside the bank as well as a raise and bonus during that time. Ms. Wilson said the only job the bank offered her was a role working for a man who had become enraged at her over a disagreement with her boss when she worked in the audit department.

Mr. Evangelisti said the role would have come with the same title, grade and compensation as her prior job, “but Ms. Wilson declined the role and refused to provide any context about an ‘unpleasant exchange’ she claims to have had.”


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