JP Morgan's move culminates years of coveting WaMu's branch network.

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Long before Washington Mutual’s loans went bad, JPMorgan Chase wanted to buy it.

For years New York executives visited Seattle, sizing up WaMu’s assets and salivating over its West Coast branches. WaMu knew that the East Coast bank’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, wanted it.

With the Seattle thrift’s failure, it becomes another notch in Dimon’s empire, which has $1.8 trillion in assets.

Dimon has made a career of acquiring companies, often with flashy deals like the 1998 merger of Travelers Group with Citicorp and this year’s rescue of Bear Stearns.

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He and his team are experts at fixing companies in trouble, though it often comes at the cost of jobs at the firms acquired.

Early on, Dimon spent more than a decade as the protégé to legendary banker Sandy Weill, building a consumer lending company into the financial powerhouse Travelers Group. They grew through acquisitions, mostly of firms facing hard times.

When Travelers merged with Citicorp, the deal was momentous in its size and what it meant to the financial system. That marriage pushed the federal government to dismantling laws from the Depression and earlier that separated traditional banks from securities and insurance firms.

After the merger, Dimon became co-head of Citigroup’s investment bank, Salomon Smith Barney. Not long after, he had a falling-out with Weill and was shown the door.

Dimon took time to reflect and be with his family, then two years later came roaring back as CEO of a troubled Bank One in Chicago. He turned the company around quickly, and in 2004 sold it to JPMorgan.

Now he sits atop the country’s second-largest bank, acquiring what remains of its largest thrift.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or

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