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Business Tips from late Insurance Legend, Jay Fishman

Published on August 25, 2016

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Jay Fishman, Chairman and former CEO of Travelers Insurance Company, died last Friday in his home at the age of 63.

He was on a golf course in spring of 2013 when he first felt that something was wrong. What he originally thought was just a back injury flaring up soon led to months of medical testing, only to finally be diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. There is no known cure.

Once diagnosed, in 2015 — the same year he stepped down as CEO of Travelers due to the illness — Jay was interviewed by the television legend, Charlie Rose.

In the interview, Jay said: “I quickly said I wasn’t going to let the end of my life change the definition, or change my perspective on how I looked at the rest of it.”

In honor of Jay’s passing, we’d like to share a few Insurance Business Tips with you gleaned from his life.

Know yourself, and when in doubt, stick to what you know.

Before Jay became the CEO Travelers, Travelers was a part of Citigroup and Jay was being measured for the CEO position of the whole group. But he wanted to to venture out and run something himself — something that he knew.

In a Forbes 2011 article he’s quoted saying, “I wouldn’t have been an effective CEO [at Citigroup]. I had next to no experience in sales and trading, limited experience in investment banking and no experience in commercial banking.” What he knew was Insurance. And when he dealt in Insurance, he did it well.

Don’t be fooled into the short-game.

Some of Jay’s biggest successes for the company are an example of not doing what others were doing, and keeping your business strategy like the wise tortoise from the fable: Slow and steady wins the race.

In the time leading up to the 2008 housing crisis, Jay Fishman held a steady gaze at the future and was not swayed into buying mortgage-linked bonds that would have provided short-term income for Travelers (of which he was CEO at the time). Travelers emerged from that dark era in American history as one of the top 30 financial institutions in the nation, because their leader had the foresight to not grab for quick, easy money.

Jay displayed the same wisdom 4 years later in 2012 when central bank stimulus policies drove bond yields to record lows. According to a recent article by Bloomberg, “Fishman wasn’t one to buy riskier securities to pick up extra income. Instead, he focused on making sure Travelers was profitable as an underwriter, and boosted shareholder returns through an aggressive stock buyback program.”

At a conference that year, Jay said, “People say, ‘Where are you going for yield?’ And the answer is, ‘Nowhere.’ We continue to be invested in the same asset classes that we have been before and accept the premise of lower returns.”

This strategy is certainly a great deal to thank for Traveler’s financial rankings and stability today.

Care About Your Brand

In the early 1990s Jay Fishman oversaw the Travelers business while it was still a part of Citigroup. Eventually he left to run another company for a couple of years until he drafted a merger of Travelers (which had left Citigroup) and the competitor Jay had been working for (St. Paul Cos). Jay became the CEO of the merged companies, and the new entity took on the name Travelers again.

While he could’ve gotten caught up in the newness and the pride of the $17.9 billion transaction he’d just crafted and taken the reigns of, he still respected the history and the image of the long-standing Travelers name. The iconic red umbrella, unfortunately was not a part of the merger deal, and they didn’t have legal rights to it.

Buy Jay Fishman knew something about pride of ownership that we all could learn from. In 2008 Travelers bought back the logo from Citigroup, and the red umbrella still lives on in the Traveler family.

Jay leaves behind his wife, two kids, and a legacy.

To read a full article about his life and death written by Bloomberg, click here.

To quote online for carriers like Travelers and others, click HERE.


Abram Interstate Insurance Services, Inc. is a California wholesale insurance broker (CMGA) that has licensing and expertise to place business in both admitted and non-admitted markets for personal lines insurance and commercial lines insurance in California and surrounding areas.

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