Fishman, Jay S. 1952–
Jay S. Fishman
Chief executive officer, St. Paul Travelers Companies, Incorporated
Family: Son of Edward (print shop owner) and Shirley Cantor; married Randy Lee Chapman; children: two.
Career: Coopers & Lybrand, 1974–1979, audit supervisor; American Can Company, 1979–1983, director, mergers and acquisitions; Goergen & Sterling, 1983–1986, senior vice president; Shearson Lehman Brothers, 1986–1989, senior vice president, merchant banking; Commercial Credit Company, 1989–1991, executive vice president and chief financial officer; Primerica Corporation, senior vice president and treasurer, 1991–1994; Travelers Group, 1994–1998, senior vice president, vice chairman, and chief financial officer; 1998–2000, president and chief executive officer; 2000–2001, chairman, president, and chief executive officer; St. Paul Companies, 2001–2003, chairman, president, and chief executive officer; St. Paul Travelers Companies, Incorporated, 2003–, chief executive officer.
Address: St. Paul Travelers Companies, Incorporated, 385 Washington Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102; http://www.stpaultravelers.com.
■ Jay Fishman became a major player in the insurance industry when he orchestrated the merger of the St. Paul Companies, Incorporated and the Travelers Insurance Group in 2003. After spending several years in accounting and the financial services industry, Fishman became president and chief executive officer of Travelers when the company was acquired by Citigroup in 1998. He left Citigroup in 2001 to become the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of the St. Paul Companies. He proceeded to clean up St. Paul's troubled financial record by cutting costs and promoting efficiency as well as setting up the company's merger with Travelers. Known for being affable and down to earth, Fishman also earned a reputation for intensity.
EARLY BACKGROUND IN ACCOUNTING
Fishman was the son of a print shop owner and grew up in the Bronx. He left New York to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor's degree magna cum laude from the university in 1974 and completed a master's degree in accounting the same year. As a student, however, Fishman did not envision becoming a chief executive at a major firm. "My goal was to get out of college and make a living," he later told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (November 20, 2003).
Fishman returned to New York in 1974 after accepting a job as an audit supervisor for the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand. He held the job from 1974 through 1979, when he left to take the position of director of mergers and acquisitions for the American Can Company in Greenwich, Connecticut. He continued his rise into upper management when he was appointed senior vice president for the private investment and leveraged buyout firm of Goergen & Sterling in Greenwich in 1983. Three years later he was hired by the financial consulting firm Shearson Lehman Brothers in New York City to serve as senior vice president for merchant banking.
Fishman remained with Shearson Lehman until 1989, when the Commercial Credit Company in New York City hired him as executive vice president and chief financial officer. He held that position until 1991, when he became the senior vice president and treasurer for the Primerica Corporation. The job at Primerica was Fishman's first position in the insurance industry, where he eventually made his mark.
A TOP INSURANCE EXECUTIVE
The insurance industry experienced a number of mergers in the 1990s, some of which directly affected Fishman's career. Primerica acquired the Travelers Insurance Group in 1994 and appointed Fishman senior vice president, vice chairman, and chief financial officer of Travelers. He served in that capacity until 1998, when Travelers merged with Citicorp to form Citigroup, a company that provided an array of financial services. During the same year that Citigroup was formed, Fishman was named president and chief executive officer of the Travelers Group. In 2000 he added the title of chairman of Travelers Group.
Fishman was considered a leading candidate to replace Sanford Weill, the chairman and chief executive officer of Citigroup. Weill announced in 2000 that the company was devising a plan for choosing his successor. It was not clear, however, when Weill would actually step down; moreover, Fishman was interested in assuming greater responsibilities. "He wanted to run his own company and report to a board of directors and take a company to a whole new level of performance," said Evan Lindsay, an executive recruiter. "That was not going to happen soon at Citi" (October 12, 2001).
The St. Paul Companies, Incorporated, the oldest corporation in Minnesota, lured Fishman from New York in October 2001, selecting him as their chairman, president, and chief executive officer. The timing of Fishman's hire was critical for the company, which had experienced losses of $658.7 million in the third quarter of 2001 as a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Fishman moved quickly after his arrival in Minnesota. "I am going as fast as I can," Fishman said regarding his strategic plans, just one week after taking the helm of his new company (October 24, 2001). Fishman's priorities were to promote long-term earnings growth and reduce expenses. One analyst said of the new CEO, "If he was walking down the hall and saw a paper clip, the Fishman rule is you pick it up and recycle it. I can tell you [St. Paul's] expense line will become much smaller" (October 24, 2001).
A DEMON BOSS
Fishman believed that a major key to the success of an insurance company is an adequate understanding of the industries that the company insures. During his first few months at the St. Paul Companies, the firm had to reevaluate its policies about insuring such industries as aviation and health care. Within five months of taking over at St. Paul, Fishman announced that he was eliminating 11 percent of the company's workforce and dropping some of St. Paul's more expensive units. A significant casualty was the division that sold medical malpractice insurance, which was closed because the company was paying out more in claims than it was collecting in premiums.
Fishman developed a reputation for being an intense leader. An article in the New York Times referred to him as a "demon boss" (March 27, 2002). During his first year at St. Paul, his wife and children remained in New Jersey while Fishman, known to be an insomniac, devoted much of his time to the company. He often called together his employees for informal dinners to discuss business strategies, even outlining his plans on a restaurant napkin. He later bought a second home in St. Paul even though his family maintained their home in New Jersey. Despite Fishman's intense management style, he was regarded as pleasant and down to earth.
REUNION WITH TRAVELERS
Travelers was unexpectedly spun off from Citigroup in 2002, a year after Fishman took over at St. Paul. During that time, Fishman had put his company in better financial shape, earning the same level of revenue with a thousand fewer employees. St. Paul made a major move in 2003 when it announced that it would merge with Travelers to form the St. Paul Travelers Companies, Incorporated. Analysts said that Fishman's drive and focus had paid off, and they regarded him after the merger as a major figure in the insurance business. "Fishman is right up there with the big guys," said analyst Michael Dion. "Industry folk like myself love hearing him talk not only about his company but about the industry and trends" (November 18, 2003).
Fishman took the title of chief executive officer of St. Paul Travelers in 2003. He was expected to assume additional duties as chairman of the board in 2005.
See also entries on Citigroup Inc., Commercial Credit Company, Primerica Corp., and Shearson Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Brady, Matt, "Understanding the Key for St. Paul Chief," Insurance Chronicle, December 31, 2001.
DePass, Dee, "Fishman: 'I'm Going as Fast as I Can,' " Star Tribune, October 24, 2001.
——, "St. Paul Cos. CEO Puts Down Roots," Star Tribune, August 7, 2002.
Hughlett, Mike, "Head of Newly Giant Insurer Started as Bronx Accountant," Saint Paul Pioneer Press, November 20, 2003.
Silverman, Gary, "Jay Fishman Quits Citi to Head St. Paul," Financial Times, October 12, 2001.
St. Anthony, Neal, "Mega Insurance Merger," Star Tribune, November 18, 2003.
Treaster, Joseph B., "Citi Man is Thinking Big but Thriftily in the Midwest," New York Times, March 27, 2002.
—Matthew C. Cordon