How Mark Fishman has turned a passion for hard work and customer service into a top actuarial firm.
Mark Fishman was surprised to see his former boss in the lobby of the medical practice he was hoping to secure as a client. At that time, Mark had been an actuary for about 10 years, and was even more surprised to find out that he would be competing with said former boss for the medical practice’s business. As a third party administrator (TPA), Mark is used to assessing risk and avoiding surprises, but this had him a bit unnerved.
Surprises continued to fly at Mark, as the doctors representing the practice asked both Mark and his former boss to sit down and have lunch with them at the same time. The doctors began to ask Mark questions in front of his former boss while they were all eating, and it quickly became clear that he was being interviewed for the position right then and there. What’s worse, his former boss was taking notes. When the questioning shifted to the other candidate, Mark began to take notes as well, but his former boss quickly requested that Mark leave the room. The doctors thanked Mark for his time and asked him to leave. Not exactly ideal interview conditions.
“I was astonished, embarrassed, and upset that I let myself be played like that,” Mark recalls years later. “I couldn’t get this out of my head for days.”
“Over the years, I have received the gift of knowing that our firm provides for so many families to help them enjoy their lives and provide for their children.”
Losing the Battle, Winning the War
Time passed and Mark assumed he’d lost the client. But then, yet another surprise came Mark’s way, and it was finally a positive one. He got a call from the medical practice, and they let him know that his firm got the case.
“I asked the reason for this decision and they told me that the other TPA had a huge ego and spoke down to these doctors who were very prominent,” he said.
Anyone can attest to the difficulty of doing business with someone who’s full of themselves. But what Mark didn’t realize is that he must’ve been somewhat of an opposite of the egotistical man that sat next to him that day during lunch. The doctors must’ve seen something in him that made them want to do business with him—some innate quality that made him the opposite of egotistical: humble, relatable, and personable.
The medical practice meeting took place back in 1994. Now, more than 25 years later, Mark uses this humility and relatability to connect with numerous other clients. As a partner at Actuaries Unlimited, Inc., Mark helps determine liability, risk, cash reserve requirements, and premium levels for insurance companies. As a third-party administration and actuarial consulting company, Mark’s firm also designs and administers retirement plans such as Defined Benefit Plans, Cash Balance Plans, 401(k) Plans, and Profit Sharing Plans. They certify and make sure that these plans are in compliance with all of the governmental laws and regulations.
All of that sounds pretty complicated, right? Well, Mark understands that it can get a bit confusing for someone unfamiliar with the job.
“This is a very complicated and complex profession,” Mark says. “Many times the TPA’s explanations are confusing and unclear using our profession’s jargon, acronyms, and not being sophisticated enough to understand a client’s overall situation and what the objective is.”
That’s what makes Mark good at what he does, and it’s probably what swayed those doctors to hire his firm all those years ago. He wants to help clients thoroughly understand what he does, so he can better meet their needs and build a long-lasting business relationship. Being personable and likable can go a long way in any business transaction, let alone one as confusing and unexciting as one involving actuaries. Mark runs a successful firm that is federally licensed with employees practicing in nine different states. He is not only good at what he does, he is also good at relating to those with whom he works.
While these qualities are innate in Mark, there are several moments and people in his life that helped shape him into the person he is today. He credits his parents for his unwavering optimism, work ethic, and sympathy. Both his mother and father came to the U.S. as holocaust survivors—his father spent five years in a concentration camp, losing all but one of his 10 siblings in the process. His parents didn’t allow these painful tragedies to stop them from providing a better life for Mark.
“My dad and mom worked very hard to live a modest but good life in order to provide me with everything they could,” he says. “I developed their strong work ethic, dedication, and integrity to be successful and live a good life. They always looked toward the future and made family their priority since they lost their entire family in WWII. Everything was taken from them at early ages and they were still able to look to the future and be thankful for what they earned and for their freedom and opportunities they had here in the United States.”
Because of the values his parents instilled in him, Mark was able to turn his own work ethic into productivity, and a determination to get the answers he needed career-wise. He graduated from UCLA with a degree in mathematics, and started working in the aerospace industry as an electrical engineer. However, while attending graduate school in the evenings, he stumbled upon a flyer that peaked his interest.
“Use Your Math Skills. Become an Actuary,” it read.
A simple suggestion, but that was enough for Mark. He pulled out a phone book (no Google back then) and turned to the “A’s” in search of “Actuary.” Sure enough, he found Actuaries Unlimited, Inc., and gave them a ring. He had a straight-forward question: what does an actuary actually do? The receptionist told Mark there was no one available at the moment to answer his question, but he wasn’t ready to take no for an answer. He begged and pleaded with the receptionist, asking for just a minute of anyone’s time. She finally caved, and passed the phone off. A man (who would turn out to be the owner of AUI) picked up the phone, and Mark asked his question. They proceeded to talk for twenty minutes, and by the end of the call, the owner was urging Mark to apply for their entry level position at the firm. Looking back, once again, something about Mark resonated with his conversation partner. Whether it be over the phone or in person, Mark is able to relate, connect, and win over those he speaks to. He cares, and people realize it’s true.
Mark went in for the interview, and AUI offered him the position, though they could only offer half the salary he was making in the aerospace industry. But something about the actuary trade excited him, and he wanted a career shift, so he went with it. He stayed with AUI for a few years and then moved on to work at other firms, honing his skills and advancing his career. Seven years later, AUI called him up and asked him to come back. By this time, Mark was in his mid-thirties and wasn’t interested in just another position. So AUI offered him a partnership. He’s been with AUI ever since.
“My takeaways from all of this is: Don’t be afraid to make changes,” Mark reflects. “Take calculated risks, go with your heart, be persistent, have integrity, and impress your co-workers and those in positions above you.”
Getting Personal, Being Personable
If there is a downside to being so personable, it’s that lines tend to blur between work and home. When you make everything about personal relationships, where does work stop and life begin? That is the line that Mark has been attempting to walk throughout his career, navigating through more difficulties and tragedies. Mark has two adult sons, Evan and Cameron, who were forced to deal with the loss of their mother when they were just ages 13 and 11. Beyond grieving his ex-wife (they’d divorced five years prior), Mark had to learn how to be a single parent and support his sons through the unimaginable.
“I learned a lot about myself at that time,” Mark recalled. “I had to step up as a father, make my boys my priority over everything else and learn how to be organized as a parent and partner at my firm. I am grateful for my partners at AUI who allowed me to take care of my boys and be there for them when I needed to be.”
Today, Mark is still finding that balance. He’s been with his partner Carrie for more than 16 years—he met her on Match.com, after a bit of nudging and encouragement from his sons, and they love nothing more than to travel the world together. Mark has been all over: Israel, Greece, Italy, Germany, Poland, Czech-Republic, Turkey, and France to name a few. But even when he’s on vacation, he finds himself responding to emails from work. He finds it crucial to maintain those same personal connections that have helped build up his clientele in the first place.
“It’s very difficult when I have strong relationships with clients and referral sources that depend on having their retirement plan concerns answered and dealt with,” Mark says. “So I either respond as soon as I can or pass it on to other professionals in my firm who can. I feel that our high level of service and expertise is what separates us from our other competitors, so I continue this level of service even when I am traveling in other countries.”
A Day in The L.A. Life
Outside of traveling, Mark finds time for interests closer to home. Raised in L.A., he’s an avid Lakers and Dodgers fan. He’s been a season ticket holder for more than twenty years, and his office is full of L.A sports memorabilia (he has an original Sandy Koufax bobblehead!). While it pains him that he wasn’t able to witness it in person because of the pandemic, he was overjoyed to see both of his teams win championships in 2020.
He also prides himself on his passion for The Beatles, and deems “A Day in the Life” to be one of the greatest songs ever made. He knows every Beatles song, plays them for his kids, and whatever space in his office that isn’t taken up by L.A. sports memorabilia is covered in Beatles memorabilia. Ask him to tell you about one of the most memorable nights of his life, and he’ll recall a Paul McCartney concert at Dodger stadium where he had the pleasure of meeting a certain Liverpudlian.
“About 10 minutes before the concert started, they let in the VIPs and who had seats immediately behind me, but Ringo Starr and his wife Barbara Bach. As Ringo was about to sit down, I introduced myself to him, shook his hand and had a small conversation with him. Then later in the concert, Ringo left, went backstage and came out to play two of Paul’s encore Beatles songs. So in one night, I got to meet Ringo AND see him play with Paul McCartney on stage. That was a night I’ll never forget and was one of the highlights of my life.”
While striking the work/life equilibrium has been challenging, Mark ultimately finds the work rewarding. As a partner at his firm, he takes pride in his employees, and his personable nature allows him to build generational connections with folks.
“Over the years, I have received the gift of knowing that our firm provides for so many families to help them enjoy their lives and provide for their children,” Mark says. “We have seen so many employees going from being single, to married life, and then having children who grow up, go to college, and start their professional careers.”
The joy that Mark finds in seeing his employees flourish falls perfectly in line with what helped him succeed in this business in the first place: he cares about people, and more than that, he understands them. He’s seen hardship and tragedy throughout his life, and this has helped him understand that other people are all we’ve got. Talking down to others and placing yourself above them will you get you nowhere. Mark places himself on level ground with his family, clients and employees, and it’s worked out pretty well for him.
“Always be yourself,” he concludes. “Be real, do not oversell, keep it simple and speak in terms that are basic and understandable. Lucky for me, that comes easily and naturally.