Travelers CEO: Today’s Regulations, Taxes Would Have Killed Family Business That Sent Him to College

By Penny Starr | November 9, 2010 | 5:44 AM EST

Jay Fishman, chairman and CEO of The Travelers Companies, Inc., said his father's small printing business in the Bronx made it possible for him to go to college and go on to be one of the highest paid CEOs in the United States. He said his father probably could not start the business today because of federal regulations and taxes. ( Starr)

( – Jay S. Fishman, one of the highest paid CEOs in the United States, told top business leaders gathered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington that his father might not succeed in starting a small business if he were to do so today.

“I don’t think my father could start his printing business today,” Fishman, who made more than $20 million in salary, stocks and bonuses in 2009, said on Monday during the question-and-answer portion of his presentation on the record U.S. federal deficit.  “I think the regulatory, tax, and cost environment is such that he actually couldn’t get the darn thing started.”

Fishman is chairman and CEO of The Travelers Companies, Inc., a multi-national business with assets of $110 billion.  

His remarks came at the end of a speech that started with an emotional Fishman describing four generations of his family gathered around a kitchen table.

Fishman said his maternal grandmother came to the United States from Eastern Europe at 13 to work as a seamstress and eventually her siblings and parents immigrated here. His mother, father, and older sister were in the black and white photograph.

“I’m the son of a small business man,” Fishman said, choking back his emotions. “And I’m really talking about a small business. Enough so that he could pay the rent – quite literally the rent – and he could educate his kids.”

He said four generations of his family lived together in a two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.

“The dynamic of going from this picture in, I think, what is a generational blink of an eye, for me to be standing here on this stage in front of all of you and having the privilege of running a Dow 30 company is remarkable to me,” Fishman said.

“It’s – honest to God – it’s just remarkable to me,” Fishman said, adding that, “American opportunity” was what made his success possible.

Fishman said because of his hard work and good fortune, he felt compelled to speak out on the federal deficit and the need to reduce spending. Using data from the Congressional Budget Office, The Traveler’s Companies, Inc. analyzed the numbers.

He said that analysis paints a grim picture.

“This is not a next decade issue,” Fishman said. “This is here and now. Today. Right here. Time is not our ally.”

“The longer we wait, the more painful the resolution is going to be,” Fishman said. “I am convinced after looking at this data, if the question is asked whose ox is going to be gored? The answer is everyone’s. Because the problem is so comprehensive and so large that it’s impossible for small groups to solve this problem.”

Fishman presented a slide show of some of that analysis, including one entitled “Difficult Choices Need to Be Made,” which listed various scenarios that could reduce the federal deficit by 3 percent of GDP by 2015. Currently, the deficit represents 62 percent of the GDP.

The scenarios to reach that goal included raising individual taxes by 30 percent, raise all taxes by 15 percent, cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending by 25 percent, impose a Value Added Tax of 7.7 percent and cut discretionary spending by 40 percent.

Fishman also suggested that the Obama administration and Congress should look to economic experts in the private sector to find a long-term solution to the federal deficit.

When Obama held a summit of business leaders during his first year in office, he did not invite the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to participate. The Chamber represents some 3 million businesses in the United States, with 96 percent of member businesses having 100 or fewer employees.

Fishman’s company has 30,000 employees and representatives in the United States, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom (Britain).