Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg
Jay Fishman – Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Jay Fishman, executive chairman and former CEO of The Travelers Companies, has died. The company he transformed into a major industry player and led for years disclosed the news on Aug. 19.

“We are greatly saddened by the loss of our esteemed colleague and friend,” John Dasburg, Fishman’s successor as non-executive chairman of the board, said in prepared remarks.

Fishman had been suffering from Lou Gherig’s disease, a terminal neurodegenerative condition also known as ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Fishman, 63, was CEO of Travelers when he first announced in November 2014 that a “neuromuscular condition” would force him to reduce activities not directly related to Travelers. In August 2015, he announced he would step down as CEO of Travelers, and did so on Dec. 1, becoming executive chairman in a role he served until his death.

Fishman said he tried to keep a positive outlook on his declining condition.

“I just decided early on, once you get over the dynamic of how horrible it is, you get to [a place where you can say] ‘Okay, what are we going to do today. What are we going to do today, and how are we going to make it a good day,” Fishman said during an Aug. 5, 2015 conference call after announcing his CEO resignation.

In July, the Associated Press reported that Fishman had reached a point where he was using a wheelchair to get around, and had sometimes used a portable ventilator to help with breathing. At the same time, he continued to focus on philanthropy, relying on events such as the Travelers Championship PGA golf tournament to raise money and awareness about ALS.

Alan Schnitzer, the man who replaced Fishman as CEO, said that Fishman was a rare, transformational kind of leader.

“Jay led Travelers with an eye towards more than just success as it is traditionally measured. In part because of that philosophy, he led Travelers to unprecedented success by every measure,” Schnitzer said in a prepared statement. “Though he would be too humble to admit it, Jay was an icon among corporate leaders. As his friend, I’m grateful to Jay for his mentorship and counsel. As his successor, I’m grateful to Jay for everything he did to set the stage for our company’s future success. I’ll miss my dear and close friend, and on behalf of all of us at Travelers, our hearts go out to his wife of nearly 40 years and childhood sweetheart Randy Fishman, Jay and Randy’s children and their beloved grandchildren.”

Fishman had been Travelers CEO since the April 2004 merger of The St. Paul Companies, Inc. with Travelers Property Casualty Corp. Fishman took on the added role of chairman in Sept 2005. Additionally, from October 2001 until April 2004, Fishman was chairman, CEO and president of The St. Paul Companies. He held several key executive posts at Citigroup from 1998 to October 2001, including chairman, CEO and president of its Travelers insurance business.

During that Aug. 5, 2015 conference call, Fishman said he was lucky to work at Travelers, a place where he found plenty of support as his condition became known. He said he was lucky to have been there.

“As I reflected on it, [I concluded] that this is my family. It’s not my only family but it’s where I have spent most of the hours for the past 20-odd years and made good friends and it’s just been spectacular,” Fishman said. “Where else would I want to spend that time? It’s just the right place for me….”

Topics Leadership