History of Mercury Insurance and its local presence

| February 28, 2019 | 0 Comments
MERCURY INSURANCE’S headquarters building opened on Wilshire Boulevard in 1986. Photo by Talia Abrahamson

The three-story, gray office building at 4484 Wilshire Boulevard with the Mercury Insurance sign might look unremarkable from the outside. But, it houses a rich history of Mercury Insurance’s presence in the local community and its founder, George Joseph, who is now the United States’ oldest billionaire.

Joseph was born in 1921 to Lebanese immigrants in West Virginia. He served in the Air Force during World War II and was later admitted to Harvard on the G.I. Bill. He graduated after three years in 1949 with majors in math and physics and began working for Occidental Life Insurance Company a few months later.


“All my life, all of my work has been in insurance since I graduated from college. I just liked the mathematics, and mathematics is very much involved in our business,” Joseph said in an interview with the Chronicle last month.

Eventually he quit Occidental Life Insurance Company, convinced that he could provide a novel system of insurance based on flexible factors to create fair rates for a variety of drivers.

“George Joseph was a visionary, and the thing about George is that he was determined,” said Windsor Square resident Judge James Kaddo, a fellow member of the local Lebanese community. “He saw a need, and he saw that he could fulfill the need, but like all entrepreneurs, he didn’t have the financial backing to go against the other companies.”

In 1961, after raising $2 million in capital to jumpstart his new auto insurance company, Joseph founded Mercury Insurance. He had amassed the needed funds from around the Los Angeles community.

“We did that by first getting an approval from the state’s Insurance Department to raise the capital, and then we did a lot of mailings, and we had a lot of meetings. We contacted people, and we had some help from a financial brokerage company. I don’t recall the name of it now, but it was a small broker. All local,” Joseph said.

He established the company from his house outside of Hancock Park with six employees and 90 agents. He opened his first office at 5455 Wilshire Boulevard, at the corner of Wilshire and Cochran Avenue, in the Miracle Mile. Mercury Insurance sold its first policy on April 1, 1962.

In 1964, Joseph moved into his home in Hancock Park.

“I always wanted to live in Hancock Park, from the time I came to Los Angeles. The beauty of the streets and the homes and trees and everything about it was unusual,” Joseph said.

Since then, the company has expanded throughout California and into 10 additional states. The company now has over 4,500 employees and more than 7,000 independent agents. It has branched out from strictly offering auto insurance to include home insurance, renters insurance and business insurance, among others, and its market value is approximately $3 billion.

Its corporate headquarters and principal executive offices are located near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Rossmore Avenue in the Park Mile.

“There was a vacant lot there, and I wanted to build a building,” Joseph said.

Mercury Casualty bought the property in 1983 from the now-defunct American Savings Association, formerly known as the American Savings and Loan Association, a victim of the S&L crisis of the late 1980s. After three years of construction, the current 36,000-square-foot office building on Wilshire Boulevard was occupied by Mercury General in December 1986.

“It’s a great place to have an office. It’s right on Wilshire, and a lot of our employees live in the area, and it’s convenient for them,” VP of Advertising and Public Relations Erik Thompson said.

The building currently houses about 150 employees, and the company leases remaining office space. The home offices of the subsidiary insurance companies and the information technology center are located in Brea, California, where there are an additional 2,000 employees.

The company keeps this Park Mile Wilshire location as its headquarters in part because Joseph, at 97 and still active as the Chairman of the Board of the Mercury General Corporation, comes into the office every day.

“I just monitor what’s going on in the company. Give advice. Talk to people who want to talk to me,” Joseph said.

With Joseph as a local resident, as well as many employees within the headquarters, the company is conscious of working within the mainly residential neighborhoods of Hancock Park and Fremont Place.

“Mercury Insurance and its founder, George Joseph, have been good neighbors for those of us who live in Fremont Place,” president of the Fremont Place Association Cam Davis said. “Recently, at the tender age of 97, Mr. Joseph personally attended our homeowners’ meeting. He agreed that we could restore a landscaped sidewalk on Mercury’s property in connection with an improvement the company needs to make to service their policyholders in the event of a catastrophic earthquake.”

Mercury Insurance interacts with the larger Los Angeles community through various community service initiatives. Representatives attend Habitat for Humanity events for Southern California residents, host packing parties for overseas troops, support public service messages –– for example the “Don’t text and drive” initiative –– and sponsor the Kings and Dodgers.

“At the time, insurance was this kind of one-size-fits-all car insurance. None of the companies really took into account driving record, location and all of these factors that have an impact on the risk of loss and on your risk of getting into an accident. Mr. Joseph was really a pioneer when it came to that and really set up the way modern day insurance is handled today,” said company spokesman Thompson.

Talia Abrahamson is a junior at Marlborough School.

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Category: People

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