Legend: George Joseph
May 5, 2021
Joanna England

Legend: George Joseph

We profile founder and chairman of the Board of Mercury General, George Joseph...

 George Joseph was born on September 11th 1921 and will celebrate his 100th birthday later this year.

The self-made insurance billionaire has a net worth of $1.9bn, accrued over a long and illustrious career that literally saw him start right at the bottom of the ladder. 

Born to Lebanese immigrant parents, Joseph’s father worked as a coal miner and a shopkeeper during the Great Depression, his family also raised pigs and chickens. It was a tough existence and as soon as he was old enough, Joseph joined the airforce and trained as a B-17 navigator in WWII, serving in an estimated 50 missions. 

In 1946, Joseph married Gloria Joseph and the couple had five children together. Gloria is now listed as one of the 50 richest Angelinos following the 50/50 split of the marital assets after their subsequent divorce in 1984.

Four years after they were married, Joseph, who had a natural aptitude for maths and physics, graduated from Harvard. After university he applied for a job at the Los Angeles-based Occidental Life Insurance company. 

They offered him a position as a systems analyst, and after his day job, he took on additional hours selling life insurance door to door. 

It was during this time that Joseph conceptualised the idea of a different form of insurance as his door-to-door customers kept asking about other types of cover. 

Joseph went back to his bosses and pitched the idea of more types of cover, but they didn’t take his ideas seriously, and as a result, Joseph quit Occidental and branched out on his own. 

In 1952, Joseph formed the Mercury Insurance agency - and 60 years later, the company has $4bn in assets and employs more than 4,000 agents. 

He appointed his wife Gloria as Vice President of the company - a position she held until their marriage ended. 

Joseph has been a disruptive force in the insurance business since his entry - and in December 2012 earned himself the name ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’. The name-calling followed a surcharge scandal that saw consumer watchdogs stepping in and preventing what would have amounted to an $89m hike on premiums for customers. 

Joseph was also active early in his career - particularly through his opposition to the California Proposition 103 which regulated providers of insurance to individuals in California. Joseph campaigned to roll back parts of the law in 1913, and argues that the law increased litigation in the insurance industry as well as restricting competitive practices.  

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