Eight Questions w/ Mark Erickson

Mark F. Erickson is the COO of the Investment Office at Global Atlantic Financial Group, a leading insurance and reinsurance provider of retirement and life products. Global Atlantic separated from Goldman Sachs in 2013 and has rapidly grown to manage over $70 billion in assets. Prior to joining Global Atlantic in 2017, Mark spent eight years as Chief of Staff at Eton Park, a global, multi-strategy hedge fund, and over ten years at Goldman Sachs.


Mark is also the author of the photobook Other Streets: Scenes from a Life in Vietnam not Lived. Mark's photobook has been exhibited at the L.A. Center of Photography, the Davis Orton Gallery, and the Griffin Museum of Photography.


Mark was born in Saigon in 1972, evacuated as part of Operation Babylift in April 1975, and was adopted by an American family in western New York. He went back to live in Vietnam in 1993 and graduated from Harvard College with a BA.




> What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?


Travel the world. Go to Vietnam. Only take classes from professors that interest you. Do more artwork. Talk to strangers. Ask Julia out on a date. Read for pleasure. Funny that you should ask this question, as I wrote up a one-page 101 Lessons I Learned as a Financial Analyst when I was 24 years old, and it is still circulated around Wall Street today.



> What is the one piece of advice you would give to young people who want to enter the banking industry?


You asked for one and I'll give you two. First, banking is not rocket science. Everything that you really need to know can be learned on the job. It's an apprenticeship, so it's really important that you are hired and surrounded by people who like you, will train you, and are invested in your success. Second, every industry has its own culture. Banking is dominated by a lot of driven, demanding, risk-taking, and performance-oriented people. Make sure that's an environment that you not only like, but will thrive in.


It's really important that you are hired and surrounded by people who like you, will train you, and are invested in your success


> To date, what professional achievement are you most proud of?


I am very proud of the business we are building here at Global Atlantic. This business didn't exist ten years ago and now we have over one thousand employees serving over two million policyholders. Our success is driven by the superior track record of our investment performance. When I joined three years ago, we had $40 billion and today we have $70 billion.



> What personal achievement are you most proud of?


First, after graduation, I married my college girlfriend and we have seven children. I am very proud of them. Second, last year, I finally completed a multi-year project to put my photographs from Vietnam into book form. I studied documentary photography under two accomplished photographers, Chris Killip (UK) and David Goldblatt (South Africa). The book has been very well received critically within the photographic and arts communities. It is an expression of my personal impression of Vietnam as an overseas Vietnamese adoptee returning to Vietnam and experiencing the country and the people for myself. In America, Vietnam has been portrayed through the single lens of the war and Vietnamese people have figuratively and literally have had few if any speaking parts in these productions. Viet Thanh Nguyen, in his book Nothing Ever Dies, notes that the counter-narrative of the dominant can be achieved through the arts, wherein Vietnamese people can portray themselves and the complexity of their own stories.



> What invention do you hope to see in your lifetime?


Can we start with a cure to Covid-19? Selfishly, there would be two inventions that would make travel to Vietnam easier for me: first, a re-introduction of commercially viable speed-of-sound air travel and, second, live-time translation as my attempts to learn Vietnamese in the past have utterly failed. Separately, in the United States, I'd like to see a re-invention of the criminal justice system. It's really broken, but I hope that the moral and financial benefits can overcome the political barriers to making that happen.



> What changes do you hope to see for Vietnam in the coming years?


I'd love to see a further expansion of the economy and personal freedoms like we have seen in other Asian countries for the betterment of all Vietnamese people, such that we don't have news like the 39 tragic Vietnamese deaths in the UK back in October. So much has happened over the past 20 years and I can't wait to see what the next 20 years will bring.



> What is your favorite book?


My three favorite Vietnamese fiction books that I have enjoyed over the last couple of years are: Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer (2015), Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (2019), and I just finished Nguyen Phan Que Mai's The Mountains Sing (2020). In addition, Viet Thanh Nguyen's Nothing Ever Dies (2016) is a non-fiction, mind-blowing, intellectual, re-examination of how we remember and commemorate the war.


My three favorite photo books are: Robert Frank's The Americans (1958), Bruce Davidson's Brooklyn Gang (1959), and Josef Koudelka's Gypsies (1975). If you are familiar with those books, then you will understand the type of documentary photography / photojournalism that has influenced my work.



> What is a lesson you learned the hard way?


When I first showed my photographs to potential publishers, I got rejected by all of them. Every. Single. One. Fortunately, the photographic community has a long and rich history of self-publishing. After many years, this is what I decided to do with my book Other Streets. It was scary but, with enough confidence in the quality of my own work and the drive to bring it to fruition, it all came together and worked out for me. The lesson I learned was that book publishers and art galleries are businesses and are in it for the money (not a bad thing) and that my work, in their eyes, was not commercially viable (unknown artist, niche subject, and anachronistic style). Completing the work for myself (and not for a publisher or a gallerist) was a reward in and of itself. The downside was that publishing houses know how to market their authors, which I don't, so getting my work seen by more people has largely been a word-of-mouth exercise. For the people who have heard about it, I am thrilled that they have been really moved by my work. For overseas Vietnamese people, many of whom left with no personal photographs of their childhoods, it provides a sort of community photo album over which families and friends can reminisce.



Bonus > What is your favorite Vietnamese food?


If I could eat pho every day like I did in Vietnam, that would make me very happy.



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> Website: https://markferickson.com/

> LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/in/mark-erickson-529a491/

> 101 Lessons: https://wenku.baidu.com/view/b69a75f9aef8941ea76e0599