Remember the scene from “Thank You for Smoking” when Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) goes to Hollywood to meet with the eccentric super agent Jeff Megall (played by Rob Lowe)? That’s sort of how I felt upon entering the Fisher Brothers Management Company. After all, it’s not often that you see a Koi fish pond in a business lobby – especially one on the 42nd floor of a mid-town Manhattan high-rise.
And while the man I met with was arguably as eccentric, unlike Lowe’s character – who wants to put cigarettes in movies – Arnold Fisher's passion is to build houses to support more than 10,000 military families.
I met with Mr. Fisher for breakfast on Monday when I was in New York. Fisher is a no-nonsense businessman with the confidence, charisma, and mature looks and swagger that could best be described as Jack Welch meets Charlton Heston. When we met, his red necktie matched red socks, and he wore a huge 1996 New York Yankees World Series ring (he knows Steinbrenner) – a conversation starter, for sure.
Though I started talking baseball, Fisher quickly changed the subject business. More specifically, his concern that thousands of servicemen and women are returning from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury (TBI), complex psychological health issues, and/or post traumatic stress disorder.
To help address this problem, just last month, Mr. Fisher and a host of officials and officers, broke ground on the National Intrepid Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (NICoE) at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.
Fisher is about currently half-way to raising the $75 million needed to complete the state-of-the-art facility. “I’m basically on the circuit,” he explains. Fisher tells me he still needs donations from true American patriots who believe we owe it to our Wounded Warriors coming back from overseas the best medical facilities in the world. Those interested should go to http://www.fallenheroesfund.org/ or call 800-340-HERO.
Unlike most charities, 100 percent of contributions to Fisher’s organization go directly to the mission. How can he guarantee this? At the end of the year, Fisher and the other members of his board of directors sit down and writes checks to cover the overhead expenses.
But as Fisher explains to me, just providing medical care for the troops isn’t enough. It’s important to have a place for their family to stay -- otherwise, the injured troops won't want to stay put long enough to recover. As such, to augment the center, Ken Fisher, Chairman of the Fisher House Foundation, announced the Fisher House Foundation would build three Fisher Houses (a similar idea as Ronald McDonald houses) so that the families of military personnel can be close to their loved ones during their medial treatment.
The Fisher House program provides "comfort homes," built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers that enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times - during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury.
This is the second project of this kind the IFHF has taken on. In January 2007, it opened a center to treat physical injuries called the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas.
Though the government steps in once the facilities are built, Fisher strongly believes his business acumen is needed to actually get the facilities built. “Nobody has any guts,” he says, “Nobody says, ‘that’s right, let’s do this'." He also adds: “If politicians come in here, it’d take us ten years to build this.”
Fisher has long had a passion for helping our troops. Previously, he was involved with the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which gave $10K to every spouse and $5K to every child of a fallen soldier. Fisher believes this organization played a vital role in encouraging the government to increase the paltry $6K they used to give strictly to spouses.
And now, he has focused his attention on helping those who have suffered traumatic brain injury. “We have to help these young people coming back with a signature wound of this war … it’s our responsibility,” he tells me.