Spend any time with Michael Allocco and you’ll realize he’s a numbers guy. Give him a program, a diagram, and some digits, and Mike’s in heaven, he will find a way to make it all add up. You can count him in.
But not that long ago, (or was it), counting the minutes was Mike’s only focus. Those were the minutes until his dad returned. Not return home, but instead back to the TV repair shop, where Mike’s father had left him, and where young Mike was now actively watching the clock and the minutes tick away, hoping no one besides his old man would walk in the door.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Mike. “My dad went to night school on the GI bill after serving in WW II. He ended up opening a TV store and repair shop. I started working there at about the age of 12. My dad left me alone to watch the store while he went out on service calls. The first day he asked me to do it, I was scared to death. I knew he’d be out two hours or more on this repair job and I stood there in the store, praying no customers would show up. But then some nice lady walks in to pick up her TV which had recently been repaired, and I was almost paralyzed, ‘yellow or white, white or yellow?’ “I agonized over which copy of the repair slip she was supposed to get,” he laughs.
But the experience also taught Mike some valuable lessons. First, he knew he would have to get better, and he did. Before he knew it Mike’s dad had his teenage son reviewing the financials for the TV store, “looking at the books”, as Mike refers to it. “I didn’t know what I was looking at at first,” he says, but eventually Mike figured it out and it was the beginning of his experience in business and a passion that has carried him forward through many years of financial success. “For me, it was my greatest lesson – learn by doing,” says Mike.
Today, Mike serves as Chief Operating Officer at USHEALTH Advisors, after working three years prior as the head of Strategy and Enterprise Risk Management, instrumental in some of the biggest growth the company has experienced. If they sound like big titles, they are… and they come after years working as a portfolio manager and chief investment officer for other companies. It is part of a career, for Mike, rooted deep in the numbers game. This love of numbers, of sales, of managing risk, of business turnarounds – of fixing what’s broken, or taking the strategy already in place and making it better – has fueled Mike’s career.
We’re all a product of our upbringing so Mike comes to his business strategy acumen naturally, or maybe genetically, after spending his formative years simply strategizing on how he was going to get into the bathroom of his childhood home.
“I grew up in a household with seven people, five kids, in a big Italian-American family,” says Mike. “We had an 18-hundred square foot house with only one full bath, and one half-bath. It was insane. Showering in the morning was like an assembly line. You didn’t want to be the last to get in in case the hot water ran out.”
“It was a family with all the Italian traditions, a big extended family, holidays were huge, birthdays were huge, everything was huge, except the house. The good part was we were so close to New York, I didn’t think anything of making the 10-minute walk to the train station and taking the train to Hoboken, then ride the tubes to midtown Manhattan. I never really thought twice about it. I thought every city was like New York City.”
The big apple was also the place where Mike could immerse himself in one of his greatest loves… hockey. “My friends and I used to go to Madison Square Garden to see what new hockey equipment was coming out that year,” says Mike. “I played hockey for a number of years, all the way through high school. We didn’t have All-State players back then because only about half the state played the sport, but I was an All-Area hockey player, the team captain, and I led in goals scored. I was offered a scholarship to Lawrenceville Prep School in New Jersey, but in my senior year of high school I tore up my right knee and they pulled the scholarship. But I was always known as a hockey player.”
With skating for a hat trick no longer an option, Mike opted instead to head south to Tampa and attend the University of South Florida. He majored in business management, with a concentration in management information systems. “I’ve always been very analytical,” says Mike.
But knowing it was a numbers game to make a good living, right out of college Mike decided to go into sales with a company called Wallace computer services. “We opened up an office in Orlando, which didn’t exist before and it became an exercise in persistence,” he says. “We didn’t have any clients. You had to build your book calling on businesses, from 8 am to however late at night, and learn how to build relationships. It was all face-to-face.”
“I’d go into an office tower, start on the top floor and knock on every door until I reached the bottom floor and got someone who would talk to me. You had to get a reason to call somebody back or to go back to them for a meeting. It was a great experience. I learned how to sell from almost nothing, where no one knows you or the company – and so we built that office from scratch.”
But his Italian family back in Jersey, had an itch they were trying to scratch – and that was getting Mike back home and into the bosom of his la famiglia. “I ended up going back home because the pull of the family was so strong,” says Mike. “I love my family but I quickly learned you can’t necessarily go home again.”
“I needed to get out and do something else, and while Wallace wanted me to work in New Jersey, I opted to go into the management training program at Allstate Insurance. I thought that was interesting, to learn more about business by being in business.” Just like he had done more than a decade before when he was handling repair tickets, and keeping his eye on the store and the financials at his dad’s TV shop.
You never know when the skills you learned earlier in life, ones that were difficult, or maybe at the time seemed inconsequential, can manifest themselves in a new place, or lead you to a chance meeting, one that can impact your life down the road.
Allstate was where Mike met Troy McQuagge, the future CEO of USHEALTH Group & USHEALTH Advisors.
“I had ended up back in St Petersburg, Florida with Allstate – rotated through all the divisions in the advanced management development program, and it was time to pick a path. So I chose sales, (again), and got licensed for property and casualty and life and health. Troy was running a district and asked me to work in one of his agencies.”
It was an omen of things to come.
Sales is a numbers game, but after the numbers didn’t add up because of what Mike calls, “the most short-sighted business decision I ever saw” by one of his sales managers, (not Troy :)), Mike made a turn to the north and headed back to higher education.
At the age of 32, and in search of a top-of-the-line finance program, Mike enrolled in graduate school at the University of Chicago School of Business. It was a decision that would affect the trajectory of his life. This time the numbers made sense, and in this case, the magic number was four, four beautiful minds.
Mike says, “at the time I attended the business school in 1993, there were four Nobel laureates on the faculty. I took classes with some of them or people mentored by them. It’s not often you get four Nobel laureates on the faculty all starting at the same time. It was very, very humbling. One of them was Gary Becker, who I consider one of the greatest economists ever. He wrote his doctoral thesis on human capital, something which we know today is critical to success. But back then, only the balance sheets mattered in business. The idea that humans were important in business was so radical that some of Becker’s contemporaries thought he should be institutionalized because this thinking was so out there. It’s proof that new thinking and new ideas are not accepted immediately.”
Mike’s experiences at grad school and an internship at Raymond James became a springboard to a two-decade-plus career in finance and management. But it was during a lull in the action, in 2017, that Mike received a call from his old friend Troy.
“It was literally out of the blue on a Saturday morning,” says Mike. “Troy called and we chatted for about an hour or so. He was looking for some input on USHEALTH Advisors, which was going to be making some changes in ownership. Besides trading some e-mails back and forth over the years, Troy and I hadn’t spoken in ages, but the conversation was easy,
as if no time had passed and we were still working together at Allstate. And I still remember where I was two weeks later, heading to see some friends in Tampa and connecting in the Atlanta airport when Troy called again. He said, ‘can I convince you to come back to the insurance business?’”
After flying down to meet with Troy in Texas, then meetings in New York and Arizona, Mike was offered the opportunity to join USHEALTH Advisors, first working in Strategy and Risk Management and then moving into his current role as Chief Operating Officer.
After crunching the numbers, Mike says joining USHA was a good choice. “It was an easy decision to come here,” says Mike. “I started looking at the financials and went back to the database I used for years and years – putting in the parameters for growth over a period of time and return on equity – and the program then gave me the companies that had the same parameters. Of eight thousand or more companies, USHEALTH Advisors would have been in the top seven!”
It wasn’t just the numbers that attracted Mike but the focus on the same doctoral thesis economist Gary Becker had explored years before, the most important thing in business, human capital, putting people before profits. A place where HOPE mattered would become Mike’s new home.
And if handled right, Mike says there is no end in sight. “We have an opportunity to be much more than a multi-billion dollar company. There’s no limit on the number of agents we can recruit. And in the states where we sell and have a footprint, but no physical offices, the growth is unlimited.
For Mike, the numbers at USHA all add up, and from the numbers guy, that’s saying a lot. Yet despite all the success Mike has experienced in the black-and-white world of finance, if you ask him about his greatest accomplishment, it’s the colors that fill his mind and his heart.
“My greatest challenge and accomplishment in life, is raising my kids,” says Mike. “Having gone through a divorce I’ve always wanted to stay as close as possible to them and to be a mentor and a role model – and help them avoid the scar tissue we all get as you are learning life out there on your own. My son, Christian loved football and basketball as a kid and chose to focus on football when he went to Jesuit school and did two missions with his class. He’s now a sophomore at the University of Arkansas and wants to do entrepreneurship. My daughter, Madeline is a real foodie and she recently graduated from Northeastern University in Boston with a Health major and a minor in nutrition. She’s applying to medical schools. I’m extremely proud of both of them. My kids have turned out really well, mission accomplished so far.”
At the end of the day, while he’s great at counting the numbers, Mike finds his greatest satisfaction, as we all should, in counting his blessings.
For those special things in life, there are no limits.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.