Leaving the Rat Race to Pursue a Life With Fish

Rami Ordan left the relentless competition of life as an investment manager to open a fish bar and delicatessen

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Rami Ordan at his fish joint, July 2017.
Rami Ordan at his fish joint, July 2017. Credit: Eyal Toueg

“I grew up in Tiberias in a fishing house. Ever since I remember myself, I’ve been a fish,” says Rami Ordan, who actually abandoned his piscine personality for financing and broking, only to revert to the sea. His father was a fisherman, though he didn’t make much of a living from it. In any case, Ordan never thought about turning his fondness for fishing into a career.

After his army service, as a logistics officer, he began his trajectory in business. “I loved nature, art and photography, and I thought maybe I should study science. But a conversation with a vocational counselor sent me to business administration at the College of Management, on the grounds that I had to work with people,” says Ordan, who’s now 52.

“I completed my studies specializing in finance and marketing within two years (I did a summer semester), then I got an offer to work at Discount Bank. They asked me if I wanted to be a consultant or a manager, and I chose consulting. I had no idea what that meant, but for some reason a consultant sounded interesting to me.”

Ordan learned about securities and thus, just a little over 20, began his career in finance. He felt that his colleagues at Discount’s investment department, who had been on the job 20 or 30 years, didn’t appreciate the new guy. Practically every day he wanted to quit, but he toiled on and climbed the ladder, and after two years received a call from an insurance company, Menorah.

In the early 1990s, the insurance companies moved beyond designated bonds and began to invest in the capital market. They needed investment managers, and Ordan happily took the job at Menorah. He recruited one Shay Barak, then a young man in a hurry like himself. They built Menorah’s investment division.

Trauma at Migdal

Ordan advanced at Menorah, with rising pay and benefits, and got used to the good life. Then after three years he received an offer to run the investment division at a bigger insurance company, Migdal. He couldn’t turn it down.

“I was in my early 30s, earning a high salary with a responsible job and pressure,” he says. “In no time I got drawn into the rat race over achievements, positioning versus the competition, wages, success. I upgraded my standard of living again and again: I bought a big house and a second car, I traveled a lot abroad, I spoiled my children.”

But he paid a heavy price; those five fat years were also traumatic ones.

“I became a person defined by success and career. I felt that at any given moment I had to move forward. I neglected everything I loved – my family, fishing, photography, art. I worked all the time, under crazy pressure, and it was never enough. I was addicted to a career,” he says.

Rami Ordan and his then-business partner, Moti Maaravi, 2007.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

“During that period I established an amazing family with three children, and I was hardly with them. In retrospect I lost a lot. Today, my family and I are trying to bridge the 10-plus years of my disconnect but it isn’t enough.”

Now Ordan realizes the organizational culture was bad for him at Migdal.

“There was a lot of internal politics and a demand for achievement. Once per quarter I was put on trial about whether I had chalked up any achievements. I suffered endless frustration, pressures, anxiety and insults. My positions were ridiculed, my suggestions were rejected. Yet it didn’t occur to me to leave,” he says.

“I was in a very bad period mentally .... I got sucked in and couldn’t get out of the tailspin. Today, from the vantage point of age, all these wars seem so pointless.”

One scarring moment was a meeting over a five-year plan, ahead of which the actuarial department was supposed to give Ordan assessments about the number of expected policies. It didn’t. To avoid coming in empty-handed, his team made an assessment based on percentages, not nominal numbers.

The meeting began, with representatives of Generali, Migdal’s parent company. A top person at Migdal asked where the specific numbers were; Ordan mentioned the problem. “In reaction, he tore our report to pieces in a rage and said he was done with us,” Ordan says. Humiliated, he had to stand there in front of everyone and keep talking.

Ordan left Migdal after five years. “It took years off my life,” he says.

On his own

In 1998 he spread the word that he needed a job and met Yoav Kaplan of the investment firm IBI. He became manager of IBI Mutual Funds. A smaller family-type firm was more to his taste; he felt his creativity explode in creating financial instruments. Then, after a short stint at asset manager Investec, he struck out on his own. He wound up setting up an investment company with Aharon Cohen; Ordan owned one-third.

In 2003 he set up a company with Moti Maaravi in which they owned two-thirds and Kaplan one-third, but it didn’t really take off.

At the personal level Ordan felt calmer, but for the first time he was experiencing failures and wasn’t making as much money. “We went through another year of trials and then launched Shaharit, a structured financial instrument,” he says.

They did well and created a whole series of financial products that succeeded. They hit the market with nearly 2 billion shekels ($566 million) of structured products, which was considered a lot. “It was amazing. I was making money again and was excited, but then the anxieties returned . We were responsible for the livelihood of 30 families,” Ordan says.

Then came the financial crisis of 2008 and Lehman Brothers’ collapse. People lost faith in banks and Ordan’s company became pointless. After about a year it closed down.

Ordan decided the next thing should be property in Florida. He bought some housing and sold it at a profit. He opened a plant making doors in Georgia. For three years he ran that company and lived on planes between Tel Aviv and Atlanta.

“I tried a lot of stuff,” Ordan says, adding that he was constantly in fear. But he wouldn’t let that paralyze him.

Six months ago he returned to Israel, and people around him suffering from cancer put things in a new perspective. He decided to take time out and fish. Ordan lived off his savings and had no idea what to do.

“On the one hand, it was clear to me that I had to make decisions and do something, especially as I was attracted to the management and challenges of the capital market. But I had to find another direction, because the path I had taken led me to a dead end,” he says.

“On the other hand, I couldn’t break away from the sea. I wanted to spend the whole day on the boat I had bought with a partner and fish. As the days went by I felt that fishing gave me an amazing quality of life. When I took refuge in fishing, I felt like I was in meditation,” he adds.

“Then I had an idea. I decided to sell the fish I’d caught to at least cover the costs of the boat and fuel. I didn’t think of it in terms of a career. I didn’t think that I, with all my experience in the capital market, could become a fisherman. I bought equipment, a special freezer and a table for filleting and started to sell fish from a storage room in the house.”

Ordan also served as a director in all kinds of places but wanted to do something that would give him peace of mind. Customers for fish began to accrue. Yes, the storage room began to reek, but his wife toughened up.

Once reaching 60 customers, he began broking imported fish too. Suddenly he had a business involving logistics. After four months he decided to move the business away from home and open a fish bar and delicatessen named after his father, Lonnie. It opened this week.

Ordan had liked working in the markets but realized his heart wasn’t there. It was just work. Yes, he’s still terrified of failure. The restaurant could go belly up. But finally he feels complete. He feels at home.

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