The 2008 financial crisis put Mike Fierman out of business, but not out of ideas or motivation.
“I saw the recovery coming and seized the opportunity to buy assets cheaply. I started by raising $10 million, which is now in excess of $10.8 billion.” As Co-CEO and managing partner of Angel Oak Companies, Fierman oversees the asset management and lending companies, providing leadership and strategic direction as they continue on their growth trajectory. “And, yes, I put up my own money,” he said. “The skill base is converting distressed mortgages into real assets.”
In June, Yahoo Finance reported that “Angel Oak holds one of the largest books of servicing assets in the non-qualified mortgage market.” It is “adding talent and continuing to establish itself as a clear leader in the structured credit space.”
Backing up decades, Fierman is a native Atlantan. His inspiration, his mother who sold office furniture as a single mom, is the daughter of Harry and Sylvia Parks, part of the Mendel and Goldstein families.
He was a bit of a “wild child” and was marched off to military school in Virginia. He let off steam by boxing, later tended bar at Houston’s, and earned a political science degree at the University of Georgia.
His confidence stemmed from his ability to work for 100 percent commission as a “street sales guy.” He learned about the mortgage credit market to be able to delineate bad credit from “rotten” credit. From 1998 to 2007 he ran SouthStar Funding to cut his teeth on this niche market.
Now Angel Oak is headquartered in 13,000 square feet of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified space on Peachtree Road in Buckhead with offices nationwide and more than 720 full time employees.
Fierman travels around the world to close deals in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In the last few months, he has been to Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, the Netherlands and London. “Decisionmakers get to know us face to face. … I want to meet them in person. After all, who in Asia has heard of Angel Oak in Atlanta, Georgia?”
Often he travels with his partner, Co-CEO and chief investment officer Sreeni Prabhu, who was profiled in Barron’s two years ago. “We have the data on what kinds of loans defaulted in the past, and we use that to re-underwrite the loans we’re buying today, so that history doesn’t repeat itself,” Prabhu said.
Fierman added, “There is a pent-up demand for nonconforming mortgages as millennials enter the housing market. Government regulations have helped us as well.”
The company has a “vertically integrated team approach,” Fierman explained. “There are a lot of moving parts in running a company like this: HR, IT, and we have a great legal and compliance team headed by Dory Black, our general counsel, who graduated from Brandeis [University] then Emory Law School.”
When asked to define his talent and key to success Fierman demurs, “I’m pretty good at assessing risk. More importantly, I surround myself with really smart people. With our major growth trajectory, we are able to attract top talent from Wall Street to LA. We also hire locally from Georgia Tech and Emory Business School and are a very diverse company,” he said. “Many brilliant men and women are among our great thinkers. We often train our own talent by hiring summer interns who might turn into career employees.”
The golden-haired Fierman, a member of The Temple, is married with two teenagers and belongs to the Capital City Club, where “I play, at best, a mediocre game of golf.” Like father, like son. Fierman’s dad, a Georgia Tech grad, was a commercial Pan Am pilot. Mike flies his own Cirrus single-engine plane and zooms to his second home in the Bahamas, where he likes to fish and kiteboard.
Recently inducted into the prestigious Buckhead Coalition, Fierman looks forward to contributing to the community where he lives and works and “hanging out with cool folks like former Mayor Sam Massell,” who heads the Coalition.
When it comes to rearing children, Fierman’s advice to his 12- and 16-year-olds is “Never burn bridges and treat everyone the same.”
Seems to have worked well for this Buckhead CEO. In January, he was selected by Atlanta magazine as one of the “Top 500 Most Powerful Leaders in Atlanta.”