WRITTEN BY VALENTINE J. BRKICH
Growing up, Mark Mishler ‘82 was convinced he’d have the opportunity to go to college. He just wasn’t sure how.
Coming from what he refers to as a “humble background,” Mishler’s parents had to work hard to support their five children in their home in Johnstown. His father, who dropped out of high school at 16 and later joined the army, eventually earned his G.E.D. and worked for the postal service. His mother, whom Mishler considers the bedrock of the family, emigrated from Japan in 1951 and worked in a factory stitching shoes. But Mishler never let obstacles stand in the way of his dreams. “I knew I could do whatever I wanted in life,” he says, “and I wanted to go to college.”
Today, he serves as president and chief operating officer of The Warranty Group, the world’s largest provider of extended warranty programs. And he says he owes much of his success to Robert Morris University. “This institution,” he says, “if I wouldn’t have come here… I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Mishler joined the army after high school, graduating in the top 5 percent of his basic training class and first in his advanced individual training course. With help from the military and financial aid, he enrolled at Cambria-Rowe Business College in Johnstown in 1978, where he earned an associate’s degree in insurance accounting and finance. He soon realized that a two-year degree just wasn’t going to be enough. He chose RMU because of its business program’s strong reputation.
After graduating with an accounting degree, Mishler took a job with an insurance company in Rockwood, Pa., working his way up from the accounts receivable department. His goal was to one day become the chief financial officer of a public company. “I felt that the only way to do that was to take on every opportunity that came down the road, and even ask for opportunity, because sometimes you’re just not going to have it handed to you; you have to reach out and grab it. And that’s just what I did.”
In the summer of 1996, Mishler was serving as a civil engineer in the National Guard for a combat engineer battalion when he went to Guatemala to help build roads and schools. It was a life-changing situation for him. “We were building schools with running water and electricity and giving those people hope so their children could get an education,” he says. “We went in and we carved roads out of mountains.”
Soon Mishler was recruited to be controller of a small insurance company in upstate New York that was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. He took on every position he could, trying to learn as much as possible, and in 1997, at the age of 38, Mishler achieved his goal of becoming a CFO. Not one to stay satisfied for long, Mishler then reset his goals and began his quest to be the president of a company. He joined The Warranty Group in Chicago in 2002, confident he’d achieve this new goal. “When I walked into that organization, I just looked around and said, ‘I can be the president of this company some day.'” Two years later, he realized that dream.
Through all of his success, Mishler has always held RMU dear to his heart. “What drove me for the rest of my career were the basic building blocks I received here at Robert Morris University,” he says. Now Mishler and his wife, Gina, are giving other RMU students the chance to go to college through two $5,000 scholarships named for his parents. The Kenneth Mishler and Tokiko Mishler scholarships, both established in 2009, are eligible to qualifying students from Mishler’s hometown of Johnstown.
The first Kenneth Mishler Scholarship went to Matt Varga, a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Association of Future Accountants, the honors and cooperative programs, and the rugby club team. The Tokiko Mishler Scholarship went to Marie George, also a member of the National Honor Society of Collegiate Scholars, Student Nurses of Pennsylvania, and the cross-country and track and field teams. “I was more impressed with these two individuals than I am with some of the individuals who have walked through the hallways of my own offices,” says Mishler.