Making a Difference Right Where You Are

Mike Armellino's involvement with BVMI began when he bumped into his neighbor, Sal Chazan, at the mailbox more than 10 years ago.  Sal, one of BVMI's founders, so impressed Mike with his description of BVMI that Mike wrote a $5,000 check to help get the idea off the ground. A subsequent lunch with Sal and Sam Cassell resulted in another generous donation, and Mike became a member of BVMI's Founders Circle.


Mike says his early support of BVMI was all about his relationship with Sal.  "I trust this guy. I saw him at meetings and we would frequently talk. I felt he was credible and it was that credibility that convinced me to make the first donation." 


Mike believes in the power of humility, hard work and trusting your gut. He grew up above a bar in West New York.  His father passed away when Mike was eight, but his mom - who worked in a knitting factory until she was 72 - inspired him.  A self-described "nerd," Mike was fascinated by economy and finance.  He attended the Wharton School of Business at Penn, then earned an MBA at NYU.           


After a 6-month stint in the army, Mike entered the reserves and launched his career on Wall Street.  He joined the investment research division at Goldman Sachs and quickly fell in love with job. "I was 25-26 years old and was regularly chatting with CEOs and CFOs all over about investments, the market, and so on. Most people never even meet their CEO, let alone regularly talk to them." 


Mike became partner in 1984. At the time, the partners at the firm would write each other notes on behalf of the charities they supported. At the urging of a colleague, Mike began giving large sums to a charity; when news broke that the organization was not using the money properly, Mike was devastated.  But he learned an important lesson: always do the research. 


Since then, Mike has approached philanthropy the same way he approached investment research. "Nobody comes to you with a charity that doesn't have merit. But, you can't give to everyone. And, more importantly, not every organization is doing the right thing. I have limited number of dollars. I am trying to maximize my impact. When I give to one organization, it's taking away from others who are very deserving." 


When you ask Mike why BVMI is special, it goes back to being about the people. "BVMI has a lot of volunteers who take time out of very busy schedules to help those who wouldn't get help otherwise. When I first got involved with BVMI, it was just an idea on paper. I trusted the people and still do. It's all about the people who are making the decisions and who are on the front line. Is that where you want to contribute? Where do I get the most bang for my buck? How do I help people the most efficiently?" 


Mike officially retired from Goldman Sachs 1994 and moved to Long Beach Island.  He says retirement has been busy - his three sons (and seven grandchildren) all live within an hour away. He comes back up north at least twice a month to go into New York City.


Mike raised his kids to believe in the power of giving back (his son, Peter, is also a supporter of BVMI) and is now instilling the same ideals in his grandchildren.  "Most of us who were fortunate enough to be born in America should remember that were born on third base and shouldn't think we hit a home run." 


When asked about the impact of BVMI, Mike says "I know BVMI is doing great stuff. You can't change the world but you have to start making a difference right where you are."  We at BVMI are fortunate indeed to have Mike right where we are.