Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Cantor Fitzgerald Regains Its Grip,"

September 8, 2002, New York Post, "Cantor Fitzgerald Regains Its Grip,"

-- A bronze hand, missing two fingers and discolored by the inferno that destroyed the World Trade Center, sits in Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick's office.
One of several casts made in the early 1990s of company founder Bernie Cantor's palms, the hand that fell a quarter of a mile to earth serves as just one reminder of the horror and human loss from the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

About one-quarter of the more than 2,800 people killed in New York that day worked for the bond broker or one of its subsidiaries.

One year later, Lutnick says, the company has firmly found its grip.

"It was so beyond sadness," said Lutnick, recalling that clear, bright blue September morning.

Cantor, its electronic trading subsidiary eSpeed, and energy unit TradeSpark lost 658 people - every person who had arrived at work by 8:45 a.m., and about two-thirds of its New York staff of 1,050 - before American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower just below Cantor's offices on the 101st through the 105th floors.

Famous for its nepotism, the company lost 20 sets of siblings.

Late getting to work after driving his son to kindergarten, Lutnick scrambled to the base of the north tower and waited in vain to find an employee who made it out. He lost his brother, Gary, and his best friend, Doug Gardner.

"The events of September 11th were unthinkable," Lutnick said.

At his current third-floor offices in a modest Manhattan skyscraper on 57th Street, about 100 stories closer to the ground, Lutnick is relaxed, dressed in a crisp blue Oxford shirt, black slacks, his thinning black hair slicked back.

Another bronze hand in Lutnick's office that survived the World Trade Center catastrophe retains its coal-black color and shine. It was reminiscent of the hue on what was once the world's largest private collection of Rodin sculptures, which was mostly destroyed in the attacks.

Long lionized as one of the toughest traders on Wall Street and demonized in the days shortly after the attacks for swiftly cutting lost employees from company payrolls, Lutnick says he remains fiercely loyal to the families.

"This isn't Harvard Business School analysis, this is the real thing," Lutnick said. "Our friends got killed and of course the people who work here are going to be completely committed to them. What else would they be?"

A promise made to victims' families to pay out 25 percent of Cantor's profits for five years fell on deaf ears to critics who believed the company would fail. But it gave eSpeed workers a clear mission, Lutnick said.

The company, together with additional money raised by the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, will have paid out about $28 million to the families by this Sept. 11. The company has promised to cover health care benefits of the victims' families for 10 years.

But Lutnick does not just beam about the Cantor "family" and the promises he intends to keep. He huffs and puffs about being back in business.

A wide flat-panel screen displays rapid-fire news headlines and frenetic and flickering bond market quotes, as Lutnick bolts up out of his chair to point out eSpeed's stock price. At around $9.40 Friday, the stock trades above where it closed the day before the hijackers destroyed the twin towers.

Miraculously, eSpeed's system was back online two days later and eSpeed turned its first profit in the last three months of 2001. The company has been profitable since.

Cantor, through eSpeed, has also clung to its title as the leading middleman between big banks and securities firms in the $3 trillion U.S. government bond market.

Reviled in the past by those who suggested he aggressively seized control of the company in 1996 from his mentor Bernie Cantor when Cantor was ill, Lutnick says Sept. 11 transformed him into a fund-raiser and part-time counselor.

"Did I change? Of course. But the direction I went was the only one that my heart and my mind would let me go," Lutnick said.

Lutnick points to a framed montage posted on his office wall of eSpeed's top management, prepared before Sept. 11 for an annual report package but never published.

Lutnick says he now spends Thursday and Sunday nights with Michael Gardner, Doug's son, together with his own son. Lutnick's wife, Allison, organizes monthly gatherings of the 46 fiancees who lost their partners-to-be and the 38 women who had babies since the attacks.

"It will forever hurt," Lutnick says, sinking down a bit in his chair, the ends of his fingers touching one another below his chin. "It will be a nightmare that will never go away."


© NEW YORK POST is a registered trademark of NYP Holdings, Inc. NYPOST.COM, NYPOSTONLINE.COM, and NEWYORKPOST.COM are trademarks of NYP Holdings, Inc. Copyright 2002 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.
Original date: Sept. 8, 2002


No comments: