Unbreakable bonds

The Star-Ledger, September 10th, 2003

The Star-Ledger Archive COPYRIGHT © The Star-Ledger 2003

Date: 2003/09/10 Wednesday Page: 057 Section: BUSINESS Edition: FINAL Size: 1827 words

Two years after 9/11, Cantor Fitzgerald survives - and has not forgotten its lost, or those they left behind


Sometimes, the entries are wistful and brief.

"Good morning Johnny G.," wrote Monica, who signed herself as a co-worker and friend.

Other messages on the employee memorial Web site at Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond brokerage that occupied floors 101 to 105 in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, are intense and personal, like private jottings in a diary accidentally left open.

"Hey Chappy," wrote Irene Boehm of West Hempstead, N.Y., whose husband, Bruce, a bond trader, died Sept. 11, 2001, their 19th wedding anniversary.

Having just returned from a trip with her two daughters to Cancun, Mexico, Boehm logged on to the Cantor site to "chat" with her husband and keep him up on things - a daily ritual.

"You would have loved the outside bar overlooking the ocean," she wrote. "Remember when we were in Florida and we found the only outside cafe between Palm Beach and Lauderdale? Well, I pictured you sitting at the outside bar looking at the ocean and enjoying a beer."

The Web site was created by Cantor to commemorate the 658 employees killed in the terrorist attacks two years ago tomorrow. One thing is clear: Time has done little to heal the wounds of Sept. 11.

But the fact that the Web site exists - that Cantor Fitzgerald still exists - brings a degree of comfort to the "Cantor families," the collective name for all the husbands and wives and children and relatives and friends who lost loved ones that day.

"For me, knowing that Cantor is doing good business and thriving still almost extends the life of my husband," said Mary Ellen Salamone of North Caldwell, whose husband, John, was a Cantor broker and father of three. "If Cantor went under, then all of John's work, his career - everything - would be gone.

"Knowing Cantor is still there . . . it's comforting."

Cantor is still very much in business, still one of the world's biggest brokers of foreign exchange and bond deals, on track to earn $110 million in profit this year. And it is still making good on its pledge to donate 25 percent of profits to victims' families, along with 10 years of health-care coverage.

Indeed, Cantor's publicly traded electronic brokerage subsidiary, eSpeed, has benefited richly from this year's bull market in bonds. The stock, which began trading back in 1999, is up almost 190 percent since Sept. 11, closing at $24.83 yesterday.

But if this makes it sound like the company has recovered from the attacks, it hasn't.

"Emotionally, it's still the same," said Mark Lewis, 32, a vice president of Cantor's government bond desk, who was running late that morning and arrived just in time to look up at the black smoke pouring out of the building.

"Two years have gone by and it's really scary because it's still as sad today as it was then," said Lewis, who lives in Upper Montclair. "I think about it constantly, and there are days when I want to break down and cry."

NUMBING STATISTICS Every Cantor employee who was at work Sept. 11, 2001, died when a hijacked plane tore through the tower. The victims' statistics are numbing: Among those killed were the parents of 953 children; the husbands of three who gave birth Sept. 11; the husbands of 38 pregnant women.

The list also includes 20 sets of relatives, including 10 sets of siblings, and 400 people whose wives and husbands are now widows and widowers. The dead included senior partners and trading clerks, software designers and bond brokers, receptionists and mailroom clerks. All told, the company lost 65 percent of its New York work force.

The only survivors were people who were on vacation, out of the office sick or on business or running late for work.

People like the company's chairman and chief executive, Howard Lutnick, who had taken the morning off to escort his son to kindergarten. Or Lewis, who had taken some clients to a Yankees game the night before and forgot to reset his alarm clock after it accidentally went off at 3 a.m. Or Amy Nauiokas, Cantor's director of marketing, who overslept and was 10 minutes late.

Immediately after the disaster, Nauiokas set up an office in her Manhattan apartment and started working from there. Her former assistant, who had left Cantor in July and was living in Boston, rang her doorbell and rejoined the firm that day. "She stayed on permanently," Nauiokas said.

Indeed, a lot of former employees who had taken sabbaticals or early retirements came back to help rebuild the company.

All 10 of Nauiokas' marketing colleagues were killed - people she had hired and trained, her friends. She hangs their photographs in her temporary office on the sixth floor of 135 E. 57th St., several miles north of Ground Zero.

That was the Cantor culture, she said. Hire your friends. Hire your family.

Many spouses lost not only husbands and wives that day, but also brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts. Some parents lost two sons or daughters.

"Because we were a private partnership, we grew from a family model," she said. "It was typical to hire relatives and good friends, people you worked with in the past. That's the way managers did things. We didn't have any rules against nepotism."

CANTOR'S PLEDGE That is why the company's pledge to share a quarter of its profit for five years with the families has proven just as therapeutic for battle-scarred employees as it has for the victims' relatives.

And like last year, Cantor Fitzgerald and eSpeed said yesterday they will donate 100 percent of their Sept. 11 revenues to the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund for victims' families. Last year, the charity day raised more than $5 million.

For employees, many of whom survived the attacks by sheer happenstance, such acts of generosity have given them a newfound mission and sense of purpose.

"When Howard (Lutnick) made that commitment to share 25 percent of the profits of the firm on Sept. 19, eight days after the attacks, it was like, 'Okay, now I understand what I'm working for,'" Nauiokas said. "That's what got us through, gave us a purpose."

The pledge also drew idealistic newcomers to the firm. Tom Ryan, 29, joined eSpeed as a marketing and sales coordinator shortly after the attacks.

"I am honored to roll up my sleeves and help them rebuild and help the firm succeed and honestly my willingness to work extra hard is knowing that 25 percent of my efforts are going to the families and commitment the company made," he said.

As of June 30, Cantor had disbursed nearly $120 million to families of employees killed in the attack.

For the past 24 months, Cantor, which acts as a go-between for Wall Street dealers and banks that want to trade stocks, bonds and money-market assets, has been working at a steady pace, trying to rebuild what was lost, Nauiokas said.

Today, it employs about 500 people and has narrowed its business focus - effectively splitting itself into two companies out of sheer necessity.

After losing nearly all its bond brokers Sept. 11, it was forced to transfer its voice-brokered Treasury bond business to its electronic affiliate eSpeed, Nauiokas said.

Although eSpeed lost many of its employees in the attack as well, Cantor had designed a "triangular" backup computer system after the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. If the system in New York was knocked out, two others - one in London, the other in New Jersey - were supposed to continue running without a hitch. It worked.

As a result, the company was able to get back on its feet 47 hours after the attack and re-establish itself as a dominant broker in the $3 trillion U.S. Treasury market almost immediately, Nauiokas said.

A NEW BUSINESS Lutnick, the company's chief executive, was already in the process of transforming the firm, a limited partnership founded in 1945 by his mentor, B. Gerald Cantor, to an electronic trading platform.

"But the events of Sept. 11 made it happen instantly," Nauiokas said.

Cantor itself has focused on growing its institutional stock trading business, which caters to hedge funds, pension funds and other big professional investors. And it is slowly entering other lines of business, including institutional fixed income trading and asset management.

For all the good news - the acts of heroism, the innumerable shows of generosity - Cantor's rise from the ashes at Ground Zero has not been without controversy.

Back in July, a former bond dealer was awarded nearly $1.5 million in damages by a London court after claiming he had been bullied, berated and threatened out of his job by his boss, Lee Amaitis, who runs the firm's international division.

Meanwhile, the firm is being sued for $1 million in back rent, owed for the period between Aug. 1 and Sept. 10, 2001, by the operator of the World Trade Center.

Although Nauiokas will not comment directly on either case, she says the company is trying to focus on the future.

"There was no shortage of challenges along our path to success, but we are very proud of where we are today, to be here two years later and profitable and still completely committed to the promises we made in the early days to care for the families the best we could."

Cantor families also praise the company, including Lutnick, who gained notoriety for his decision to stop paying employee salaries a mere three days after the attacks - before anyone was officially declared dead.

After the public outcry, Lutnick, who lost his own brother, 34-year-old Gary Lutnick, announced his commitment to share 25 percent of the firm's profit. He has since written a book about his company, "On Top of the World."

Although some families will never forget the paycheck dispute, many praise Lutnick and Cantor for their unwavering support.

"It is very hard to trust anyone these days, but I find myself trusting Cantor," said Boehm of Cantor's financial and emotional support. "I am able to stay home with my children and not work because they are paying for medical insurance."

Recently, Boehm logged on to Cantor's Web site to look at her husband's photo and chat. She had just driven their daughter to Penn State for her first year of college. He should have been there.

Boehm said she knows she is sharing intimate details about her life in a public forum, but that doesn't bother her.

"I know other people sometimes read it, but for me it is therapeutic to go there," she said. "I want to continue to tell the world what a wonderful man my husband was and how much I loved and continue to love him.

"I hope that Web site stays there forever."

URL: Unbreakable bonds