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Rebuilding from tragedy

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As harrowing as it is to relive the events of 9/11, even 10 years later, it was tremendously inspiring to watch the stories of Wall St. companies that have rebuilt after such devastating loss. It's really the very human story of “Triumph over Tragedy” and the business angle is surely only the macro view of each individual's journey after that catastrophic day.

There are many amazing stories of companies that have rebuilt. Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald was one of the most featured and absolutely inspirational. No company was hit harder. Every staff member at work that day died; 658 of his employees, with decades of expertise and shared experiences. Until then, they were the biggest broker for Government bonds and arguably occupied the most prestigious business real estate in the world, 101-105 floors of the World Trade Center. He became the human face of the tragedy.

Today, 10 years later, the company is more successful than ever, with more than 1,500 employees. They have expanded into real estate financing, hedge fund services, investment banking and insurance. Howard Lutnick remains chairman and CEO.

His promise to donate 25 percent of the profits for the first five years, and health care costs covered for 10 years has been fulfilled; more than $225 million.

What happened in between then and now to achieve such dazzling triumph from unspeakable loss?

Superlative leadership: All the energy, drive and Wall Street push of a great CEO went into rebuilding these companies. The moral purpose demonstrated in the midst of extreme crisis created momentum that attracted clients and new staff. There were no precedents. Lutnick's motivation was to “survive, then reward best talent, then hire more talent”.

Fierce determination: Lutnick said: “We had to make a decision to close down and go to funerals OR work harder than we ever had, to work before at a time when no one felt like going to work.”

Shared vision: The employees all stayed and agreed to make 25 percent less to take care of their friends' families. The survivors were driven by a sense of responsibility to their lost colleagues, which was key to survival, rebuilding and ultimately creating a momentum to become stronger than ever. None of the 100 plus employees that survived left. “The towers are gone, my friends are gone, I am still here…. Everyone who I lost would have said 'Go to work! That is what you are good at! Go do it!'.” That became the rallying cry.

Fearless: For a time, Lutnick became a media piñata. He appeared on Larry King Live to explain why he didn't continue to pay his employees paycheques. He was portrayed as a greedy CEO who reneged on his promises. His commitment to pay 25 percent of the profits to the victim's families kept him focused to become as profitable as possible. After the first payout of $45 million the media left him alone.

Attracting top-notch talent: People cared about the vision, the compassion and the determination to fight back and joined formerly devastated Wall Street firms. One CEO said that he was surprised by the amount of good luck they experienced after the attacks.

Support of Customers and Clients. Customers, colleagues and even competitors were inspired by the vision and supported the devastated firms.

Willingness to embrace change. Post-9/11 many firms merged or diversified. Many became more successful than ever. “We all had to commit to doing something different,” Lutnick said. “It changed our outlook about what was important about business.”

The adversity of 9/11 allowed the whole world to see not only tough, choleric business leaders, but those who were resilient, compassionate and triumphant. It's the same rules for us.

Lutnick said “It's not about the money, it's about the mirror what kind of human being are we and who are we?”

Something to read: “The Ten Commandments for Business Failure” by Don Keough, director of the Coca Cola Company.

Something to watch: “Tragedy and Triumph Wall Street After 9/11” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jBITIQEHM)

This article was written by Lois Wilson. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of

The Royal Gazette.

Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick

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Published September 20, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated September 20, 2011 at 10:15 am)

Rebuilding from tragedy

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