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Howard Lutnick – The Survivor Who Saw The Future

I’m writing this weeks blog on Sept., 5, less than a week away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It is excerpted from the NY Times article written by Susanne Craig and it tells the story of someone you should know. His name is Howard Lutnick and he is one of the survivors and an unlikely hero, in his way, of the tragedy. The complete article ran in the September 4, 2011 issue of the New York Times.

THE SURVIVOR WHO SAW THE FUTURE

Ten years ago Howard W. Lutnick was a prince of Wall Street. Forty years old, and already the head of a powerful financial house, he could peer down on rivals from his office on the 105th floor of One World Trade Center.

Then—you know the rest…

American Airlines Flight 11 struck Tower One. Three out of every four people who worked in New York City for Mr. Lutnick at the brokerage fim Cantor Fitzgerald died that September morning—658 in all. Among the dead was his younger brother, Gary. That Howard Lutnick survived was, he concedes, blind luck. Some people died because they happened to be at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Lutnick lived because he happened to be taking his son, Kyle to his first day of kindergarten.

And so Mr. Lutnick, who ran Cantor Fitzgerald then and, remarkably, still runs it today, became an unusual, and unusually public, 9/11 survivor.

HIS FIRST POST 9/11 DECISION HORRIFIED VICTIMS FAMILIES

He knew that for Cantor Fitzgerald to survive he would have to make some hard-nosed—some said hardhearted business decisions days after the attack, before anyone even knew just how many had died. Mr Lutnick’s first decision was to not send any more  paychecks to the families of his employees. One widow, whose husband had worked at a Cantor subsidiary told televison anchor Connie Chung “I was disgusted.”. Andyet, since those dark days, Mr. Lutnick has defied those who said he and Cantor Fitzgerald were finished. He has rebuilt his firm and then some. And many of those who criticized him at the time—notably, spouses and parents of Cantor employees who had died—now say he did the right thing. Mr. Lutnick said he did the only thing he could to save the firm.

Among those victims from Cantor Fitzgerald were their brokers, the very people who brought money into the firm on a daily basis. Until they could be replaced, Cantor-Fitzgerald had no money and no way to make any. But  he did have was a plan, one that would become one of the most expensive corporate efforts of its kind. Cantor, he promised, would give the families 25 percent of its profits over the next five years. And it would provide health insurance coverage to all the families for 10 years.

PLAN MET WITH SKEPTICISM

Mr. Lutnick’s plan was met with a wall of skepticism. Cantor, after all, was effectively out of business and had no money to pay anyone anything.  Angry families jeered that 25 percent of nothing was nothing, but he knew to survive Cantor Fitzgerald would have to change the way it did business and it would have to replace those brokers who had died. His new business plan was immediately successful and when those first bonus checks totaling $45 million were mailed to survivor families the skepticism and the criticisim stopped. Cantor Fitzgerald under Mr. Lutnick kept all its promises.

While the payments to the families ended five years ago, the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, started By Mr. Lutnick shortly after 9/11 and run by his sister, Edie Lutnick is still a full time effort to aid families in many ways….the fund helps families hold charitable events, or more recently, to help find hotel rooms for the ones coming to New York for 9/11-related events.

Ms Lutnick and Cantor became an important voice in building the memorial. Each year, Cantor has a service in Central Park for families of its workers who died. This year a larger one was held at ground zero, where the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was dedicated.

Mr. Lutnick says he will never get over Sept. 11. But he has found some peace. He says that for years he had recurring nightmares that spiders were spinning webs on his face, sufficating him. Sleepwalking, he would drag his wife into the closet. Today the bad dreams are gone but the memories of all who died on September 11, 2001 will never be forgotten.

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