Worst-hit firm rebuilds after 9/11
LONDON, England (CNN) -- The trading floor at brokerage house Cantor Fitzgerald is humming here in London -- testimony to the company's resilience and determination.
Many brokers here were speaking to colleagues and friends at Cantor's headquarters in the World Trade Center on September 11 as American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower just below its offices on floors 101 through 105.
None of them will forget that day -- least of all Lee Amaitis, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald International.
"Everybody who was in the building was lost, so ... to remember it as vividly as we do on September 11, that happens every day for me," Amaitis says.
Cantor Fitzgerald has the tragic distinction of being the company to lose the most employees in the World Trade Center attack.
Of the final death toll of more than 2,800 people, a quarter worked for the bond broker or one of its subsidiaries. In all the company lost 20 sets of siblings.
"This is a family firm," says Amaitis. "We lost brothers, family members, fathers and daughters. I mean there was a tremendous loss of life in this firm that was so connected.
"(CEO) Howard (Lutnick) lost his brother and his best friend, I lost my best friend. I mean, I can't tell you how that affects people."
But the company refused to bow to the disaster, regrouping and redoubling its efforts while arranging practical and financial help for the families of the people who died.
The shock of the attack itself acted as an adrenaline rush: London was in the middle of its trading day when the attack occurred and quickly assumed a coordination role. Those colleagues left in New York also wanted to do something practical to help.
"Miraculously they wanted to get involved," says Phil Norton, head of sales at eSpeed, Cantor's electronic trading subsidiary.
"I mean literally that day on September 11 we were getting phone calls from some of the sales force that had survived, and they were wanting to get involved and to help, and they were key to the effort."
Working from a London operations control center, Norton and his team at eSpeed were able keep the company rolling. Trading was resumed on September 13.
"Our client support was tremendous," says Amaitis. "I mean people just showered us with business.
"The emotions are really tough to go through because you're bleeding at the same time you know you're grieving, bleeding, going through this whole process, yet at the same time you are tremendously proud of the people that did the job to keep the firm going."
Cantor also has focused on helping the families of the victims. By September 11, 2002, the company will have paid out about $28 million to them.
It plans to give them a quarter share of the company's profits every year for the next five years and take care of their health care needs for another 10.
"That 25 percent needed to mean something," says Amaitis. "I mean you can't say you're going to give 25 percent of your profits and then say you have no profits, so ... you're motivated to say, 'OK, that's real money.'"
Despite the terrible loss of life and the effect on its operations, Cantor has managed to produce stronger earnings than the previous year. So the pain and loss of September 11 have been eased at Cantor by sheer hard work.
Although no one can forget the dreadful events of that day, rebuilding the company has to some extent helped rebuild the shattered lives left in the wake of the attack.
Cantor CEO pledges profits to victims' familiesRELATED SITE:
September 20, 2001
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