‘I lost everybody in the company. I don’t have money to pay their salaries today. But we will pay 25% of the profits to each of the families for the next 5 years and cover healthcare insurance for the next 10 years’ Howard Lutnick said on the Larry King show on CNN on Sept 15th 1991.
As the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment and brokerage firm dealing in US securities, it was always a David versus Goliath fight for the firm.
Four mornings earlier, Howard planned to get in to work late. He and his wife Alison, were taking their youngest son, Kyle, to his first day of kindergarten.
At about 9 am, his driver barged into the classroom, gasping for breath: ‘A plane has hit the Trade Centre’. September 11, ‘01.
Cantor Fitzgerald’s had offices on floors 101 – 105 in the World Trade Centre. Located just above the point of impact where the first AA 11 flight crashed in at 8:46:46 am. All the 658 employees in the office died. Including his brother Gary. 70% of the company.
Lutnick was heavily criticised for stopping salaries. But he had a plan and was trusted. By 2006, he got his firm to bounce back and paid out over $US 200 mn to the families. He now runs an annual relief fund that supports the families of 14 other firms also.
When he was 18, his father who had just dropped him at college in the morning and went to the hospital for a chemo, died. The nurse had fatally injected 100 times extra dosage by mistake. He and his siblings were abandoned. It was the beginning of a lifelong fight back.
Oftentimes, we hide under the phrase “Act of God”. But stories like this must become a trigger to make bolder choices in the life that we still have.
Howard Lutnick’s second life, New York Magazine, The Real Deal