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Cantor Fitzgerald's Fighting Spirit

Aired January 24, 2003 - 09:21   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: A story of loss and renewal, that describes the experience of Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick ever since 9/11. The financial company was decimated, 658 employees died at the World Trade Center that day, including Lutnick's younger brother, Gary. He tells of rebuilding the company and keeping his pledge to the families of employees who died in a new book. It is called "On Top of the World," and the author, Tom Barbash, is Howard Lutnick's longtime friend. They both join us now.
You have suffered the same kind of family that other -- pain that other 9/11 families have suffered. Why was this important for you to relive that pain and write this book together?

HOWARD LUTNICK, CEO, CANTOR FITZGERALD: I think as our world changed, we really wanted to -- I wanted to capture it because my life had become surreal. Imagine sitting around my dining room table on Wednesday, the 12th of September, with six executives, going through a list of who do we have and who do we don't have in order to try to rebuild a company to help these families. And it became so surreal that I thought it would be important for Tom to be with us and to -- and to make sure we documented it, because sooner later, it would all become a blur and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) remember.

ZAHN: And you pretty much were with Howard around the clock?

TOM BARBASH, AUTHOR, "ON TOP OF THE WORLD": Yes. Well, yes. And I think the idea in the beginning was that maybe if there was a book to be written, it would be a memorial, that it was not at all likely that Cantor Fitzgerald would survive after what happened September 11. But then what evolved ended up being a story that took -- well, Howard was occupied, literally, 20-22 hours a day. And you slept, what is that, four or five hours a day usually?

LUTNICK: Yes, a couple of hours I get to sleep.

BARBASH: And so it -- I was with Howard, I was with the other survivors at the company and their stories are told through the book. And that's what evolved was the story of rebuilding the company and dealing with what happened, the aftermath of what happened.

ZAHN: But your story and their stories are inextricably connected. And you talk of a very painful chapter in this book where you were getting e-mails from people suggesting that they hoped you suffered the same fate of some of the other victims. And let's describe the history to people who might not be familiar with this story. You had promised the families to take care of them, but then you had to cut off their paychecks to save your company. Now, at the same time, you had suffered the personal loss of your own brother, so you certainly could understand their pain.


ZAHN: But how did you deal with that at the same time you were dealing with this tremendous anger directed at you personally?

LUTNICK: Well, we had offered 25 percent of our profits and 10 years of healthcare, but the -- I guess some people in the media and the media sort of captured that. Some people said 25 percent of a company that's been decimated, well maybe that's just words, that's not really going to mean anything. And they -- and they doubted that we could actually bring it back together. And then people got angry because they thought this is a sort of a CEO sort of thing. And people who watch those media actually e-mailed and sent faxes to me, because I had my phone number on the Web site so that families could contact us, that they hoped the next plane flies into my house.

But we knew that what we needed to do was take care of our friend's families. I mean these were our friends who were killed and all the employees of Cantor Fitzgerald and the customers who knew them so well, they were going to be by our sides. And we put this company back together. And in the first quarter, October through December of 2001, our company made $20 million and paid $5 million to these families. And since then, we've distributed $90 million to these families, 10 years of their healthcare. And you know you have...

ZAHN: That's remarkable.

LUTNICK: ... you have little kids, you know to not worry about what program you're going to be on, how much it's going to cost. And these -- just being there for them, taking care of them with the victim's compensation fund, making sure they have lawyers, being there morning, noon and night in case they need us, because I'm here. And the reason I'm here must be to help them. I mean what other reason am I here?

ZAHN: Are these families satisfied or are you still taking a lot of potshots?

LUTNICK: I think we are -- we are one. I mean the 650 families and the -- and those who survived at Cantor Fitzgerald are one and the same together. Tom's been at a variety of the meetings that we've had together.

ZAHN: You witnessed the hostility firsthand...

BARBASH: I did. I did.

ZAHN: ... directed at Howard.


ZAHN: How bad did it get?

BARBASH: Well, it was an incredible thing to see somebody that you'd gone to college with and you in another context and to see Howard and see the company go through what they went through and then -- and then to go through that. I think what people kept saying is why isn't Cantor Fitzgerald doing more? But then the question that you had to ask at that point, what was Cantor Fitzgerald? If the buildings come down and 700 people are dead, then what is Cantor Fitzgerald at that point?

And Howard had pledged to do things. I knew, because I was with Howard, that he was working around the clock to do things for the families. But there was every reason to doubt his word at that point, because it wasn't clear how the company could possibly do, you know, what he said -- that Howard said he would do for the families at that point. And I think there's a lot of anger at people who survived. I think that was another complication is that it was the people who survived were people who are on vacation, who are late, who are sick, who...

ZAHN: Who dropping their kid off at school like Howard.

BARBASH: Yes, and the people who were there at 8:45, who had gotten there at 7:00 in the morning and got there every day at 7:00 in the morning, they were the people who died. And so there was a lot of rage, there was a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings that were going on during that time.

ZAHN: Well I know you attempt to clear that up in this new book "On Top of the World." I know it's quite a journey to have done this together, longtime friends. Thank you for sharing a little bit of the book with us today.

LUTNICK: Thanks -- Paula.

ZAHN: Best of luck to both of you.

LUTNICK: Thanks.

BARBASH: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Hope the healing continues to go on.


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