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Moneycontrol

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Dell Technologies

Associate Partners

Kotak Mutual Fund
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SBI
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Luck saved Cantor CEO Howard Lutnick on 9/11, then he saved the company

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Howard Lutnick of Cantor Fitzegerald tweaked his schedule to drop his son off at school. It saved his life. His 658 colleagues, who were in office when the first plane hit, were not so lucky.

September 11, 2021 / 01:50 PM IST
Howard Lutnick, CEO of stock trading company Cantor Fitzgerald, survived the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center because he came to work late after dropping his son off at school.

Howard Lutnick, CEO of stock trading company Cantor Fitzgerald, survived the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center because he came to work late after dropping his son off at school.

No company suffered as much loss of life in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as Cantor Fitzgerald.

The financial services organization occupied five floors in the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in New York. At 8.46 am, the first plane (American Airlines Flight 11) hit the building just below the Cantor offices. By then, 658 employees were at work. None of them survived.

There was one employee who was not yet at his desk. It was his son’s first day at kindergarten. He had gone to drop the boy off. The employee was CEO Howard Lutnick.

On the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Lutnick remembers the chaos and tragedy of the day. Among those who died were his brother, his best friend and several people he had hired.

“Sometimes it feels so long ago, like another life, and sometimes when I hear someone’s name, think of their face, see their picture, it’s (like) yesterday,” Lutnick told Pix 11 recently. “It’s just not possible for everyone you work with, all your friends, to die in your office.”

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Lutnick hurried towards the office after dropping his son, but was floored by a giant cloud of dust and ash tearing through Lower Manhattan as the South Tower crumbled.

“I was running my tail off from a black ball of hurricane,” he said. “I have no idea what’s going on. So I dive under a car, and the hurricane just engulfs me, and it’s black and silent. I assumed I’d die.”

Cantor Fitzgerald was making a million dollars a day. After 9/11, it started losing the same amount in a day. Lutnick took an unpopular decision to stop the salary of those who had perished. Instead, he paid their families a 25 per cent share of the company’s earnings and took care of their healthcare for ten years.

But for a while, Lutnick was a reviled man. At the time, he wept on Larry King’s show, “They think we’re doing something wrong. (But) I can’t pay their salaries, I don’t have any money to pay their salaries.”

Today, he says, “We would have gone out of business in an hour if I worried about how I looked (was perceived). It was about survival.”

Lutnick also decided to keep the company going, despite the daily 7-figure losses, and the fear and pessimism in the air.

“We have two choices,” he told Pix 11. “We can close the firm and go to our friends’ funerals. Or, we’d have to work harder than we’ve ever worked before so that we could help the families of those who we’d lost.”

In about five years, Cantor Fitzgerald paid bereaved families approximately $180 million in all. It also hired the children of some of the victims.

“We got 60 children of people who died working here,” Lutnick says.

He does feel survivor’s guilt, but says he doesn’t dwell on it. “I’d say, live your life, (it’s) precious, love it, enjoy it, seek happiness,” is his learning from the harrowing experience of September 11.
Akshay Sawai
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