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Executive-in-Residence Program Brings Insight on Managing in the Wake of 9/11

October 04, 2009
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Fraser meeting with student

   Stuart Fraser meeting with students as part of the
   School's Executive-in-Residence program.

The Manhattan-based global financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 employees – about two-thirds of its workforce – when two hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The firm immediately set up a crisis center, which was flooded with 5,000 family members looking for lost loved ones.

“People would come to the crisis center every day and ask the same questions over and over again. They just needed to be heard,” said Stuart Fraser, Cantor Fitzgerald’s vice chairman. “Our culture at Cantor was such a family. We lost 24 sets of brothers in 9/11 and five sets of twins. Cantor was like a wheel with many spokes and our center got blown out.”

Fraser, whose son is a senior at the School of Business, spoke about his experience in managing during a time of crisis in October as part of the School’s Executive-in-Residence program. He told students, faculty and alumni that in the wake of the attacks, Cantor was charged with balancing the need to save the company with the need to comfort survivors of lost employees. Because Cantor had invested in back up storage systems, customers were continuing to trade on the platform even as the Twin Towers were crumbling to the ground. But the social challenges were in many ways greater than the technology issues.

“We needed to help each other. The people who got through the initial shock – and not everyone did – were able to pull themselves together and focus on the one goal of keeping the company alive,” said Fraser. “If we couldn’t keep the company alive, then we couldn’t help the families.”

One way Cantor continues to help the families of 9/11 victims who worked for the firm is through the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund. The fund provides direct aid and support to those affected by terrorism, disasters and emergencies. To date, the fund has raised and distributed more than $175 million to over 800 families and 950 children of the victims of the tragic attacks.

Fraser meeting with student

  Fraser shared insights on managing during a time of crisis with
  students and alumni at an open session held in Storer auditorium.

More recently, the Relief Fund expanded its scope to include natural disasters, such as the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. Cantor Fitzgerald Chairman and CEO Howard Lutnick, who lost a brother on 9/11, and the firm’s partners underwrite all the expenses of the fund so that 100 percent of the monies are distributed to victims’ families and children.

Fraser told his School of Business audience that Cantor is a stronger company today than it was before 9/11. The company’s financial systems are stronger. The company’s culture is stronger. And the company’s future is stronger – even in the midst of a world financial crisis. In fact, Fraser says lessons learned in the wake of the 9/11 attacks are helping the company thrive at a time when other financial services firms have gone bankrupt.

“Since 9/11 we’ve expanded our business. We’ve now have over 2,100 people in New York. We went through a horrible thing, but we had a fresh start,” Fraser says. We’ve gone to great lengths to cover every angle we can cover. We won’t forget history.”

The School’s Executive-in-Residence program brings prominent business leaders into the classroom throughout the year. In addition to Fraser, the 2009 participants have included Ralph Alvarez (BBA ’76), the president and chief operating officer of McDonald’s Corp.; Joseph J. Echevarria, Jr. (BBA ’78), the U.S. managing partner and chief operating officer of global accounting giant Deloitte LLP; and Matthew Rubel (MBA '80), the chairman, CEO, and president, of Collective Brands Inc., the parent company of Payless ShoeSource.
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