Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Howard Lutnick's Second Life

ShareThis

Cantor Fitzgerald was left with 1,450 employees, including vital players in the firm's large London office, as well as the cadre of New York staff who survived. Lutnick closed offices in Paris and Frankfurt, and transferred these staff members to London. "We played with the cards the terrorists left us," he says. To the awe of Wall Street and government regulators, Cantor was able to get the company's U.S. eSpeed operations -- a crucial link in the Treasury markets -- up and running two days after the attack. But thanks to what he describes as a series of "miracles" -- a golf outing with clients; a corporate fishing trip, canceled at 8 a.m., that prevented the disappointed anglers from getting to their desks by 9 -- a handful of employees who ran the stock-trading desk and other profitable divisions were out of the office on that horrible date.

There are small victories every day, and on November 20, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, there are three of them. Lutnick delightedly tells his colleagues that Lauren Manning and Harry Waizer, two employees who were severely burned by a fireball of jet fuel that hit the lobby of the Trade Center, are making good progress. "Lauren walked 40 feet!" Lutnick says. "And Harry, who has no skin on his hand, is being released to rehab. It's unbelievable!" That morning, Lutnick also announces that eSpeed -- the publicly traded division of the privately held Cantor -- is actually expected to be profitable in the fourth quarter. That day, eSpeed stock soars more than 20 percent, almost reaching its pre-September 11 level, and all afternoon Cantor's hardworking band of brokers stops by Lutnick's office to exchange high-fives and call out, "Way to go!" It's not just Howard Lutnick, they are relieved to discover, who thinks Cantor Fitzgerald will survive.

And yet such moments are interspersed with terrible reminders. To sit with Lutnick for six straight hours as he holds meetings and makes calls is to witness a startling array of mood changes. "I hate these stories that say this place is ghostly and it's haunted," he says, almost entreating. "Everyone's too busy. There's no sadness or grief in the office." Like Rudy Giuliani, Lutnick seems to think that if he keeps saying that everything is normal, it will be. But it's not. He schmoozes on the phone with a pleased major investor, then takes a call from an Orthodox Jewish family distraught over their son's missing remains. "I know, I know, I'm just like you," he says, his voice cracking. He is still waiting for DNA tests to tell him that his brother, Gary, is really gone.

His fiercely loyal secretary, Maryann Burns, comes in to ask a question. He looks perplexed for a minute, then says with a gentle smile, "Let's ask Beth." He is referring to a dead colleague, Beth Logler. Burns smiles sweetly back. "It's just a thing we do," Lutnick says. "It's a way to remember someone."

Burns hands him a takeout carton of fresh pineapple; this Wall Street carnivore doesn't eat meat, hoping to avoid the colon cancer that led to his father's death. Ten minutes later, Lutnick becomes absolutely furious as he recounts how a CNBC anchor who had asked to interview him earlier that day about eSpeed's earnings had instead pressed him on the paycheck thing, on whether he could have handled it better. "You can't make promises you can't keep," he roars. "He asked me, could I have done things sooner? No!"

When I tell him that an ex-Cantor employee complained that Lutnick practices "voodoo economics" in the firm, paying unjustifiably large bonuses to his pals, Lutnick begins a long explanation of bonus calculations. Then he stops for a moment, reconsiders, becomes defiant: "If people say I paid someone more because I liked them, okay. I don't think that's a bad thing.

"We just wanted to work with people we liked," he says, softening. He reminisces about how he recruited his buddy Doug Gardner, who left his father's real-estate firm to join Cantor Fitzgerald. "I took Doug away from his father," Lutnick says proudly, until the horrible new meaning of the sentence hits him and he goes ashen. "I took Doug away from his father."

Jennifer Gardner, who talks to Lutnick and his wife almost daily, says that the instant death of so many friends has deepened her personal loss. "If Doug had died in a car crash, all of Cantor Fitzgerald would be in my living room. But everyone is dead or damaged," she says. "I miss Doug's partners. I could get through this so much better if they were here."

The scope of the losses at times seems surreal. "We had a billing question from a customer," says Kravette. "And we were able to retrieve our e-mail correspondence on the deal. There were seven names on the thing" who could have resolved the query, "and I'm the only one alive. I said, 'We'll have to trust the customer.' "

All afternoon long, Lutnick meets with real-estate brokers to discuss new office space, and holds a long sit-down with an accountant reviewing, one by one, the $45 million in bonuses going out to families of dead employees. He turns to me at crunch points and says, "What would you do?" It isn't that he wants my opinion; he just wants to underline for me in the bluntest possible way how excruciating the choices are. What do you do when the cheapest computer-ready office space is on the high floor of a building? You keep looking. How do you handle an angry widow who is threatening to attack you on TV if she doesn't get an undeservedly large bonus for her husband? "It's blackmail," he mutters, but then a few minutes later he's trying to see things her way. She's scared and sad; maybe he'll look at the numbers again.

His sister, Edie, stops by twice during the day. She's a slender, pretty woman, dressed all in black (shirt, tailored pants, and sweater), with a mass of wild, curly blond-brown hair pulled back in a clip. A labor lawyer, she has taken a leave from her practice to run the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, which has raised and already passed out more than $8.5 million to families ($1,500 per dependent child, plus $10,000 per family), and is trying to solicit more donations. Like Howard, Edie is immersing herself in other people's pain to escape her own, spending her days talking with bereaved families and putting together a packet of advice on how to file for benefits from various agencies. Noting that there are now 26 pregnant Cantor Fitzgerald widows and ten babies born since the tragedy who will never know their fathers, she says, "It's my reason for getting out of bed in the morning."

Edie and Howard have an intense sibling bond forged as orphaned young adults; he visibly relaxes in her presence. She's in the office today for a meeting with an advertising agency to choose a logo for the relief fund's stationery and Internet site. But the Lutnicks are nonplussed when presented with one version of the graphic: the R for "relief" is bent oddly, with something tied around it. "I can't do the broken-leg thing," Lutnick says. One ad exec helpfully pipes up, "It's a bandage." Another adds, "It's a bow." Edie says, "It looks like a helicopter to me," and you don't need Dr. Freud to figure out that free association. After the buildings collapsed, some experts argued that helicopters could have saved many Cantor employees, if only the roof of the Trade Center hadn't been locked and rescue choppers were allowed to land.

At 8:30 p.m., Lutnick calls his wife and says he'll probably be home within an hour, but he'll be bringing with him a bunch of people for more meetings to discuss company business. When they leave, he will settle in to write condolence notes to the extended families of dead workers, the mothers, brothers, sisters, and children. He guesses that he'll write 1,300 before he's through. "It takes me two hours to do 60," he says. Then he will call family members until midnight -- "Some calls take five minutes, others want to talk for half an hour" -- and then he'll look at his e-mails, up to 500 incoming a day. Allison, who left her law practice several years ago to care for sons Kyle, 51?2, and Brandon, nearly 4, and daughter Casey, 1, says, "I come down at 1:30 a.m. to talk to Howard. It's the only time I get to see him. I want to hear about his day." She is grateful to have a husband at all, and there is not one iota of self-pity in her voice when she says, "This is our life now."

Howard Lutnick grew up in Jericho, on Long Island, the middle child of two college professors; his father, Solomon, taught history at Queens College, and his mother, Jane, was a painter and sculptor. Yes, he has happy childhood memories, but his adolescence was scarred by the illnesses of both parents and their divorce. In 1978, his senior year of high school, Jane Lutnick died of lymphoma. Less than a year later, in his first week at Haverford College, Howard got an awful call: His father, in the hospital for chemotherapy to treat his colon and lung cancers, had accidentally been given 100 times the correct dose of drugs, and he was dead. The next crisis came when his teenage brother, Gary, who had moved with their father's second wife to Petaluma, California, sent a panicked SOS saying that a friend of the stepmother's had hit him. Edie, then at the University of Rhode Island, and Howard flew out to get their brother and installed him in a boarding school near Haverford. At 18, Howard had to hire a lawyer -- he found one at random in an office near Penn Station -- to untangle his father's fractured finances. "Howard has been through so much bad stuff at an early age," says his college roommate Michael Kaminer, "that he's got a coping mechanism for what he's going through now."


Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising