Insight article

City firm that rose from the ashes…

There was a fascinating story in last Friday’s Evening Standard about the financial broking firm: Cantor Fitzgerald.

On September 11th 2001, 658 of their employees died in the North Tower of the World Trade Centre – two thirds of Cantor Fitzgerald’s global workforce.  Employees in their London office listened to their friends in the tower, on their inter-broker intercom, speak their last words, and then had to watch in horror as the tower and their New York business collapsed to the ground.

That night the CEO called the management in London. His brother, best friend and all of his New York colleagues were dead. The question was, would the business follow suit? They could either shut the company down and go to funerals, or go back to work and try and repair and rebuild from scratch.

They chose to rebuild. But not just for the benefit of the shareholders and surviving traders.  This company, that was the pinnacle of city greed, took on a new and higher purpose. They now had 658 bereaved families, who had also lost an income, to look after. This purpose drove an extraordinary period of activity, with employees working day and night to rebuild their entire electronic trading platform, as well as identifying and reconnecting with all their US clients.

The result was a business that last year made $184 million in profits, and over the last ten years has distributed $180 million to the families of the employees they lost.

No one is suggesting that a business should manufacture a core purpose like the one Cantor Fitzgerald was given. But the story vividly demonstrated the effect that that purpose had on the employees and the performance of the business. Creating real meaning to our work, beyond simply making money or doing what we do, is one of the real challenges that senior leaders need to address if they are going to maximise the potential of their people.

As the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald said: “For me, for so many of us, we will always live with 9/11. It is what defines us.”

Nailia Tasseel