On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Howard Lutnick was bringing one of his sons to his first day of kindergarten. Lutnick is chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald, which occupied the 101st to 105th floors of the North Tower – on a normal day, he would have already been in the office.
Cantor partner Dave Kravette was in his 105th floor office, when clients in the lobby forgot their identifications. Because of security measures following the 1993 bombing, Kravette was required to come downstairs to bring them up. As he got off the elevator and began walking towards the desk, a huge explosion and fireball engulfed the area. It was 8:46 a.m.
As New York magazine reported, Lutnick and his wife, Allison, were in the school when their phones rang and died. He was summoned to the school lobby, and his driver told him that the Trade Center has been struck. Lutnick dashed downtown, arriving at the North Tower and yelled at the evacuees, “What floor, what floor?” The highest he heard was the 91st, and then the building collapsed around him. Lutnick emerged from the rubble and began walking north.
658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees were killed – almost a quarter of all of the day’s casualties, and two thirds of the company’s workforce. American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed just below the offices, severing the staircases down and trapping all employees in the building, save for Kravette. Along with the human toll, a set of Rodin sculptures that adorned the offices were lost – casts would be sent to a landfill with the building’s debris.
The company, which specializes in bond trading, would become an image of resiliency in the aftermath of the attacks. It reopened just two days later for business, and Lutnick, who lost his brother in the attack, kept his promise to distribute 25% of its profits over the next 10 years to support the families of those lost. Over $200 million has been given to the families.
Cantor rebuilt its staff, with some former employees returning out of loyalty. It weathered the recession, staying out of subprime mortgages, and expanded to include BGC Partners, an electronic brokerage service.
And with the 10th anniversary of the attacks approaching, Lutnick may now be one of the most powerful men in commercial real estate. Earlier this year, BCG purchased Newmark Knight Frank for an undisclosed sum. Lutnick couldn’t be reached for comment. But Jeffrey Gural, chairman of the brokerage, said at a recent Young Jewish Professionals panel that the deal arose from an existing relationship with Lutnick, and the partners felt the move would give it a competitive advantage and more capital.
Lutnick has already floated ideas for Newmark and BGC, including the creation of property derivatives based on rents in individual buildings, creating a hedge market for landlords and tenants. He said in a May conference call that BGC would grow the average revenue per Newmark broker, but it remains to be seen if his new practices will come to fruition.