Cantor's courage reflects the will to recover

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The Independent Online

Four weeks ago Cantor Fitzgerald was still operating from one of the most prestigious offices in the world. A self-assured high-profile hustler and the undisputed ruler of the bond brokerage roost.

It is now almost a month since the twin towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed, and the companies that used to occupy them are still reeling. None more so than Cantor. Seven hundred of its staff, including key managers and the senior managing director, were killed. Records and other critical data are gone for ever and the surviving employees are scattered in a variety of New York and New Jersey offices. The fact that Cantor has managed to resume operations in one form or another is a triumph of grit, determination and old-fashioned Wall Street bullishness. As the company said last week, its resurrection will be built around its state-of-the-art eSpeed computer trading platform. It was mainly thanks to that platform that Cantor was able to settle a number of trades that some worried might have been left unresolved. The group is also drawing heavily on the resources of its second biggest office in London. But the destruction of Cantor's offices dealt a double blow – one practical, the other psychological. The wounds are deep and a lot has to happen before the firm can think of itself as being back to business as usual.

The practical challenges are clearly the focus of the company's current efforts. As for many former tenants of the twin towers, including Morgan Stanley and Fiduciary Trust, the destruction of so much office space left Cantor with the immediate problem of where to put its surviving staff, and where to base the recovery strategy.

Fortunately, although the US in general was not well prepared for terrorist onslaughts on its own soil, the financial services industry was readier than most. The Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf bombs in London during the 1990s prompted most companies to prepare for a situation where the entirety of one operation might be wiped out. For Cantor, the answer lay in its Disaster Recovery Site – a facility miles from Manhattan in Rochelle Park, New Jersey. The office was designed to provide computers and space for employees to carry on their work, but the company itself acknowledges that it can't be considered a permanent solution. In the normal run of things, the site would have a handful of computer technicians and a skeleton support staff. Now it has to play host to a much larger number of Cantor workers.

Outside the Disaster Recovery Site, Cantor employees are more widely scattered, though every attempt has been made to keep people in Manhattan – the firm's spiritual home. Various departments have found pockets of space in the offices of the company's many advisers, and some staff are even working from the offices of the news provider Bloom-berg. The legal team is hot-desking with the group's lawyers, Morgan Lewis, and the marketing department is perching in New York with Edelman, the company's PR agency.

"It is great to see the New York spirit of people helping us out," says one Cantor insider, "but it is still so difficult. This is a company that was very close-knit and took a lot of strength from everyone being in the same place."

This close-knit nature of the firm, which often recruited from among the friends and family of staff members, has made the tragedy particularly hard to bear. A prime example is the company's chief executive, Howard Lutnick, who lost his brother Gary. Like many of his colleagues at all levels of the privately-owned business, much of his time since 11 September has been spent attending memorial services and funerals. Yesterday, the London staff mourned their colleagues at a service in St Paul's Cathedral.

But as the same Cantor insider explained, the goodwill of New York cannot be expected to last for ever. Cantor knows that, and is keen to establish a permanent base. The company, however, has acknowledged that the rebuilt Cantor Fitzgerald may decide to leave portions of its workforce outside the Wall Street financial district.

When the practical and psychological damage will really show will be as the company begins what one spokesman has described as the "tortuously slow" process of rebuilding its workforce. Some analysts have suggested that Cantor, whose capital is estimated to be around $350m (£240m), might recreate its equities division by acquisition. Others have pointed out that with the rest of Wall Street in layoff mode, now is not such a bad time for the company to be on the lookout for highly skilled brokers.

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