(Editor’s note: This story about a Fort Worth connection to 9/11 was originally published in 2004. Some of the information may have changed since then – for example, Stuart Fraser sold the Fort Worth Brahmas and the team eventually folded, supplanted by a team called the Lone Star Brahmas.)
It is safe to say that few escaped the impact of Sept. 11, 2001. For Stuart Fraser, it is equally safe to say few were impacted so much as the vice chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond market brokerage firm that lost 658 employees in the terrorist attack.
Fraser typically works in the office on Tuesdays, the day of the attack, but a meeting scheduled in Westchester County near his home switched his days. He went in on Monday instead. During his Monday work day he visited all three floors that housed Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices in the World Trade Center and spoke with most of the employees. “I can’t tell you how glad I am I did that,” Fraser said.
The schedule shift saved his life, but also sent him on a journey that he said he feels compelled and responsible to talk about. “Most people are interested in the 9/11 events, but they are typically embarrassed to bring it up for a myriad of reasons. They don’t want to be impolite or they don’t want to bring something up that they don’t want to talk about or think I don’t want to talk about. So I tend to bring it up first and that’s probably a lot of what I’ll talk about at TCU,” Fraser said.
Fraser will speak at the Charles Tandy Executive Speakers Series at the Dee J. Kelly Alumni Center Feb. 27. Fraser’s Fort Worth connection is his majority ownership of the Fort Worth Brahmas minor-league hockey team. “I love the sport and the team. I just have not been able to spend as much time with the club as I would like since September 11,” he said.
Fraser has done some speaking in front of groups since September 11, but said he has no set speech. “Really I never know what I’m going to say in front of a group like this, but I think I have a little bit of a different perspective,” he said. Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices were located on five floors – 101-105 – in the north tower, the first tower to be hit. The first plane hit below Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices. No one on those floors escaped.
Fraser has some other perspectives to offer business school students. “I’m not a business school graduate for one thing. I graduated with a degree in history though I was just three credits short of a business degree when I changed my mind and decided I should do what I wanted to do,” he said.
After having graduated in 1983 from the University of Missouri, Fraser jointed Cantor Fitzgerald, a firm founded in 1945 by Fraser’s uncle, Bernie Cantor. Cantor revolutionized the bond-market business in 1945 and became a legend in the then Irish-dominated brokerage business. To get into the business, Cantor persuaded an insurance company president named Fitzgerald to take 10 percent of the business. In 2000, the company processed $40 trillion in transactions.
Fraser continued to pursue other activities while learning the ropes at Cantor Fitzgerald. In 1999, Fraser was awarded a U.S. patent for his Automated Auction Protocol Processor, which has become the “engine” for eSpeed Inc., a subsidiary of Cantor Fitzgerald. “That idea came about because there were about 500 different systems that do what our processor does, but most were built by ‘chipheads,’ people who didn’t understand the business end. I’m smart enough to know I’m not the smartest guy in the room and I’m OK with hiring people smarter than me, so I worked with an engineer to build this protocol processor and it is now used a majority of the trading systems out there,” he said.
Fraser is also big on training people to work in an organization. “When Howard [Lutnick, the current chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald] and I came to Cantor Fitzgerald, there was no procedure to train people to work there, so when we got trained, we installed that,” he said. That means Cantor Fitzgerald did not just hire business school graduates or people with MBA degrees. The company would hire people based on their desire and capabilities. “Any business is going to have to have people learn how to work for a company. No one really teaches what we do in business school, so we trained people,” Fraser said.
That also allowed Lutnick and Fraser to know their employees better than they would at some companies. “We helped train these people, so we knew them all personally. My brother-in-law worked there and I lost him in the attack. And there were 100 people I knew better than him,” Fraser said.
Lutnick, who wasn’t in the building because he was taking his child to daycare, was the most public face of Canter Fitzgerald after Sept. 11. While he garnered plenty of praise for his very public grief, the firm also garnered its share of criticism. Some were very critical of the fact that Cantor Fitzgerald did not continue to send paychecks to employees’ families shortly after the attack. Fraser said he would not judge whether the firm did things right or wrong, but he does believe the company did the best it could. “Look. if one person in a company dies, you know what to do, but when 700 die, there is really no road map. I went to 75 funerals and that only scratched the surface. Aside from the families, there were 75 or so fiancées to deal with. We dealt with things no one had ever thought about dealing with before,” he said.
Compared with those issues, Fraser says dealing with the Fort Worth Brahmas is a pleasant distraction. “There is a lot of potential there and I think it is very interesting finding a market for the team,” he said. Team sports, as well as working as a team in business, is important to Fraser. “If people learn to work together, they can accomplish a lot. That’s true in sports and it’s true in life,” he said.
Fraser, 43, lives in Westchester County with his wife, Elsie, and their three children.
Contact Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org