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November 1, 2001

Cantor's Man Of Honor? CEO Vows to Pay Victims' Families

By John A. Byrne

Also in this article

  • Cantor's Man Of Honor? CEO Vows to Pay Victims' Families

The Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center broke the hearts of the strongest men and it reduced them to tears. Not everyone, however, is convinced that the tears of one man, Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick, were real.

When it looked as if he had broken down and cried on American television-including on the Larry King Show - recalling the some 700 employees he lost, his critics said he was faking it.

Some skeptics were the wives of his missing employees at the bond and equity-trading firm. They were mad with Lutnick because he cut off their husbands' paychecks only days after the Sept. 11 attack. It was a cruel blow while they prayed for their husbands' safety.

Lutnick was not available to comment for this story. But Peter DaPuzzo, a senior managing director at Cantor, said he thinks Lutnick's television appearances were sincere.

However, DaPuzzo said Lutnick should not have made himself available. "He was too emotional to talk," he said.

DaPuzzo also said it hurt the firm when Lutnick announced on television that Cantor had no money available to pay the victims' families. "It didn't do justice to the widows and and it didn't do justice to the firm," he added. "He should have waited."

Whether or not his tears were real, the Cantor chief executive - who lost his own brother Gary in the destruction - quickly became embroiled in an unseemly, perhaps uncharitable, controversy in the aftermath of the attack.

Lutnick's reputation as a ruthless businessman who wrested control of Cantor from his sick employer, Bernie Cantor, and fought in court with Cantor's widow over control of the company, did not help. The latest skirmish took root within hours after the twin towers were struck by hijacked planes. It was then, with the full glare of the television cameras on him, that Lutnick - who was taking his son to school when the first plane struck - broke down, saying how personally devastated he was.

Two days after the attack, Connie Chung of ABC News' 20/20, interviewed a sobbing Lutnick. He pledged that his company would look after the survivors.

"Seven hundred families. I've lost 700 families," said the teary-eyed Lutnick. "Just can't say it, I can't say it without crying."

Then Connie Chung picked up the story: "Howard Lutnick... sobbed when he pledged to take care of the families of his 700 employees who were working on the top floors of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit," she said. "But today some of those families are furious at Howard Lutnick, accusing him of a cynical PR ploy to gain sympathy, and even worse, to attract business."

Great Peformance

On the same TV program, Carol Heeran, who has four children, said her distress about her missing husband turned to anger when she saw Lutnick crying on an earlier TV broadcast. Heeran said Lutnick was not sincere. "He should have gotten a great award for his performance," said another woman.