9/11 Ten Years Later

Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Lutnick: Sadness, Survival And Success

Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald may have lost the most employees in the September 11 attacks a decade ago, but it may also be the biggest comeback story.

The firm, which lost 658 of its 960 New York-based employees in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, now has 1,500 people in New York area. Overall, its payroll has grown by 40 percent to 5,000 worldwide.

In an interview with CNBC Friday, Howard W. Lutnick, chairman and chief executive, recounted his company's unique tale of tragedy and renewal, saying he was committed to survival.

"It wasn't as if it was a hard nosed decision, it was the only decision. There was no other way you could say it," says Lutnick.

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Lutnick, who lost his brother and friends in the attacks, said he wouldn't let what they had worked so hard to create crumble. The company boss might have perished himself that day had he not planned to arrive late because of a family commitment.

Like many survivors,  Lutnick struggled with how to remember and honor the dead. For awhile he paid the salaries of deceased employees to their families, but then decided to allocate 25 percent of Cantor's profits for five years. He says he took some flak for that decision until the first distribution was made.

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When asked about taking space in the new freedom tower buildings now rising on the site, Lutnick said, "Do I really want to look over that site every day? No."