At this Wall Street firm, vets man the floor

For Wall Street firm Drexel Hamilton, Veterans Day doesn't just come once a year.

That's because of the firm's 100 employees, nearly half served in the military and nearly a quarter are disabled vets.

It's all part of an extraordinary concept forged by Chairman Larry Doll, a two-time Purple Heart recipient. The firm pairs Wall Street veterans with vets returning from combat, giving the latter a chance to learn and develop financial skills.

"The reason we started the firm was that I am a disabled Vietnam veteran and I never forgot the people that helped me when I came back," Doll said.

Now it's Doll helping fellow veterans that, as he notes, are serving more tours and coming back to a world of challenges in transitioning back to civilian life.

Jerry Majetich, who was awarded the Purple Heart is now working at Drexel Hamilton.
Jerry Majetich, who was awarded the Purple Heart is now working at Drexel Hamilton.

For Navy veteran Kim Alonzo, just getting the opportunity to interview for a job was the biggest hurdle.

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"Finding a career in the civilian sector was much more difficult than I anticipated and much more difficult than I was prepared for," she said.

None of the veterans at Drexel Hamilton seemed to think that this was because they didn't have the right skills.

Capt. John Martinko served seven tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. He believes that when it comes to veterans finding a job, part of the problem is that vets are not often comfortable speaking about their relevant experience.

"These guys are everyday heroes doing what they say is just their job, but in reality they need to come home and explain across the table what they've done," Martinko said. "A lot of vets coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq have a hard time self-promoting."

Martinko believes the risk management he learned on the battlefield translates well at Drexel, where the ability to improvise is in high demand.

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"A lot of our vets coming home from overseas have had to have been in these situations where things haven't gone correctly, just like a trading floor," he said.

Sometimes, though, skills have nothing to do with the difficulties in finding a job.

For most civilians, the last worries before heading into an interview are as mundane as résumé formatting and body posture. Purple Heart winner Jerry Majetich was shot four times, suffered severe burns and broke his back in two places, so he suddenly wasn't so concerned with the little things.

"Both my ears are actually prosthetic and I didn't have them yet, so there was an intimidation factor, and I don't blame anyone for that," he said. "It's human nature but because of that I couldn't find employment and that's when I came across Drexel Hamilton. They gave me a new life."

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Drexel Hamilton President Jim Cahill, who provides the Wall Street leadership at the firm, is proud of the impact the veterans are making.

"The greatest gift we can give these people is an opportunity at advancement in business. … When you do that, it solves a lot of wounds," he said.

While what is taking place at Drexel Hamilton has all the makings for a feel-good charity story, Doll said it's nothing close to a charity. Because after all, to use the words of the veterans, they're just doing their jobs.

"First and foremost we are a wonderful brokerage dealer," Doll said. "That's the first thing we have to be and the secondary mission of that is to train some of these vets."