Several of you have written me this week asking about other firms that were affected by the World Trade Center tragedy.
Jim Cramer wrote a moving story about this yesterday on
, our premium site. I wanted to share that piece with you here.
Sandler O'Neill. Keefe Bruyette and Woods. Cantor Fitzgerald. Three firms.
Might mean something to you, might not. Some names in the paper. Some guys you might have heard of. You've seen some of their surviving executives on television, and might have thought, "Gee, seem like great guys, wish I had known them." Or you might have asked, "Gee, what did they do, were they like Merrill Lynch, or Morgan Stanley? Were they specialist firms, or boutiques?"
"Boy, I wish I knew more about them."
For me, someone in the business for years and years, someone who lives in Summit, N.J., where many of the Sandler executives lived, I have no such detachment. If anything, I am too attached, too shocked to be articulate about what happened.
But that's wrong. Yesterday, when Dave Morrow, our editor in chief, asked us to
write about Bill Meehan, I could barely manage to do so. Once I did, though, I knew it was right.
So I want to write you about the people at these firms. First, I knew people at all of them. Did I know them well? The business is funny. You can speak to people every day and not know them well, and yet, now that they are gone, you ask yourself, why didn't I tell them how much I liked them? Why didn't I get out with them more? Why didn't I thank them more? Why didn't I know how much I would miss them? They were just voices on the phone.
Of course, it turns out they were much more than that. We are in a business where everything is done by phone. In fact, you never get together unless something is going wrong.
Nothing was ever wrong with Rick Thorpe, the man who spoke to us every day, often many times, for many years, at KBW. Rick gave us the morning call from Keefe. He knew I liked the banks and the S&Ls, and he always had something important or necessary to say. Some of it was his terrific insight. Some of it was his firm's fabulous judgment on the financials. You see, his firm is, like Sandler O'Neill, a remarkable firm, one that you need to be covered by.
When I started my hedge fund in 1987, I went to KBW and begged to be covered, because I wanted their bank call. At first they thought I was too trading-oriented and they didn't want to cover me. But after I knocked on the door a bunch of times, they finally relented, and we had a terrific relationship. The last thing I said to Rick was that the small banks were in such a bear market -- the
was still tightening them -- that I apologized for not doing more business, but when I had it, he would get it. He deserved it.
On Wall Street you dream of a good cover man, someone who gives you the skinny and the straight, who tries to make money for you every day. Rick Thorpe was one of those guys. They don't get books written about them. They are interior linemen. They make the business happen. I can't believe he's gone. He seemed like an indestructible guy to me.
Keefe Bruyette and Woods will always be
call on banks as long as they want to stay in business. Just recently I was with KBW's Tom Theurkauf -- who is missing -- on
and found myself thinking, man, that guy's good. We talked about how he didn't like the financials despite the cuts. That turned out to be a totally correct vision. We promised to get together. We didn't get a chance to.
Sandler O'Neill? What can I say about Sandler O'Neill? This boutique firm brought public most of the savings and loans I traded and invested in during the 1990s. We bought most of our positions through this fabulous firm. They quietly worked the orders and did yeoman's work at all times. They worked for their customers. I didn't know how much they did until 1998, when I had a difficult Fed margin call and I needed to work out of some hard positions, positions that, if anyone knew I was liquidating, they would have had a field day shorting them in front of me.
That's why I went to Sandler -- they never betray. They just facilitate and help. How I would like to pour the business on Sandler now for what they did in 1998, but, alas, shouldn't I have done that in 1999 and 2000? Now I can just write about how great they are.
And how about Cantor Fitzgerald? We all know Bill Meehan, and Bill was everything great about Cantor. But did you know that Cantor was the first call you placed when you had to get something done on the fly? That Cantor was the first firm you could go to to get something done at any hour? That Cantor's people hustled and scrapped for every piece of business? My wife and I know people we traded with at Cantor and until I read that there is a memorial scheduled on the Web site, I am not giving up hope. Not this bunch of guys. You might think that people on Wall Street who are still hoping are dreamers. You never traded with Cantor.
They were the toughest and hardest-working folk on the Street, making it work on their sheer wits. Their largest business is bonds, but I loved their equity guys. They were "go to" in the way that we think of certain players you would go to when there are only a few minutes left in the game. Cantor Fitz will always be go-to guys.
No writer can do justice to what these folks were like in real life, at home. I know some of them from my hometown in Summit and you knew them because they were the most involved, most giving, most visible in town. Because it was their nature. They were guys who made me feel badly because when I was at the hedge fund, I walked around as if my portfolio were a steamer trunk on my back. They walked around the way I wanted to, like great, honorable business people at work and then terrific dads and moms at home. I couldn't get the latter right until I quit my day job. They had balance. They were and are inspirational to us.
This site is about making money. This piece isn't. It is just a plain tribute to some guys the world will miss. And a reminder that these businesses will go on because they are great at their jobs.
I haven't missed my hedge fund much. But I miss it today, because I would be pouring the business on to show support. It wouldn't bring back anyone. It would make the survivors' lives, which must be horrible beyond comprehension, a little bit easier. That's enough for now.
David Morrow is editor-in-chief of TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback and invites you to send it to