Video: Wall St. survivors

By Bertha Coombs Reporter
CNBC
updated 9/11/2006 1:50:40 PM ET 2006-09-11T17:50:40

They suffered crippling losses in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

But in the days after 9/11, boutique investment banking firms Sandler O'Neill and Keefe Bruyette & Woods got back on their feet thanks to compassion of others who threw business their way.  Survival was hardly a given.    

Today, these close knit firms have risen from the ashes -- with a boldness and resilience that has surprised even them.

Keefe Bruyette & Woods CEO John Duffy and Sandler O'Neill CEO Jimmy Dunne have each helped their boutique banking firms nearly double in size over the last five years.  That hard-fought growth came against unthinkable odds.

“People wondered how could you do it?” said Dunne. “How could you not do it?” 

Sandler was on the 104th floor of the south tower at the World Trade Center; Keefe Bruyette & Woods was  on the 89th floor.  Each lost more than one-third of its staff in the attacks:  67 souls at Keefe Bruyette and 66 at Sandler.  Both firms committed early on to providing for  surviving families.

“Everybody wanted to react as generously as we could,” said Dunne. “We couldn't have unless we were able to survive and go on.”

DUFFY: It's the memory of the people that we lost that day that I think has been the motivating factor for a lot of us.
CNBC: It's personal for everyone to lose friends.  But you also lost your son that day.
DUFFY: Maybe the emotional tugs are a little bit stronger having lost a son

The challenge remains to balance the tug of loss and remembrance with the need to heal and move on.  For Sandler this year, that means no company-wide memorial service on 9/11. And for Jimmy Dunne, there’s one other big change.

“We had the memorial right up front (in the office lobby),” said Dunne. “Some of my partners remarked., ‘Jimmy, it was good there for a period of time, but it shouldn't be the first thing everybody sees.’ I didn't agree, but ... “ 

He made his peace with it,  relocating the memorial next to his office.

“It's the right place for it,” he said.

Keefe Bruyette & Woods will mark this year's anniversary with the dedication of its memorial at New York's Central Park Zoo. Nature Conservancy was a cause near and dear to the heart of one of its departed members.

“This year it seems like we're going to have larger attendance than we've had in prior years,” said Duffy. “And I think some of that is people coming back as they're better able to deal with the situation.”

Their businesses are also moving on different paths this year.  Keefe Bruyette & Woods is aiming for an in initial public stock offering this fall, while Sandler's committed to staying privately held. 

Whatever their success, they may forever be known first for surviving 9/11. But that's okay.

“It will always be a part of who we are,” said Dunne.

“We really feel we don't want people to forget what happened that day,” said Duffy. “That's really singular in our mind.”

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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