Cantor Fitzgerald CEO and the aftermath of 9/11

No company with offices in the World Trade Center was as devastated as Cantor Fitzgerald, the nation's leading bond brokerage firm, which occupied floors 101 to 105 atop the North Tower.

After the first al Qaeda-hijacked plane struck, all of the firm's 658 employees who were in the office that morning were trapped. None made it out alive.

The firm's CEO, Howard Lutnick, who was not in the office, dedicated his life over the past decade to rebuilding his business with one mission in mind: Helping those families, which represented nearly 70 percent of his workforce.

Lutnick not only lost many of his colleagues: Among the dead were Lutnick's brother Gary, as well as his best friend Doug.

CBS News senior business correspondent Anthony Mason sat down with Lutnick to discuss his journey of resilience.

ANTHONY MASON: You're not someone who's put sort of September 11th behind you and not thought about it for ten years. It's been present in everything you've done. What does this anniversary represent, to you?

HOWARD LUTNICK: Well, enough time has gone by that the friends and family who suffered that great loss have really come to terms with it. And they can talk about their loved ones, remember them, and smile. It still hurts parents more than anyone else, because you lose a child there's just nothing can that can mend that broken heart. But our community is so tight together. We can remember our friends really positively. And that's a really nice thing.

MASON: After all you've been through over the past ten years, how do you feel at this point?

LUTNICK: Well, I'm most proud of the community that we've built together. I mean we have 20 kids of people who died working here. I mean, can you imagine how wonderful that is as a compliment to the firm? So a great community, great employees, worked hard together to build that relationship, and great families and their connection to us.

MASON: The night of September 11th, ten years ago, you not only had lost over 600 employees, you thought you probably lost your whole business, too, right?

LUTNICK: Of course.

MASON: You're still here, and you're bigger and stronger than ever. How did that happen?

LUTNICK: We had a conference call, and we basically said we have two choices: We can shut the firm, go to our friends' funerals. You have to remember, 700 people means 20 funerals in a day, which is not possible to attend, for 35 straight days. It's just inconceivable. Or, we'd have to work harder than we've ever worked in our whole lives. And while everyone on the phone had a different reason, ultimately it was unanimous. We decided to work harder than we've ever worked before but for one purpose, which was to take care of our friends' families.

MASON: Initially you were hemorrhaging money, at that point. Weren't you?

LUTNICK: A million dollars a day we were losing. We paid the employees through the 15th. So for four days we paid the employees who had died. And, of course, we had no revenues. So, no revenues coming in, lots of expenses going out. It's simple math, it doesn't take very long.

MASON: You stopped paychecks for the employees who had died, and you got a lot of grief for that at first.

LUTNICK: There were people hadn't really thought it through. Compared us to other firms, saying, 'Gee, other firms were paying someone's salary who'd died for another month or so. Why can't you do that?' And the answer was sort of simple math, which is, if you lose three quarters of your staff, and all of the people who produce the revenue, you can't pay people with revenue you don't have. So, while it was a tough decision, it was the only decision. We committed to something quite different. We said, 'These families are part of us, and we're gonna give them 25% of our profits, and we're going to rebuild this company in order to take care of them. And we're gonna pay for the health care for ten years straight, so that they don't have to worry about that. We'll be there for them. And that's what we did.

MASON: The estimates I've seen is you paid out something in the order of $180 million?

LUTNICK: Right. We made two payments. We made a $45 million payment in October of 2001. We figured out how much money did the firm need to survive. And then whatever else was left, we paid out in one check. After that, we gave 25% of our profits of everything we made thereafter. And that we split per person. So 658 people, exactly, equal because everybody's equal. Some people make more, some people make less, but everybody's life is infinitely perfect. And if you want to know how valuable, just ask their mother.

MASON: What were you doing that morning, that you weren't in the building?

LUTNICK: September 11th was my son Kyle's first day of kindergarten. And he's 15 now and walks with attitude. He's 5'8'', taller than my wife. At the time it was his first day of kindergarten. So my wife and I took him to that first day of school. And that was two minutes before the first plane hit.

MASON: I think a lot of people would have gone into shock after that. You didn't seem to have that response.

LUTNICK: I figured I would have to compartmentalize. I would start crying, and then I'd pull myself together, and say, 'Okay, we have a meeting with the bank.' And I need the company to survive to take care of these people. So there's nothing sad about meeting with the bank. 'So let's focus on meeting with the bank.' And so I would cry, and I would stop crying.

MASON: It is impossible to process that much loss, and you can't process it in one big lump. It came to you, sort of one person at a time?

LUTNICK: One person at a time. You'd see their face, and they were killed. So, it was sort of you'd walk around, and be hit in the head with a brick, sort of all the time. We really had just a rollercoaster of emotion. Just an absolute rollercoaster, because if something made me happy, you know, it was as if someone had come back to life.

MASON: When you got a chance to finally talk to your kids, what did you say?

LUTNICK: My children knew that I had to help my friends' families. And that was the story that we were telling them, that something terrible had happened at daddy's work. And that all, you know, Uncle Gary, Uncle Doug, all of our friends, so many people that they know, they had been killed, and I needed to help their families.

And so, they come to the memorial. My son Kyle came to many years' memorials, and he would stand next to me and just shake people's hands and hug them, because he felt that would help them. That was our mission, and I think my kids understand that remains our mission.