Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 marks somber date for Texas Brahmas majority owner

Cantor Fitzgerald Vice-Chairman lost over 650 employees, friends in WTC attack

(Originally published in Pro Hockey News)

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began as a typical day for then Fort Worth Brahmas General Manager Mike Barack. Having just returned from New York the day before after attending the wedding of his former assistant GM, Barack was at his office downtown, preparing for the minor professional hockey team’s fifth season when word reached him about the tragedy unfolding in Lower Manhattan.

Barack received a call from his wife, Michelle, informing him of the planes hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center and that it was apparently an act of terrorism.

“Obviously, the first thing I remember thinking was ‘Oh, I hope Stuart’s not there,” Barack said, referring to his lifelong friend Stuart Fraser, who was also the majority owner of the Brahmas. “I tried to call him for almost two hours at every number possible. A lot of the phone lines were out, so you couldn’t get through. I called his home and his cell and kept dialing and finally, and this is after everybody knew what had happened, I was able to get a hold of him and basically, he said ‘I’m OK; I’m not there and I’ll call you back’.”

Typically, Fraser spent Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the corporate headquarters of Cantor Fitzgerald, the company founded 56 years earlier by his uncle, Bernie Cantor. A global financial services firm specializing in bond trading, Cantor Fitzgerald occupied the 101st through 105th floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center.

As luck, or fate would have it, a business meeting set for later in the day kept Fraser home on September 11th. Instead, Fraser went in to the office a day earlier. As he later recounted to the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s Jim Reeves, he walked around the entire office – visiting all five floors.

"I just wanted to talk to people, to see everyone," Fraser said. “I just enjoyed touching base with everybody…It was a good day. Everyone was working hard."

Little did he know, it would be the last time he would see any of them ever again.

The following morning at 8:46 a.m. EST, American Airlines Flight 11, traveling at roughly 466 miles per hour flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center, between the 93rd and 99th floor. The aircraft entered the tower mostly intact, plowing into the building core and severing all three stairwells as it exploded in flames. People below the severed stairwells almost immediately started to evacuate—no one above the impact zone was able to do so.

Eating breakfast with his wife and three children, Fraser’s world was turned upside down when a special report interrupted the Tuesday morning newscast. Prompted by his wife, Elise, Fraser looked up to see images of smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center and learned that an aircraft had just crashed into the north tower, somewhere just beneath Cantor Fitzgerald's offices.

At 8:55 a.m., just nine minutes after the Flight 11 struck One World Trade Center, Fraser’s cell phone beeped. It never rang, but the beep indicated he had a voice mail message. As he played back the message, Fraser listened in horror as his secretary, 32-year-old Lourdes Diaz, advised that something had hit the building, that smoke was everywhere and there was no way out. She asked him to please send help.

"I didn't know what to do,” Fraser recalled. “I was calling every number I knew at the offices and no one was answering.”

Helplessly watching the news footage, Fraser witnessed the drama unfolding as a second plane, United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower just after 9 a.m. and then the collapse of that building less than an hour later. At 10:28 a.m., the north tower collapsed – exactly one hour, 41 minutes and 45 seconds after the impact of Flight 11.

"I knew when the first building fell, it was just a matter of time before ours would go, too," Fraser said. "I just hoped our people were getting out. It never occurred to me that the stairwells were compromised by the [first] plane. Then No. 1 came down and my life changed forever. I knew then that we'd lost considerable people.”

658 was the final toll (all of Cantor Fitzgerald’s employees in the offices at the time of the attacks), or about two-thirds of its workforce, which was more than any other of the World Trade Center tenants. In fact, nearly one in four deaths at the World Trade Center, including airline passengers and people on the ground, were Cantor Fitzgerald employees.

Meanwhile, Stuart Fraser, CEO and Chairman Howard Lutnick and Cantor Fitzgerald’s remaining employees had a company to keep alive. Cantor Fitzgerald was able to bring its trading markets back online within a week and in time, successfully rebuilt its infrastructure. The firm relocated its headquarters at 499 Park Avenue, about 4 ½ miles north of ground zero and now employs more than twice as many people than it did in 2001.

In addition, just over a week after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Lutnick made a pledge to distribute 25 percent of the firm's profits for the next five years to benefit of the families of its former Cantor Fitzgerald, eSpeed and TradeSpark employees. By 2006, the company completed its promise, having paid out a total of $180 million.

Fraser, who has served as the director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund over the past decade, also leads the annual memorial service for families and friends of the 658 employees lost on 9/11.

Seven weeks after the events unfolded on September 11th, Fort Worth Brahmas players wore patriotic-themed jerseys and a moment of silence was observed for those who perished in the attacks at their home opener against the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, a contest the Brahmas won 5-3.

Now 10 years later, Mike Barack is the first to point out that through all the turmoil, all the loss, and throughout the re-building process that Cantor Fitzgerald went through after 9/11, Stuart Fraser kept the Fort Worth Brahmas, now the Texas Brahmas alive.

“When you consider that he’s the vice-chairman of the company that lost the most employees in the World Trade Center and all the things that happened after 9/11 and he still maintained the franchise, it’s amazing,” Barack said. “I think people don’t recognize it (his contribution to the Brahmas franchise) because he’s not here a lot. But the appreciation should be there, because he’s kept it going year-in and year-out. Win or lose, he has been there.”

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

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