Published January 13, 2015
This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, September 10, 2002, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.
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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: John Duffy is an amazing man. As co-CEO of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, he staged a turnaround when scandal hit the firm, and when two attempts to go public were scrapped. Just when he thought his luck had changed, September 11 happened. He lost his son, Christopher, also an employee of the company. And he lost his co-CEO Joe Berry, Sr. And one-third of his staff perished in the attacks. In his book Triumph Over Tragedy, Duffy tells how important it is to rebuild and how he had to courage to do it. I got a chance to speak to Mr. Duffy recently, and he told me why this book is so important.
JOHN DUFFY, CHMN. & CEO, KEEFE, BRUYETTE & WOODS: We wound up deciding to do it for a couple of different reasons, not for our own but we felt that there was a chance to raise money for the KBW Family Fund if the book was a success, but more importantly than that, as we started on the project, we decided it would be kind of a legacy for the children of the people that we lost, that some of these children are very young, in fact some of them weren't even born. And we had, I believe, four pregnant wives. We think this book will be something that these children, when they get a little bit older, can read and hopefully learn something about where their parent worked.
CAVUTO: You had a different role, Mr. Duffy, because in reading this very closely, I sense here is a guy who is trying to be there for his troops, but you were dealing with horrible anguish yourself, you lost your son at the firm, on this horrible day. What was going through your head?
DUFFY: Well, really, Neil, the first two weeks, I attended to my personal situation. I did not go back to work. Tom Michaud and Andy Senchak, who are COO now and president of the firm, they really, you know, started the ball rolling in terms of us getting the firm rebuilt. I think I talked with them most days. But they and a lot of the other people, both senior people and junior people, deserve the credit for you know getting the rebuilding effort underway in those first couple of weeks.
CAVUTO: It must have been hard on you because your workers, many of whom would later die, were watching the first tower after it got hit. You know, some were leaving, others were at their desks, studiously there to the end, even though they were being advised to leave. Do you look back at that and say, you are nuts, you're nuts.
DUFFY: Well, I think it is easy for myself or anybody else to question why they did not leave but.
CAVUTO: Well, no one thought that a second plane was going to hit.
DUFFY: That was beyond imagination. The first plane was beyond imagination, the second plane was certainly equally incomprehensible. Well, some of the people did leave, unfortunately, the sales and trading people were already at work, on the phone with clients and customers getting ready for the market to open. And while you say that some of them were being advised to leave, there were also announcements within the building that.
CAVUTO: Everything is OK.
DUFFY: So, there wasn't that much time that passed between the two attacks, I mean, I think it was something on the order of 17 or 18 minutes which.
CAVUTO: The story you told when you finally did get back home that day, and your wife had seen the tower collapse, she kind of told you, they are all gone, go back to work, it was something to that effect. What message was she sending you?
DUFFY: I think she probably read what she knew I wanted to do. We knew we would be there for each other in terms of our other children. But…
CAVUTO: But you had called them back. You had called them home from college.
DUFFY: Two of the children were away at college. My son was up at school in Vermont and my daughter was in school in Rhode Island, one of the other daughters who was going to school in California was supposed to leave the next, so she had not yet left. So I brought Kevin and Kara home.
CAVUTO: Mr. Duffy, you are a brave man, I don't want to bring unpleasant things up, and if I do, please, you don't have to answer, but when you saw that tower collapse and you see all of the footage again and again, and it has been re-airing constantly a year later, what goes through your mind?
DUFFY: Horrible way to die. And I think it reemphasizes or reinforces the attitude that we kind of can't let the bad guys win.
CAVUTO: Do you, just as a father, an associate, a former boss of all of these folks, you see the resistance forgetting from your paeans and a lot of our friends who don't want us to go into Iraq, they're kind of saying go slow on this war on terror, what do you think?
DUFFY: I think if it had happened to them, they would have a different reaction. I do not think you truly appreciate the horror and how it changes your life until it hits close to home.
CAVUTO: You know, my favorite part of your book is actually the end where you sort of profile all of the people who lost their lives at your firm. And they read sort of like those New York Times stories profiling all of the victims, many of whom are, by the way, cross referenced here. What do you think, obviously the firm has come back, you have seen to that, and it has been a masterful stroke on your part, but when you look back at those people, your son included, we always focus on the financial capital loss that day on business shows and all, but you kind of put in perspective the human capital. Looking back what do you think?
DUFFY: Yes. These were great people, I mean, people you would have been proud to call your brother, your son, your father, your wife, your sister. And they had distinctive personalities. We have, those of us who, you know, had the privilege of working with those people, we've got some great memories, and we have to charge those memories.
CAVUTO: There were stories, as you know, and I'm not going to bring up some of your competitors of those other firms that were victims in this attack, who got kind of bad press on how they treated their workers and the surviving family members. You were the polar opposite of that, you were immediately on top of this, immediately tending to their needs, and while you think there was a common story on September 11, I've learned as a journalist later it was not. But I sense you're a very religious man, that when this first hit, the first place you went was to a church. On the way back, another place you hit was a church.
DUFFY: Same church.
CAVUTO: So you are a pretty religious guy, did that help you through this?
DUFFY: Without a doubt, I think people that had their faith to lean on were maybe better able to deal with the incomprehensibility of this whole situation.
CAVUTO: What about your other kids?
DUFFY: It has been an awakening for them. I think they handled it very well. We don't forget Christopher, we have got pictures of him all over the place. And they talk about him, you know, with great regularity.
CAVUTO: I like story you said in the end that the rugby players had his patch for him.
Stepping back from this. Just the firm. You know, Keefe, Bruyette was just coming through a tough time after the scandals and everything, when this hit. And yet you survived all of this, you've got to think that maybe someone upstairs is pushing you along, huh?
DUFFY: Yes, we kind of felt we've had more than our share of bad luck. So maybe we've gotten some good luck in the past few months, given the market conditions, I think been able to attract some very good people. Sometimes it is hard to see the good luck or good fortune we have had, but I think net-net with whatever luck we've had -- our attitude is, let's get it done.
CAVUTO: John Duffy, he lost his son and 66 members at his firm a year ago tomorrow.
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