Neil's Heroes: John Duffy

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 1, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: The book is out. The secret is out. And my heroes are out.

From "More Than Money" out in bookstores everywhere now, a hero up close and personal now. Names you only think you know, including John Duffy. You know him as the face behind brokerage powerhouse Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. But he’s also the guy who rebuilt that firm after it was decimated in the September 11th attacks (search).

Now, among the victims, his son. His book, "Triumph Over Tragedy," recounting those horrific yet inspiring days, remains, for my money, the best personal reflection on the worst day in our nation’s history. But, of course, I’m biased. With us now is one of my heroes from the book "More Than Money," John Duffy.

John, thank you so much.

JOHN DUFFY, CEO, KEEFE, BRUYETTE & WOODS: Oh, glad to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

CAVUTO: How are you holding up? How are you doing?

DUFFY: Probably much better now than, you know, in the days and weeks and months after 9/11. But the firm has had a spectacular rebound due to the efforts of a great many people. And, you know, we’re proud to say we have accomplished a lot in the last two-and-a-half years.

CAVUTO: I don’t know, putting myself in your place that day, how much more a human being could take. You lost your son, you lost a huge chunk of your firm in this horrible attack. And you had to rebuild. How did you separate your grief from your responsibility?

DUFFY: Well, for two weeks, Neil, I didn’t come to work. I saw the people that took the bull by the horns, so to speak, in those days, Andy Senchak, Tommy Michaud, and dozens of other people within the firm really deserve the credit for the first couple of weeks, trying to assess where we were.

CAVUTO: I think you were on the phone once or twice checking on those people.

DUFFY: Well, you know, I, as much as anybody else in the firm, wanted it to be rebuilt. Fortunately, we had enough capital that that was an option, and I think we felt we owed it to the 67 people we lost that day, that that couldn’t be the final chapter of the firm. We had a nice 40-year history, and we’d like to it go on for another 40 years.

CAVUTO: Did you ever think, after losing that many people, and your own boy, that, you know, you were rich enough as it was, John, you were set for life, your family was set for life, your kids were set, that you didn’t have to go through this? That you could have passed the baton to someone who might have been able to carry it for you?

DUFFY: I really didn’t think that was the path I wanted to take. You know, I think if I had chosen not to be part of the rebuild, probably my colleagues would have understood it. But I didn’t want it to be — you know, September 10th to be the last day I went to work at KBW.


DUFFY: That just would have been a bad conclusion to what I think I’ve had a great career.

CAVUTO: One of the interesting stories in your rebuilding process, John — it was funny how you personally recounted here and elsewhere — the people who were interviewed for the jobs lost by people who died. And that was a difficult process. And you had helped steer them through that.

DUFFY: Right.

CAVUTO: It’s OK, it is not your fault, right?

DUFFY: Right. You know, I think many of them felt awkward being in that position. Many of the research people, especially, knew the colleagues at KBW that we had lost and the people whose jobs they would be taking. So there was certainly a degree of awkwardness during many of the interviews.

And we had to explain to these people that we needed to fill these slots and we needed to get over this awkward moment. And those people have been great in terms of helping us rebuild the firm. Mike Corasaniti, our initial director of research, was someone who I think felt the moral commitment to help us rebuild because he knew so many of the research analysts personally.

CAVUTO: Do you think something like September 11th could happen again?

DUFFY: Unfortunately, I do. Hopefully, not of the same magnitude. But, you know, when you take a look at what has happened in the Middle East on a regular occurrence, in terms of terrorist attacks, I think we’d be foolish to think we are safe.

CAVUTO: Did you think after the ‘93 attack on the World Trade Center that there would be another one?

DUFFY: No. I don’t really think that was in my consciousness. It probably should have been, but I think many of us, you know, regret, people in New York City, that that certainly didn’t have the magnitude of the events of 9/11. And I think, you know, maybe some people initially, after the attack in ‘93, were worried about more attacks. But over the course of the ensuing decade I think those fears subsided.

CAVUTO: You never gave thought to just saying the hell with New York, the hell with the Northeast, period. Why not?

DUFFY: Born and raised in New York. I have been at KBW most of my career. I guess the emotional attachments were just too strong.

CAVUTO: Yes. Your family, how are they holding up?

DUFFY: They’re doing fine. My twin daughters, who were starting college that week, are finishing their junior year now.

CAVUTO: That’s right.

DUFFY: So they are a constant reminder to me about how much time has passed. And they are doing fine. And their two older brothers are doing very well, as my wife is also.

CAVUTO: One story — and I don’t want to get too emotional here, because I get emotional talking about — I love the stories about your son, that he would walk around in flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts. He was not a slave to fashion in that sense, right?

DUFFY: No, not at all.

CAVUTO: How do his friends remember him now?

DUFFY: Right. His younger sisters I think admired that of the older siblings, he was the one who liked to dress well. But he was pretty casual on the weekends.

CAVUTO: I love the story, too, you told about that he would have parties when you weren’t there, but he didn’t necessarily cover his tracks right.

DUFFY: Well, he covered them pretty good for a long period of time. But it wasn’t until we read some yearbooks when — of classmates and younger classmates that came out that they will miss their Duff jam parties. And we fully became aware of the extent of the parties, how frequent they were and how big they were.

CAVUTO: Yes. Sounds like his dad.

Let me ask you about the president’s war on terror. He keeps citing September 11th, that we might forget, we shouldn’t forget. What do you think?

DUFFY: I don’t think we can forget. And, you know, I think with attacks elsewhere in the world, there are constant reminders. And, you know, I think even those who weren’t personally affected or impacted by the events of 9/11 have constant reminders out there, and I think they’d be foolish to ignore those reminders. We live in a somewhat different world than many of us grew up in.

CAVUTO: John, you are an incredible guy. I appreciate it very much.

DUFFY: Thanks. Much success with the book, Neil. I enjoyed reading it over the weekend.

CAVUTO: Thank you. You can find out a lot more about John, really one of the prominent heroes in that book, what he went through, a lesson for all of us.

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