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Combat vets make it in the trenches on Wall Street

Employees at work in Drexel Hamilton's New York office

Bank of America senior military affairs executive Jeff Cathey before a Naval flag in his office

Support our troops. Everybody says it, from politicians to business leaders. But when it comes to hiring those troops, many companies fall short. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans often return home to find civilian managers don’t understand how their combat service can translate to civilian work.

But some veterans are finding success building careers on Wall Street. Combat requires service members to analyze large amounts of constantly changing information quickly and keep their cool when chaos comes. They have to be decisive in high pressure, volatile settings. And volatility is a constant on Wall Street.

Bank of America executive Jeff Cathey knows how veterans can help the bottom line. The former Navy pilot flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he oversees the bank’s military programs, both for serving military clients and hiring military veterans.

“They can take a challenge. They’ll work long hours. They have a good team approach and they’re gonna see the mission complete,” he says.

Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and other leading banks have been working to hire more veterans. But many returning service members still face challenges convincing hiring managers on Wall Street that battlefield skills can apply in finance.

U.S. Naval Academy graduate Cal Quinn served in Afghanistan and is now CFO at Wall Street firm Drexel Hamilton. He recalls a former Marine who applied for a job a big bank.

After several rounds of interviews, it looked like he had the job in the bag, right until the final interviewer. The veteran’s would-be boss was harsh and dismissive. Without even bothering to end the interview, he walked out of the room and sneered to a colleague, “I don’t need a sniper. I need a trader.” The candidate heard the whole thing. The interviewer hadn’t even bothered to close to door.

“That’s somebody that doesn’t understand what it takes to be a sniper in the Marine Corps,” Quinn says.

Quinn and other veterans are working to set an example at their unique firm. The place looks typical at first glance. Staffers in shirtsleeves work in an open office, tapping on Bloomberg terminals and moving money click by click. They talk to clients, which include the largest banks and hedge funds.

But look closer and you notice Drexel Hamilton desks aren’t messy like many on Wall Street. You don’t see the crushed cans of Red Bull and junk food wrappers that commonly adorn traders’ desks. After I got up from their conference table, two people darted to where I was sitting to straighten the chairs so they stood in perfect formation with the rest.

There’s a reason the place operates with military precision. About half the firm’s employees are combat veterans. Though not one himself, Drexel Hamilton President Jim Cahill has a deep and personal connection to those who fought.

“I lost a son in the Trade Center,” he says. “Thanks to the sacrifices of veterans, we have not had another one of those and people did not have to go through the kinds of trauma that 3,000 families went through.”

Aside from making money, the firm also has a mission to show the industry that veterans can succeed in finance. Wall Street big shots like to compare their jobs to going to war. Drexel Hamilton makes the case that they should hire people who actually have.

Mark Garrison: Bank of America exec Jeff Cathey, a former Navy pilot, needs no convincing when it comes to hiring vets.

Jeff Cathey: They can take a challenge. They’ll work long hours. They have a good team approach and they’re gonna see the mission complete.

B of A, Goldman Sachs and other large banks have been working to hire more veterans. They’re trained to be decisive in high pressure, volatile settings. But vets still face hiring challenges. Cal Quinn served in Afghanistan and is now CFO at Wall Street firm Drexel Hamilton. He recalls a former Marine who interviewed with a big bank. It looked like he had the job, until the final interviewer.

Cal Quinn: The individual was pretty harsh and pretty abrupt, stepped outside of the room and told his boss, ‘I don’t need a sniper. I need a trader.’ That’s somebody that doesn’t understand what it takes to be a sniper in the Marine Corps.

Quinn wants to set an example at this unique firm. It looks typical at first glance. Staffers in shirtsleeves work in an open office, tapping on Bloomberg terminals. Clients include the largest banks and hedge funds. But look closer and you notice Drexel Hamilton desks aren’t messy like many on Wall Street. When I get up from their conference table, two people rearrange chairs to put them perfectly in line. There’s a reason the place operates with military precision.

Jim Cahill: We are approximately 70 employees. Half of them are combat veterans.

Though not one himself, company president Jim Cahill has a deep and personal connection to those who fought.

Cahill: I lost a son in the Trade Center. But thanks to the sacrifices of veterans, we have not had another one of those and people did not have to go through the kinds of trauma that 3,000 families went through.

Wall Street big shots like to compare their jobs to going to war. Drexel Hamilton makes the case that they should hire people who actually have. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

Bank of America senior military affairs executive Jeff Cathey before a Naval flag in his office

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