Some Vets Get a New Mission

Service-disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are moving from the battlefront to the front lines of the municipal bond market after enlisting for a new type of boot camp that arms them for yet another challenging “mission” — returning to the workforce.

A joint mentorship between broker-dealer Drexel Hamilton LLC and the nonprofit Wall Street Warfighters Foundation gives veterans with dreams of a career in the financial industry a chance to reinvent themselves after being injured during active duty.

Veterans suffering with everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to complications from brain injuries can qualify for a six-month, four-phase financial and trading education program, which is fully funded with Drexel’s profits and is conducted at the firm’s three main offices in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Upon completion, the veterans have the opportunity to become fully licensed brokers. Of the 24 trainees that have graduated so far, seven are currently employed by Drexel.

Eric Eberth, a disabled pilot and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Marines and Navy, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury after deployment to Iraq.

“This was my opportunity to give back to this program, and that helped me so much,” said Eberth, who graduated from the Warfighters program last year and is currently a vice president at the firm. He is getting on-the-job training from long-time municipal and fixed-income market veterans like Tom Mead and Jim Cahill, who left paying careers to help prepare the veterans for “combat” in the financial industry. They joined Drexel in 2010.

Eberth, who is also currently a graduate student working toward a master’s of business administration, is learning the ropes — from building relationships with issuers and structuring deals to supporting the syndicate desk and sales and trading operations.

On Monday, Eberth got a glimpse at the primary market in action when he visited Ramirez & Co.’s Wall Street office for the first day of a retail order period for the firm’s $400 million New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority deal. Drexel is financial advisor for the transaction.

Mead, managing director of Drexel’s muni operations, and Cahill, president of the firm, both previously worked at the former Salomon Brothers. Mead was the managing director of municipal sales, trading and underwriting, and Cahill was managing director of fixed income. They are now non-salaried employees of  Drexel.

“We have learned from some of the best and we import that to these people,” Cahill said. “While we were sleeping they were protecting us and making a sacrifice … we owe them something.”

Goldman, Sachs & Co. is one of the corporate mentors of the program, providing financial support and training opportunities. It also clears all of Drexel’s transactions and backs all legally executed trades, with no financial limit.

According to Mead, the firm’s footprint in the municipal market has grown in the last 12 months since first becoming active in muni sales, trading and underwriting in December 2010.

Drexel co-managed six deals last year and was credited with $306.3 million, ranking 72nd, according to Thomson Reuters. It was the financial advisor on 10 issues and credited with $1.58 billion last year, ranking it 22nd.

“The firm has been profitable every quarter for the last year, the client base is growing, and the firm is adding value” to the recent syndicate deals in which it has served as selling group member and co-manager, according to Mead. One of the largest it participated as a co-manager was a $1.31 billion New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund Authority offering in Nov. 2011.

Mead said Drexel is “looking forward” to its first senior-managed issue in the Texas market in about six months. It is expanding its national underwriting presence from its mostly Northeast-focused banking, and is planning to open branch offices in Florida, Texas and California.

Back at the Wall Street Warfighters Foundation, the newest class of eight trainees reports for duty in early February. Phase one “Basic Training” provides career guidance and introduction to the financial industry, while “Building Blocks” offers training programs and short-term internships with corporate partners.

“Advanced Training” prepares veterans to pass the FINRA Series 7 and 63 licensing exams, while the final “Deployment” phase provides corporate internships lasting four to six months, culminating with an opportunity for full-time employment. 

Successful job placement gives veterans a renewed sense of pride and integrity, according to Cauldon “Cal” Quinn, Drexel’s chief financial officer and a former Marine who served in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For some it helps overcome the stigma of having been rejected by potential employers because of their debilitating injuries, he said.

Both Drexel and the nonprofit foundation were co-founded in late 2007 by Larry Doll, a disabled Marine Corp. veteran and dual Purple Heart recipient who served in Vietnam, and his former commanding officer, Peter Pace, a retired four-star general and the 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whose career in the Marines spanned 40 years.

Doll, Drexel’s chairman and chief executive officer, wanted to help his unemployed comrades around the country. Pace agreed, and became the chairman of the foundation.

“To be in this industry is a challenge,” Doll explained. “Wall Street is unbelievably competitive … it’s an Ivy League street.”

“These veterans are not looking for a handout, they are looking for an opportunity and a chance,” he added.

Like Drexel, Wall Street Warfighters is also marked for growth. Doll said the program is thriving and he hopes it will be profitable enough to generate the $1.2 million necessary to train as many as 24 veterans each year. Drexel is currently 40% owned and operated by veterans, but Doll anticipates the firm being fully owned and operated by veterans and disabled veterans one day.

“It’s a real mission to help these people and basically change their lives,” the CEO said. 

To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a disability rating of 30%, among other requirements. For more information on the program, or to become a corporate sponsor, visit www.wallstreetwarfighters.org.


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