Jerry Majetich completed four tours in Iraq.
It was it on his last mission, when he was working for the psychological operations division in the US Marine Corps, that his vehicle ran over an IED, or roadside bomb.
His body was on fire, and when he got out of the vehicle he was shot four times. 100% of his face and 37% of the surface area of his body was completely burned, he lost both ears (he now wears prosthetics), his nose and some fingers, and ruptured his abdomen and intestines, among other injuries.
He spent 22 months in hospital and has endured 74 operations and counting.
When he finally retired from service in 2007, he said that his wife left him, and he became a single father of three children, and $1.3 million in debt.
He didn’t think he would have trouble finding work. He had received a degree in finance with a 3.98 GPA and had a decorated military record. Getting interviews proved to be difficult however, and when he was invited in, “the interview was over even before it started.”
“I was really motivated, but nobody would take me seriously because of my injuries,” he said. “To feel forgotten was very painful.”
Matt Morowsky, a soft spoken veteran from Georgia, had a lot of responsibility on active duty. He was in charge of 120 soldiers, 20 artillery men, 15 US contractors, and 500 Afghan soldiers that he was mentoring to take over security in the area. He was also in charge of mentoring the mayor, judge and the police force of a small town in the Afghan mountains.
US Army vet Scott Smiley is blind in both eyes from an explosion in Mosul, Iraq. He has a masters degree from Duke University and completed the Ironman long distance triathlon in Hawaii against all odds. He too, wasn’t able to find work after leaving the army and “nobody would hire him.”
Drexel Hamilton wants to change that.
A new start
Broker dealer Drexel Hamilton was founded by disabled veteran Lawrence Doll in 2007. Doll served in the Vietnam War in 1968 and 1969 and was seriously wounded while he was there. “It was a difficult time,” he said, “because the country was mostly against the war in Vietnam. But people helped me — and I never forgot that.”
He, in turn, wanted to help veterans who were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially the injured ones, as he knew they had a difficult time finding work.
Doll was an aspiring football player and had football scholarships when the Vietnam War interrupted his dream. “That was my love,” he said. “But here I am. I think God had a different idea for me. Maybe this is where I’m supposed to be.”
The firm’s vision lies in “pairing a vet with a vet,” wherein a Wall Street industry vet pairs with a military vet on the team. Out of 108 employees, around 40% are veterans and just over half of those are veterans disabled in service.
Spending time with the firm’s chairman and founder Lawrence Doll, head of equities Billy Mingione, and president James Cahill, it’s clear that for many the firm is like a family. Doll and Cahill refer to the employees as their kids. “They’re like my children,” Doll said. Mingione has had vets over for Thanksgiving and other holidays. And Doll walked Majetich’s new fiancee down the aisle at their wedding.
Cahill was in retirement when he met Doll and learned of the company’s mission. Now 79, Cahill is a 30 year Wall Street veteran who lost his son on 9/11.
He served as managing director of Salomon Brothers (acquired by Citi), managing director at Lehman Brothers and head of fixed income operations at Keefe Bryuette & Woods (KBW).
Hailing from a family of blue collar workers, Cahill was the first in his family to attend college and took night classes at Fordham University for six years to complete his degree.
“That’s what I tell the guys who are trying to come up the hard way,” he said. “You can do it. If I can do it, you can do it. Go at it and show people you can do it.”
Mingione is a fellow industry vet. With 19 years of experience on Wall Street, he spent over a decade at Fidelity and ran corporate access at Collin Stewart.
The firm operates in capital markets, sales and trading and investment Banking. The firm’s equity research practice, which began in 2011, focuses on aerospace and defence, telecommunications, media and technology, financial services, energy and technical analysis.
Drexel Hamilton is particularly proud of its expertise in aerospace and defence, which, the team say, veterans have first hand experience of.
Who better to understand and analyse the aerospace and defence industry than a former F-18 fighter pilot?
“We don’t walk in the door saying we’re veterans, so you should do business with us,” said Mingione. “We walk in the door saying, ‘hey, we’ve got a great research product and we have great talent.’ And they’re much more willing to consume it from us because they like us and want to do business with us.”
“What we’ve found is that the vets don’t want charity, they don’t want to beg,” said Cahill. “These are heroes. And we put them back with their family and give them the chance to live the American Dream the way I was able to do it.”
Drexel’s office is different from other offices on Wall Street. Flags hang in the reception and a large painting of a WWII fighter plane adorns the wall. Employees hang framed pictures of their unit patches, worn on their uniforms while serving in active duty, on the walls next to their desks, and a giant map of Iraq hangs on the trading floor, serving as a reminder of colleagues that have served.
Drexel Hamilton is a fixture at industry conferences and partners with other veteran initiatives on the street, including Wall Street Warfighters. The firm hires veterans on a rotational program, and new veteran employees rotate between the various businesses, each paired with a Wall Street veteran, and determine which is the best fit. For those vets that don’t get recruited, the firm aims to be a resource to the rest of the Street and use their contacts at veteran initiatives at other institutions to place other hires.
Ben Downing, a capital markets associate at Drexel Hamilton, served in Iraq with the US Army in 2008 and 2009. Tall and broad shouldered, he was quick to explain the skills that military veterans possess that translate over to financial services.
Leadership, teamwork, initiative. That’s what they teach in an MBA class or any executive leadership training class, he said. “But those are things we learn in basic training. Those are the building blocks in the military that we start off with.”
Downing also points to the ability of veterans to assimilate a huge amount of data quickly and make it actionable. “It’s exactly what happens on Wall Street,” he said. “You need that tactical and strategical outlook, and we’re used to being agile thinkers.”
He talks about the adaptability of veterans to uncomfortable situations and locations. For example, he recently went on a last minute trip to Rwanda for a capital markets meeting. “Plus,” jokes
Morowsky, “We already have all of our vaccinations.”
Majetich sees a lot of similarities between his role in psychological operations with the Marines and his current role in business development at Drexel Hamilton.
In that unit, they were tasked with “winning the hearts and minds” of the local population. He often had to sit down with villagers and have conversations. Over time he became friends with locals and they eventually started to provide him with relevant information. It was intelligence gathering, not too dissimilar from corporate access at Drexel Hamilton. But here, he jokes, there’s no fear of getting killed.
That’s not to say it’s an easy transition. There are the challenges of adapting to a new life after war, especially after sustaining potentially devastating injuries — mentally, emotionally and physically. It’s also a matter of culture.
“We’re not good self promoters,” said Downing. In the military, you are rated by how good your soldiers are rather then by how good you are. But in the corporate world, it’s a complete 180 in the way you’re supposed to promote yourself.
Initially, Drexel Hamilton recruited by going around to hospitals and talking to the “kids” said Doll. “Sometimes they hold a degree of bitterness. But if you’re gladiator, you take a chance. You need to be able to move past it.”
Other programs dedicated to helping military veterans include Wall Street Warfighters and VOWS, or Veterans on Wall Street.
Philadelphia based Wall Street Warfighters is a six month course that includes class work, field work, exam preparation, mentorship, and internships for veterans. The foundation covers all training, travel, business clothing, housing and food.
VOWS is another organisation committed to providing support and training for veterans as well as recruitment initiatives, and partners include Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman, and HSBC.
Drexel Hamilton is doing its part to help veterans, but it’s clear that much still needs to be done. According to the Census Bureau, there are 21.3 million veterans living in the United States and Puerto Rico, comprising 9 per cent of the civilian population.
Many banks (and non banks) are stepping up with initiatives to hire veterans. In 2011, the White House launched a nationwide program to support service members, veterans, and their families. Through the initiative, more than 50 companies have pledged to hire more than 110,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.