Drexel Hamilton: Veterans in Finance

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I can be quite boorish about a great many things (ask my long-suffering family): malaria, the single-transferrable vote, funding for the arts, the inherent nastiness of investment banking and the lousy way America treats its veterans. The last two particularly rankle. In the normal course of my writing career, though, I discovered an investment bank that focuses on helping vets adapt to civilian life. Drexel Hamilton is my new favorite financial institution.

According to the Drexel website, the firm “is a full-service institutional broker-dealer founded on the principle of offering meaningful employment opportunities to disabled veterans desiring a career in financial services. We are committed to developing the best broker-dealer in the market, but most importantly earning the trust of our customers as we demonstrate our commitment to the highest standards of Ethics, Morality, and Service. At our core, Drexel Hamilton seeks to build a firm owned and operated by service-disabled veterans.”

About half of the staff at Drexel are former members of the U.S. military, and a great many are reservists. About a quarter of them have received the Purple Heart. Frankly, I am more impressed by that than an MBA from Harvard (or anywhere else).

I had occasion to sit in on a meeting with a small cap firm engaged in medical research and one of their salesmen, Mark Forney. Now, I do a little research before meetings like this, and I discovered something in Forney’s background that doesn’t scream Wall Street: He was a Secret Service agent for three different presidents.

When you walk into the office in lower Manhattan, you don’t see the usual trappings of Wall Street egomania; instead, Drexel Hamilton’s hallway is decorated with the patches of the 101st Airborne, the 1st Infantry Division (my Dad was in the BIG RED ONE, a peacetime draftee) and the 10th Mountain Division. One of the few financial trophies in Mark’s office was a block of Lucite encasing three bank notes, dinars from the Saddam Hussein years.

After the meeting, I asked Forney about the firm, and he gave me the basics. What he didn’t bring up, but one of his colleagues did, is that Forney is a very modest man who has done some extraordinary things. “He works at Drexel Hamilton for us, to help each of his brothers and sisters today have a chance to achieve greatness. He would never accept the accolades for it, just simply smile and nod his head and move on to working hard at making a difference. That’s the caliber of person Drexel Hamilton has working for it — mission first soldiers always!” the colleague said.

Instead of telling me the story, though, Forney said I should talk to Jerry Majetich, who works out of the Florida office. Majetich spent more than 19 years in the service of the U.S., first as a Marine and then in the U.S. Army before an improvised explosive device [IED] in Iraq ended his career in the military. He spent the next 22 months in the hospital at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. He’s undergone literally dozens of surgical procedures.

Majetich told me that his search for a job in civilian life wasn’t easy. “When I first decided I was too young to retire, and I could go back to work, I started looking for jobs. But as much as people like to deny it, my physical appearance was a factor when I interviewed for jobs,” he explained. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel pretty angry and more than a little sad.

Thanks to the Wall Street Warfighters Foundation, though, Majetich has been at Drexel for eight years; during the last four, he has been involved in the political end of things, working on legislation and regulation for the firm.

Now, in my books, he’s a hero, but he’s typical of the guys at Drexel. “I’m not a hero, but I served with a lot of them,” is pretty standard. Majetich told me if I wanted a real story about Drexel, I should talk to Joseph Krulder II, so I did.

A Long Island guy, Krulder enlisted in the Army before 9/11, and he did two tours in Iraq as part of the 101st Airborne. He returned to discover his wife had left, and he was, therefore, a single father. Without a plan to care for the kid, the Army wouldn’t let him stay in, so he found himself returning to civilian life involuntarily. The word he used to describe it was “horrifying.” As a sergeant, he was told his career options were firefighter or cop. He served as a deputy sheriff in Florida for three years.

He resigned because he spent 16 or so hours a day on the streets trying to break into the Narcotics Task Force. He did that, he said, because he was hiding “some things that were hurting inside.” Having been remarried, he probably saved the second marriage by quitting.

He wound up in Arizona, working for the University of Phoenix advising ex-military applicants about their financial options. Not long after, he got headhunted by a “big shop” for quite a bit of money. However, it wasn’t a fit, and he was laid off. He sent his wife and kids to Illinois where she is from, and he came back to New York.

For four months, he pounded the pavement looking for work — sleeping on couches in friends’ apartments or even in his car. Nothing happened until he was out on the North Fork of Long Island, where he had business with the VA. Shortly before, Drexel Hamilton had been in the same office pitching its opportunities in finance. The guy Krulder met mentioned it to him, and a meeting with Drexel’s president Jim Cahill followed.

Krulder said the day the call came, about 10 days or so after the meeting, “was a bad day.” “That was the day Drexel Hamilton saved one more soldier,” he said. “That is why Jerry is my hero and my battle buddy. He and all of the men and women at Drexel Hamilton saved me from a bad day and gave my wife and children their husband and father back. Jerry never quits, even when the pain is so bad, he never quits. That fact alone is the gut check that makes me never quit. I love him and am proud to call him my brother and always will.”

I can tell you from experience, the guys at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase don’t talk about each other like that.

I encourage you to visit Drexel Hamilton’s website to learn more.

Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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