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Turning Warriors into Wall Street Traders

By: John D’Antona Jr., Traders Magazine (www.TradersMagazine.com)                                                          Published: July 26, 2013

It is the moral imperative of the Unites States and Wall Street to help its returning combat veterans. And there is no better place than Wall Street to turn its warriors into career Wall Streeters.

That’s the thinking of Jim Cahill, president at Drexel Hamilton; a service disabled veteran owned broker-dealer founded on the principle of offering meaningful employment opportunities to disabled veterans.

Call it Operation Enduring Employment. 

“We’re going way out of our way to get veterans either disabled or not, hired and on their way to have great careers and get the best possible jobs,” Cahill told Traders Magazine. “Wall Street and the financial industry should be bringing these people along.”

And it doesn’t matter to Cahill or Drexel if those it trains move on to other firms or stay on. The bottom line, Cahill added, was to get veterans working. If the ability to “pay it forward” and help other vets exists, the firm embraces it.

Booyah.

The imperative at Drexel Hamilton is simple – make sure that returning veterans have the skill set they need to not only survive but thrive on Wall Street. To that end, the firm is committed to the dual goals of: Maintaining a concentration of veteran and disabled veteran employees of 50 percent or greater and financially and professionally supporting the training and employment of disabled veterans in the institutional financial services industry.

The firm gets its mission from its military founders, Lawrence Doll, a decorated service-disabled U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam with two Purple Hearts started the firm in 2008 with the sole mission of combining Wall Street and combat veterans and providing the latter employment. 

The firm has offices in New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, Sacramento, Raleigh, Jacksonville and Milwaukee. It does not receive any government subsidies. However, in a handful of municipalities or states such as California, there are veteran-preference bills that encourage parties to do business with veteran-owned firms when it comes to state procurement.  

Cahill was brought on by Doll back in 2010 to run the firm’s day-to-day operations, which include agency-only equity trading, fixed-income trading and research. Cahill said the firm is closely aligned with the Wall Street Warfighters Foundation (WSWF) – a 501c3, non-profit organization which mentors and trains disabled veterans for careers in the financial services industry. Doll is a WSWF board member and introduced Cahill to John Jones, a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, who told Cahill about the emotional, financial and physical plight veterans endured after returning from overseas. At that point, Cahill knew Drexel was where he wanted to be.

“The more I get involved here, the more I realized the sacrifices these people make warrant what we’re doing, to say the least,” Cahill said. 

While the national unemployment rate is currently at 7.6 percent, the jobless rate for post-Gulf War II veterans is higher hovering around the 10 percent mark in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2012, the unemployment rate for male Gulf War-era II veterans age 18 to 24 was 20 percent, higher than the rate for non-veterans of the same age group (16.4 percent).

From meager beginnings and a handful of employees back in 2008, Drexel now has 69 employees with 31 combat veterans. Fourteen of these warriors are disabled with injuries ranging from post-traumatic stress syndrome to missing limbs. And it is looking to hire more, Cahill added, starting on its equity trading desk.

The desk is run by Ray Hally, a market veteran with over 20 years’ experience, who spent 10 years at Spear Leeds & Kellogg, a division of Goldman Sachs, as a market maker on the floor of the NYSE. Hally reports to Cahill.

Hally said the desk has a total of five sales traders, two who are combat veterans. The philosophy here is to pair up combat vets with former Wall Streeters so the former can learn the business from the latter.

While the desk is agency-only and focuses on providing high-touch trading, it does offer algorithms from REDI, a provider of electronic trading tools that Goldman Sachs recently sold a majority stake in, and algos from RBC using its THOR platform. THOR is a smart-order routing system designed to prevent high-frequency traders from sniffing out institutional orders.

Drexel Hamilton also offers equity and fixed income research to clients from its own in-house staff of seven.

Overall, the firm has a 35 employee strong sales and trading group, including 16 veterans, handling both equity and
fixed income sales.

Hally and Cahill told Traders Magazine that Drexel’s mission is ongoing and it is still looking to hire more service and Wall Street veterans.

“We want to hire as many veterans, either Wall Street or military, to grow the business,” Cahill said. “And we’re talking to more every day.”

A version of this story appeared online on July 26, 2013 on TradersMagazine.com with the headline, “Turning Warriors into Wall Street Traders.”

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