Building strategies based on integrity, the global marcomms MD at financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald and affiliate BGC Partners strives to put people first.
In a financial environment where IPOs reach jaw-dropping heights and CEOs can be rewarded for style rather than performance, Cantor Fitzgerald's defining message is a simple one that values the long term over a quick hit and substance over flash.
And in a Wall Street era marked by poor investment, layoffs, and a lack of accountability, leveraging reliability and trustworthiness has served the private investment firm well. In an interview on Bloomberg, Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. CEO Shawn Matthews said as a private partnership, “it's our capital on the line every day, so we are going to protect it and do the right thing for our customers. We are an '80s- and '90s-style investment bank in a world where everything changed and became public institutions.”
Despite a downgrade by Standard & Poor's at the end of 2012, that strategy seems to be paying off. The firm reported its profit increased almost 50% during the first six months of 2012. It also recently acquired Ireland's Dolmen Stockbrokers and plans to hire at least 200 staffers for its brokerage unit over the next year.
Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners, MD, global communications and marketing
KPMG, executive director
PR21, president and CEO
Andersen Worldwide, MD, global comms
Edelman, EVP and MD
VPI Group, EVP
Hasbro, corporate VP, investor relations
Leading communications efforts behind that message since late 2006 is Robert Hubbell, partner and MD of global communications and marketing for Cantor Fitzgerald and affiliate BGC Partners, a public global brokerage company serving the wholesale financial and real-estate markets.
“Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC are in the service business,” says Hubbell from the firm's offices in midtown Manhattan. The company also has space on Water Street. “We don't trade for our own accounts. We are involved in institutional transactions and that means doing so with integrity and reliability day in and day out. Those are the messages that are the touchstones for everything we do to support the firm's business strategies and growth and drive communication and marketing initiatives.”
The structure of the communications department at Cantor Fitzgerald reflects Hubbell's past experience at PR agencies including Hill & Knowlton, Edelman, and KPMG. Associates have their areas of expertise, but also provide support and insight into other areas of the business.
“Bob is thoughtful, creative, and thorough, and has a real understanding of what's news and what's not,” explains Elliot Sloane, founder and CEO of Sloane & Company, who worked with Hubbell at Edelman.
“Even in the most stressful environments, he's the ultimate professional – always cool under pressure,” adds Sloane. “Above all, he's an excellent and unwavering advocate for his company and its executives.”
Hubbell reports directly to Howard Lutnick, chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners, with whom he has an “expansive” relationship, a level of communications that exists between other team members and heads of departments throughout the firm.
“Bob's strong business sense and committed stewardship of our company's reputation have helped us through key firm developments and marketplace issues,” notes Matthews. “Those issues required a mix of strategic and tactical initiatives, a keen sense of working with the press, and effective relationships with significant stakeholders.”
Hubbell credits a very collaborative approach to communications in allowing his team to finesse the messaging for a dozen affiliates engaged in businesses from commercial real estate to sports wagering.
“The key to our success, and this is instilled in me from my agency days, is that team members are the most important element of communications,” says Hubbell. “We do not believe in artificial silos. You have to be adaptable, flexible, and pitch in.”
True to its roots, media outreach focuses on traditional press. Newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Financial Times, verticals that serve the financial sectors, and wire services such as Bloomberg are still very important to Cantor Fitzgerald, as are the tried-and-tested methods of effective presentations, pitch books, and executive communications.
“We don't have functional copywriters or digital media specialists,” he adds. “The way we organize ourselves, all team members have that interesting aspect of their professional life to do a lot of different things.”
Hubbell's role at Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners runs the gamut from branding efforts to marketing communications, public and media relations to internal communications.
And as it turns out “communications runs in the family,” says Hubbell. Wife Jan is an adjunct English professor who recently won a screenplay writing award from the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival.
Daughter Chelsea is head of client service and special events at BGC, and daughter Whitney is graduating this spring as a communications major from Chapman University.
Cantor Fitzgerald's and BGC's clients are some of the world's biggest banks, governments, and hedge funds who don't need to be educated on what the Federal Reserve is doing tomorrow, for example. However, strategic communications were required after BGC acquired commercial real-estate businesses Newmark Knight Frank and Grubb & Ellis, making the firm a player in a new business and bringing new associates under the Cantor/BGC umbrella. Cantor now has 3,000 associates in New York and more than 8,500 worldwide.
During the acquisitions, senior managers traveled across the country for a series of conferences with employees of the acquired companies. The commercial real-estate business has taken off and, consequently, the communications team has been putting a lot of time and effort into messaging around the new business.
“Messaging has been challenging in the sense of needing to inform and educate institutional investors, securities analysts, and the financial press about strategic vision and the practical side of the business,” explains Hubbell. “If you are used to covering exchanges and brokerages, you probably don't know that much about commercial real estate. That has been a real task for Jason [McGruder, head of investor relations at BGC] to take up in the past year.”
It has been a successful acquisition. By Q3 2012, the two acquired companies accounted for one-third of BGC's revenue.
In describing the no-silo approach to communications at the firm, Hubbell explains, “There is not a separate M&A or litigation team sitting there ready to go. It's us.”
Where Hubbell does see change is the disappearing distinction between internal and external messaging. Rather than have Matthews speak to employees through internal CEO videos, interviews with him on Fox or CNN serve to inform internal associates as well as external audiences.
“There has to be great consistency in the messages that are delivered to all stakeholders,” he says. “Internal messages can find their way out in the blink of an eye these days.”
He says hearing Matthews talk about the businesses' growth and plans to add staff on Fox Business News, for example, had a very positive impact on the company's employees.
Skills are as important at Cantor Fitzgerald as any other company, but Hubbell looks a lot deeper when hiring.
“We want to hire people we like. It is really important because we spend a lot of time together,” he explains. “Over the course of my career if I have made any mistake it's been hiring too quickly without keeping that in mind. I am delighted with the team we have at Cantor and BGC.”
And while clearly a high level of expertise in communications is a must for job candidates, Hubbell says what is really important in serving clients is the ability to build relationships and become a trusted member of the business team and not a “press release order-taker.”
Recovering from 9/11
|Cantor's Charity Day invites celebrities, such as Eli Manning and Lady Gaga to join its CEO Howard Lutnick to execute real-time trades.|
Valuing associates takes on deeper meaning at Cantor following the devastation of 9/11, when the firm lost 658 associates in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund provided $180 million in the five years following the attacks and 10 years of healthcare for the families of those lost. September 11 has been designated as Charity Day at the firm and each year Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC employees and brokers worldwide waive their pay and commission and 100% of revenue is donated to about 150 charities worldwide that help wounded veterans and conduct childrens' medical research, to name a few. Charity ambassadors including Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning have helped support the cause.
Our Charity Day is the best reflection of the fact that the people of Cantor and BGC have sought to turn a most incomprehensible tragedy into something positive and uplifting by reaching out to charities around the world to help others,” says Hubbell. “That is part of the company culture.”
Immediately after Hurricane Sandy, the firm made a $10 million commitment to provide emergency financial aid to employees and affected families. Cantor also provided $1,000 prepaid debit cards to every family at 19 schools across Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, and Staten Island.
“It's an opportunity for our team to personally interact with the people we are helping,” notes Hubbell. “It's an incredibly touching and heartwarming experience.”