Haverford College Backed Him As A Student. Now This Alum Is Returning The Favor Big Time

Cantor Fitzgerald chairman Howard Lutnick has had his share of trials. He lost his mother to cancer when he was in high school. His father, who also got cancer, died from an overdose of chemotherapy when Lutnick was in his first days as a freshman at Haverford College, the prestigious liberal arts college in suburban Philadelphia.

Lutnick was hit hard. But he received a call from Robert Stephens, then president at Haverford, who told him that his four years at the school would be free. Yes, Lutnick didn't have to pay a dime for his tuition. 

As a point of comparsion and illustration of how remarkable Haverford's gesture was, Lutnick's sister Edie was told by the University of Rhode Island that if she couldn't afford to pay tuition, she should become a waitress. 

But remember, Haverford is a school with Quaker roots, that even to this day makes its honor code a centerpiece of college life. Students often take tests without proctors and serve as enforcers and regulators of the code. Lutnick wasn't even at Haverford a month before his school made good on its lofty ideals.

Fast forward several decades: Should it be a surprise that the 53-year-old is now Haverford's largest donor, recently giving an additional $25 million to his alma mater?

Philanthropy is often personal, and with alumni giving, gratitude is a recurring theme. These elements are unusually powerful in this case. As Lutnick put it: "Haverford was there for me... and taught me what it meant to be a human being." 

As it turns out, Haverford sure picked the right student to comp. 

Lutnick landed a job at Cantor Fitzgerald right out of college in 1983 and by 35, he was chairman. In recent years, the financial services firm hasn't just been in the news for business. Headquartered in the World Trade Center, the company lost two-thirds of its workforce on 9/11. Lutnick lost his own brother and likely would have been inside the tower at the time if not for the fact that he took his son to school for his first day. 

Lutnick now saw a chance to give back in the same way that Haverford helped him. He rebuilt the company in midtown Manhattan and set up the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund with his sister Edie. The fund states that its mission is to support "victims of terrorism, emergencies and natural disasters." Supporting 9/11 victims is a priority of the fund. Each year, employees forgo a day's pay and the company donates that day's revenue (measured in the millions) to a variety of charities. The fund has raised and distributed over $180 million to 9/11 victims and their families.

The fund has also helped victims of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, and the Haiti earthquake. 

Lutnick and his wife Allison have also given to a wide variety of causes. In New York, the Horace Mann School, the Glaucoma Foundation, City Meals on Wheels, City Harvest and Carnegie Hall have all received funds. In addition, New York Presbyterian and New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center have received modest sums. 

And then there's Haverford College, where Lutnick received his first and seminal lesson in charity. Lutnick has given $65 million to the school over the years. The track and tennis center on campus bears his deseased brother's name. An athletic center and arena are named after two fellow Haverford alums (and Cantor Fitzgerald employees) who also perished in the attacks. Lutnick has also funded the college's Cantor Fitzgerald Art Gallery.

Lutnick chairs Haverford's board of managers and this recent $25 million gift will help kick off the college's public phase of its $225 million capital campaign. Part of Lutnick's gift will update the library on campus and provide new technology, group study rooms, and a beefed-up special collections area.