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Seventy-three surgeries after an explosion that set him on fire while suffering multiple gunshot wounds, Jerry Majetich found himself injured and unemployed. Majetich matter-of-factly recounted a tale reminiscent of a history book war story. His military career spanned jumping out of helicopters and covert psychological operations, earning him a Purple Heart.
“When I retired from the United States Army, I was $1.3 million in debt [with] dozens of surgeries still ahead of me, and a single father of three children,” said Majetich. “When I began looking for work, the military had a lot of negative stigma because of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. My scars were much more apparent then. My skin was redder. I still had bandages. When I did get interviews, it was pretty much over when I set foot in the room.”
The tables turned when Majetich learned of Drexel Hamilton, a service-disabled broker-dealer on Wall Street in New York City that gave him a chance and taught him a new trade.
“He, through us, is helping other veterans [who are] returning to give them hope,” said Lawrence Doll, the founder and chairperson of Drexel Hamilton. Doll, a Vietnam War veteran who still has shrapnel in his body, was once part of the helicopter attack team for the U.S. Marines.
“Life gets better when you try,” Majetich reflected of his experiences overcoming the seemingly insurmountable hurdles of diving back into the civilian workforce. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story.
Not only is hiring vets a good thing to do; it also makes good business sense, Doll says. Sure, those departing the military have unique leadership qualities and a strong work ethic, all the attributes you’ve likely heard associated with veterans. But there’s nothing like experience with life-or-death stress to put things into perspective. Stress in corporate America might mean navigating back-to-back meetings. Stress in the military could mean being under fire. Problem-solving ability is also core, as veterans will not give up until a mission is complete.
These qualities are what give the broke-dealer a competitive advantage. It’s a person with “that kind of passion that you want to have working for you,” Doll said.
At the investment firm, there is talk of the “vets of Wall Street” as veteran mentors. That is, military veterans watch Wall Street veterans make trades and learn the ins and outs of capital markets, by shadowing seasoned finance gurus at the equity and research desks as they rotate around the company. Drexel Hamilton boasts a six-month training program for veterans to fully integrate into the workplace.
Now in its tenth year, Drexel Hamilton is in constant evolution. Employees are proud of what the company has achieved and of its larger purpose, while looking ahead to what they hope the next decade will bring.
“We’re the real deal,” said Doll. And, in his practical and humble way, Majetich captures the firm’s journey.
“It’s working,” he said. “We’re not as good as we’re going to be, but we’re better than we were.”
The culture of the firm is aligned with this no-nonsense approach, without the flair of arrogance sometimes found in this part of town. Framed paintings of World War II planes and historical maps line the mostly-white paint, highlights contrasted with the monotone carpet and recycling signage slapped onto the wall with tape. Finance banter is infused in a respectful, results-oriented fashion.
This proud yet aspirational mentality permeates the Drexel Hamilton office along with Wall Street fixtures, like Bloomberg monitors and screens with CNBC playing in the background. As does dry military humor. When Majetich recounted the tale of the vehicle explosion that severely wounded him, he noted it wasn’t “one of his better days,” and joked about getting a “free set of steak knives” after the last surgery. Another employee showed off a grenade-shaped stress ball and a bottle opener crafted from a real 50-caliber round.
Doll glowed with satisfaction as he told of the impact Drexel Hamilton has on giving veterans a meaningful livelihood.
“There’s no way I should be alive, yet I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”