Bouncing Back

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, black-owned businesses learn the true meaning of crisis management as they turn losses into gains

converted his spacious home into the company’s nerve center. By the next day, Rice Financial was up and running, with staffers manning new IBM computers, trading securities, and crafting deals. Within four business days, the firm had moved to new downtown digs.

The investment bank had been a World Trade Center occupant for seven years–one of a few African American financial firms with space there–and took great pride in having completely renovated the space into a sleek, functional showplace. Now, Rice feels like he’s in transient housing. “This tragedy is very personal,” grouses Rice. “I feel like they came in and blew up my second home.”

Sentiment aside, Rice says his firm can cut deals any time, any place. If it doesn’t, vultures will circle before picking its bones clean. Case in point: for months, the firm had been in the process of putting together a $140 million municipal bond derivative transaction with West Basin Water District in Carson, California, among the largest deals of its kind to be done this year. Immediately after the attacks, says Rice, heavy-hitting Wall Street competitors tried to swoop into his territory and take the business.

To protect his franchise, Rice and Pengelly took the first plane available to Los Angeles–five days after the attack–and met face-to-face with the clients, assuring them that his firm was open and ready for business. With the help of West Basin board members R. Keith McDonald and Tyrone Smith, Rice closed the deal within two weeks.

Bernard B. Beal, CEO of M.R. Beal & Co. (No. 4 on the BE INVESTMENT BANKS list with total issues of $46.5 billion and this year’s BE Financial Services Company of the Ye
ar), is another dealmaker who didn’t allow acts of terrorism to destroy his resolve. Located a few blocks from the World Trade Center, Beal and his staff were forced to leave their offices, unable to engage in trading activities or properly serve clients. “It was really tough,” maintains Beal. “We lost a lot of business when Wall Street closed. We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the attack.”

To make matters worse, Beal had to market commercial paper for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in Washington, D.C., which was shut down after one of the hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon and reports revealed that the White House had also been a target of the terrorists. In short, he had to convince institutional investors to buy securities of an airport that federal regulators had shut down for an indefinite period.

Not to be deterred by the crisis, Beal did what he does best: work the phones. “[Washington National] was in trouble and Standard & Poor’s was in the process of downgrading its credit,” says Beal, who called more than 25 institutions, trying to persuade them to buy the issue. “We finally found two buyers. I convinced them the federal government would not go into default. It would either open [the airport] or buy it.” The size of the transaction: $35 million. His instincts

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