Resilience and Leadership: Bob Castrignano

“If you’ve been given a fair amount, you owe something back.”

This was one of the first things Bob said to me over lunch as we discussed what motivated him to jump back into Wall Street after 9/11.

In the spring of 2001, Bob Castignano had retired from a very successful career at Goldman Sachs.  He was thinking he’d put out feelers to do some teaching.  ”I thought I’d call Fr. Kelley at Fairfield (University) and use my battlefield MBA.  I thought I would teach international finance”

But, he said, “I never had the opportunity to have that conversation” with Fr. Kelley.  Shortly after 9/11, Bob got a call from a friend and colleague from his days at Goldman, Anthony Scaramucci.  Anthony told Bob about a firm called Sandler O’Neill and Partners (S.O.P.) that had been ravaged by the collapse of the South Tower.

Anthony knew Jimmy Dunne, Sandler ONeill’s only surviving Senior Managing Principal.  Anthony was feeling the sting of the loss of his close friend, Chris Quackenbush, who died on 9/11 and was also a Managing Principal at Sandler O’Neill.   He knew that Jimmy, who was also a close friend of Chris’, needed help re-populating the firm that had lost most of its staff that terrible day.  ”He (Anthony) called me and asked if I’d like to volunteer.”  It was not what Bob had been planning for his life.

Hoping to be of help at a critical time, Bob had dinner with Jimmy.  It was the first time they had ever met.  Bob got the harrowing overview of the situation from Jimmy.  He decided then to come on board as a volunteer to reconstruct the devastated Equities Division for S.O.P.   I asked him how did he go from being retired, to a volunteer at Sandler O’Neill and Partners to a Managing Principal for Equities?

“I think leaders…look at a situation you’re presented with and then say, ‘OK, can I make an impact here.’  Not a contribution, an impact.  There’s a big difference.  Somebody knows what to do and they do it.  I started thinking.  For whatever reason, I’ve been presented with the following data set.”

He then went on to describe a firm that had lost 66 people, 24 of them were the entire Equities Division.

“We had no building, no technology, no records, no accounts…”  He asked himself, “Do you think you can make an impact?   I thought this is something I need to do.  I thought I could make an impact.  So, I said ‘yes.’”

What was striking in Bob’s speech was how clear thinking and resolute he was.  There was no dwelling on emotional distractions that would sway him from a course of having the greatest possible impact for the greatest number of people.

I’ve written about how survival emotions like fear and anger have debilitating effects on our judgment.  They can then either paralyze our will, as when we are in a Weakened Identity,  or misdirect it toward divisive and conflictual styles of relating to others, as when we are in a Rigid Identity.   Understanding how crisis affects our judgment, will and our ability to work with others is critical if we want our best resilient potential to flourish.  This understanding is especially critical for a leader.

Cultivating the skill to quiet our instinctual survival emotions of anger and fear and the bias they create is key to sound judgment and applying our will in a productive way.   We can then direct our judgment and will with resolution to focus on serving the greatest good.  At Sandler O’Neill and in our conversation, Bob perfectly demonstrated these abilities.

I asked him what was going on in his gut during that time.  There was no building, no records, no staff support, no technical infrastructure, not even a list of clients!  How did he deal with the emotion of it all?  Wasn’t it all overwhelming?

The Resolve of David in the Moment Before He Confronts Goliath

“I think the feeling was one of resolve that it wasn’t going to be a sprint.  It was going to be a marathon.  I knew what to do.  Where to look for friends on the street to recruit help…   The idea that I would be overwhelmed honestly never reached my conscious mind.  Never there.  I never doubted it would work.”

This capacity to keep one’s eye on the goal without being diverted by instinctual survival emotions sets leaders like Bob apart from the crowd. Some, like Bob, by  temperament as well as by disciplined practice, have a handle on the emotions that could overwhelm their thinking.  As a result, their will is more focused.  They have a sense of moral resolve to accomplish their goal.

As we work together in a family, a school, community or business. we have a notion of who our community is.  Our judgment is used for the service of a community.  Our will is directed to fulfill the needs of that community.

But, this is not enough to be an ethical leader. What community will we serve?  A community of one?  Will we be interested only in our own ethnic, racial or religious group?

After all, Hitler had a focused resolve.  He certainly did not have a handle on his anger, to put it mildly.  As a result and most importantly, the community he was resolved to serve was very rigid and exclusive.  Everyone outside of that group was expendable.  This is how the Rigid Identity warps our ethical reasoning.  It creates a highly emotionally charged “us” versus “them” mentality that leads to conflict.

Hitler’s actions are rightly regarded as evil as a result of the exclusive rigid community he chose to serve.  This is where we must be careful of the affects of trauma and loss on our lives.  If we do not manage our grief and the resultant fear and anger well, we are prone to falling into the ethical distortions of a Weakened or Rigid Identity and the conflictual relationships that follow.

Loss can lead to three kinds of identity structures that either dilute our sense of belonging (the Weakened Identity), make our identification rigid and exclusive (the Rigid Identity) or we can make a choice to see the humanity we all share and the suffering that is a part of the human condition.  This links us in compassion to others (the Compassionate Identity).

As it was with his clear judgment and focused resolve, Bob never questioned that he was doing this work for others.  It went without saying.  The goal was the welfare of others.  In his quiet way, Bob operates from a Compassionate Identity.  Clarity in these three areas: judgment, will and an inclusive transcendent goal are essential for an ethical leader.

There is an important lesson here about resilience, personal fulfillment and leadership that we will explore more in later posts and the upcoming book.

Bob Castrignano

Bob went on to focus on the qualities of the group at Sandler O’Neill,  ”It was a really really resolute group.  There was no doubt!…  People were just coming in really intent on what was going to be done.  There was an incredible level of concentration and attention to detail.”

“You had to compartmentalize your feelings so that there was a task at hand…. Very mundane stuff.  Interview the right people, find the account list.  The people who would join had to have a sense from you that this was going to work.  They had to believe they are betting on the right team.  I wanted to be overly protective of the fact that if there is any doubt in your mind don’t do this because there is no doubt in my mind…  People will respond positively to you if you engender somebody that’s worth following.”

This same clarity of judgment, resolute focus and commitment to the larger community were also present in Jimmy Dunne and others at Sandler O’Neill.  Otherwise, it is hard to imagine how the crippled firm could have survived.

After such a devastating loss it is important to keep in mind that while natural grief is a healthy thing, one has to keep an eye on the extremes of certain emotions that can persist after a loss.  This is especially an important goal when unskillful emotional habits are distorting one’s judgment or crippling one’s will power.  Devastating losses like those sustained on 9/11 stir up just the survival emotions that can lead to these negative effects.

It is at those times when, instead of dwelling on strong survival feelings like fear and anger, it is important to find a larger goal that serves to energize healthier emotions  and focus our resolve.  Feelings like compassion, empathy and grief that link us to others need to be allowed a wide and open field of play.  Survival emotions that pit us against others like fear and anger constrain our judgment and distort our will when we need them most.

Bob got this instinctually.  So did Jimmy Dunne who talked in a previous post about “small” emotions like anger and vindictiveness that bring out the worst in people and stir conflict.  Yet, he grieved openly and honestly about the loss of his friends.  In times of crisis, certain emotions are helpful to bind us to others in a moral resolve to do great things.  Other emotions sap the strength of our resolve, distort our judgment and fan the flames of conflict.

For Bob, it was all about working toward a worthy goal and bringing his experience and talents to bear in order to have a wide impact.  It wasn’t about his personal needs.  He avoided all of the traps that unchecked instinctual emotions set.

“Look, it’s only one business but it is a paradigm.   An example of what people can do when you put a business goal or a focus on an end game than on what it specifically means to you. That’s the answer.”

I had the chance to speak with several people about Bob.  To a person they mentioned his always being there for others.  Unasked, they would talk about his generosity of spirit.  Many on Wall Street give lip service to providing service to customers when their real interest is in the advantage they can gain over intermediaries in leveraged deals.  Everyone said Bob was different.  He demonstrated time and again thoughout his career, and often times to his detriment, that he really was more concerned about serving others.

Anthony Scaramucci was emphatic on this point.  He wanted to be sure this aspect of Bob’s character and leadership did not go unnoticed and even scheduled a meeting in his office with me to be sure I got it.  Bob is called  ”the Coach” by a generation on Wall Street whom he helped get started.  To them, he is nearly venerated.  Anthony mentions him at length in his courageous look at Wall Street, Goodbye Gordon Gekko.

In the long run, it’s about how big your circle of inclusion is.  Who is in, and who is out?  Our suffering and loss have a way of making that circle small and rigid.  It is our job in life to resist this pull.  Our happiness ultimately depends on living life for the greatest good, the Compassionate Identity.  This identity keeps our judgment sound, our will resolute and our relations healthy.

We can teach these skills to kids.  They can refine their judgment and not allow it to be distorted by fear and anger.  They can strengthen their will to aspire to noble ends that serve the widest possible circle.  In fact, we need to get busy helping the next generation acquire these skills.

The world is getting more complex and perilous.  The next generation has to know how to manage this peril without falling prey to fear and anger and the distortions of judgment, will and connection to humanity they engender.  This is what the Unity Project’s initiative ReachUP! USA is all about.  It is a way to develop these skills in a new generation of leaders using service to others through a national movement of youth empowerment.

Fountain Dedicated to St. Joseph in Vatican City

When I think about Bob Castignano, I think of  the metaphor of a fountain.   When the pipes are clean, the water can flow through them.  The perpetual giving allows the water to return, to recirculate.  If you are not thinking about yourself, if fear and anger are quelled and you focus your will on the larger goal, the best can flow from you.  Opportunity, connection to others and prosperity come back to you.  You can have the greatest possible impact.

In one of the greatest mysteries of life, we say most loudly who we are when we are most focused on something greater than ourselves.

In an interesting twist where the metaphorical and literal meet, I learned that Bob has recently  been quietly involved in providing the means to construct a fountain in Vatican City in honor of St. Joseph.   How fitting.

Related Posts:

ReachUP! USA for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.

Resilience and Leadership: Jimmy Dunne.

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  1. Bennett Salvatore says:

    I have known Bob Castrignano for 51 years. From Little League Baseball to present day. Your words of Bob could not be more on point. Bob as a boy stood out amongst the group displaying a mature sense of integraty well beyond his years. He himself does not fully understand how his everyday approach to life gives the people around him the inner strength to do the right thing. To love,care,honor and respect those around him but to never faulter in the face of being truthful. I am proud to call him my friend. Bob is simly the standard by which all men should be measured.
    Bennett salvatore

  2. John says:

    Thank you for this comment, Bennett. As I finish my book on resilience, I keep coming back to my conversations with Bob (“Coach”) to highlight key points. Feel free to add more of your insights here as the readers would benefit from your experience of his example. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to talk with you at your convenience to get a deeper appreciation of your 51 years of friendship with Bob. Let me know if it would be ok to call you.

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