February 27, 2012 (WNYC) – If Hollywood has taught people anything, it’s that Marines are tough (“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”), pilots walk with a swagger (think Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”) and soldiers are thrill-seeking wild men (“Apocalypse Now”, “Full Metal Jacket”).
But so-called Wall Street War Fighters Jerry Majetich and Jason Leisey, don’t really fit into the movie mold of soldiers, even ex-soldiers.
These men are soft-spoken, friendly, mild mannered – and now Wall Street finance types. They’re also both disabled veterans of the Iraq war who lost, among other things, the fingers on one hand.
For Majetich, it was his right; for Leisey, his left.
Sadly, their cases are not unique. Of the 2.2 million service members who’ve become veterans in the post-9/11 era, over 500,000 of them have come home with a service-related disability.
This is, in part, what prompted a number of veterans who work in the financial industry to create the Wall Street War Fighters program — a six-month crash course that trains, licenses and finds work for disabled veterans who want to pursue careers on Wall Street.
Located in Pennsylvania, the program is mainly funded by Drexel Hamilton, a Wall Street-based investment firm that, according to spokesperson and Drexel CFO Cal Quinn, was founded on the principal of offering “meaningful employment opportunities” to disabled veterans.
Split into four phases, the first half of the program is based in Philadelphia and includes an introduction to the financial industry, an assessment of each of the candidates’ goals and preparation for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) licenses which are required for many jobs within the industry. After that, candidates gain “short-term internship exposure” either in Chicago or New York, before beginning a formal 4-6 month internship at a financial institution based in New York, Chicago or Philadelphia, such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan or Wellington Management. So far 24 veterans have completed the program, with another 11 on the way.
From Soldier to Analyst in Five Years
Jason Leisey, 31, was one of the first vets to come through the program when it was first launched in 2008.
Originally from Lancaster, PA, Staff Sergeant Leisey was on duty in Bayji, Iraq, when a car bomb exploded in front of his vehicle, in April 2005. He suffered burns on over 20 percent of his body and lost all of the fingers on his left hand. He also lost his left ear.
In the days following the attack, Leisey was flown to the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where he spent over a year undergoing several surgeries and rehabilitation. And when all of that was over, he was discharged from the army.
“It’s easy to get down,” he said, reflecting on what he went through in the months following the attack. “My immediate thoughts were [that] I’d lost use of my left hand — I’m disfigured. It was really easy to see all the negatives, and I think it took a good 6 to 9 months to start to see the positives.”
As a teenager, Leisey’s father had encouraged him to understand the stock market. They studied financial statements together, crunched some numbers and started investing in stocks. Although he hated it at first, he soon realized he enjoyed it and “it stuck.” Leisey kept it up through his years in the Army and, in 2009, he graduated with a degree in finance from Millersville University in Pennsylvania.
He readily admits it was “not a great time to be looking for work” in the financial industry. That’s when an advocate from the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program called to let him know about a new foundation that was helping vets to get a foothold on Wall Street.
After completing the War Fighter program, which included taking professional development courses at the Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania, Leisey landed an internship with Drexel Hamilton.
“Jason is hugely analytical,” Drexel’s Quinn said, adding “he’s just a really great guy with a talent for numbers.”
By October 2010, Leisey landed a job with Citibank, where he now works as an analyst and client advisor. He admits the transition to the civilian work force from the military wasn’t straightforward. Leisey was able to utilize Citi’s veteran network and mentoring program.
“It’s a very different environment from what you’re used to,” he said. “But being able to lean on other mentors who’d made the transition successfully really eased the burden.”
Even for those who don’t have a background in finance, the war fighter program is still a realistic prospect, according to Leisey. “They give you a lot of exposure to different parts of the industry. They work with everyone to gauge their interests and get them placed appropriately.”
Finance is More Than Numbers
That certainly was the case for 43-year-old Jerry Majetich.
Majetich spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps followed by another 16 in the army where, as a Staff Sergeant, his final role was as a tactical team leader within “psychological operations.”
“I talked to people. I travelled to some of the small villages, talked to religious leaders, village elders, political, military and police leaders,” he said, with the reassuring manner of the kind of guy you’d want to talk to.
Majetich was attacked while in Al Dora, Iraq, in 2005. His vehicle hit an IED which he said “basically evaporated” half of the vehicle he and four others were travelling in.
“I was still inside the vehicle when it was on fire. [I] eventually got out of the vehicle, still on fire,” he said, with a dignified calmness. He was also shot three times before he managed to get away.
Majetich spent the next 22 months in the hospital at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. He’s undergone 62 surgeries to date. But, as he said himself, he’s ‘still kickin’.”
(Photo: The humvee Majetich was traveling in when it hit and IED./Courtesy of Jerry Majetich)
A native of Washington State, Majetich was able to retire from the Army in 2007 after almost 20 years of service. “I wasn’t exactly sure what I was gonna do,” he said. A single father with three children, he wasn’t ready to retire but, despite his military career and college degree, he struggled to find a job he was interested in. Then he got an interesting call from a friend.
“I found the [War Fighter] program because one of my friends saw a picture of me saluting General Pace on the homepage,” he said. “And they asked me ‘isn’t that you on that website?’” So Majetich gave the War Fighter Foundation office a call and asked them what they did. A month and a half later, he was in the program.
After completing his six months with the Wall Street War Fighters, Majetich was hired by Drexel Hamilton last April. He’s now a vice president based in Florida, covering the south-east region of the country, setting up appointments and working with the sales team.
On paper, Majetich might come across as an obvious candidate for this environment: he has a degree in business communications and an accounting background, having done some accounting in the army for a few years. But he believes it’s the skills he picked up on the job in Iraq that make him effective in the workplace today.
“Actually the thing that helps me the most is was the last thing I did in the army — talking to people,” he said. “The finance industry is far more about networking and communication than it has anything to do with numbers and stocks. When people get to know and trust you, you can accomplish so much more.”
Even with the volatility of today’s markets, Majetich says it’s nothing compared to what he’s had to deal with before.
“The very, very, very worst day in any market situation, I think I can deal with it. You might get mad, ‘cause you’ve lost some money or something, but I think it’s a little better than some of the other situations we’ve been in,” he said. It’s hard not to believe him.