Two of the banking industry’s leading specialty investment banks, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. and Sandler O’Neill & Partners LP - both with offices in the World Trade Center complex - suffered severe staff losses.

On Wednesday officials at both companies insisted they planned to resume business as usual. But it was clear from the list of missing and presumed dead that the firms will have to rebuild, after the loss of as much as one-third of their staffs, including key executives.

Joseph J. Berry, Keefe Bruyette’s chairman and co-chief executive, was among 70 of its employees thought to have died in the attacks. Also unaccounted for and presumed dead, Keefe Bruyette officials said Wednesday, were David S. Berry, the firm’s head of research; Joseph Lenihan, the head of fixed-income; and many members of their staffs.

Joseph Duffy, the co-CEO, was safe, as was Andrew Senchak, the head of corporate finance.

“We had substantial losses in research, fixed-income, and trading,” Mr. Senchak said Wednesday. He spoke by telephone from the midtown offices of Keefe Bruyette’s law firm, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, where 15 to 20 Keefe Bruyette employees late Tuesday and Wednesday faced the grim task of trying to locate co-workers who were in the tower.

Trying to choke back tears, Mr. Senchak said the company would be back in business today, operating from its makeshift headquarters in its law firm’s offices and from regional offices around the country. But for now, he and others are struggling to cope with the likelihood that many of their co-workers are gone.

“There are so many people we lost. You go back and forth between your grief and knowing that we still have a lot of families to take care of. We assume that they’re all in a better place,” Mr. Senchak said.

Mr. Senchak said he believed there were no losses in his unit, the corporate finance division, which had offices on the 88th floor of the south tower. Many were not in the office at the time of the attack. Hardest hit were those on the 89th floor, including research analysts and traders, he said.

Two sources familiar with Sandler O’Neill who asked not to be named said about 65 people were unaccounted for Wednesday from among the 175 Sandler employees on the 104th floor of the south tower. Including those housed elsewhere, the firm had about 200 employees.

Many of the Sandler employees who escaped began evacuating the building after the first plane hit the north tower, around 8:45 a.m. Two sources said many employees were walking down the stairs when the second plane hit their building. After the second crash, employees in Chicago listening in on the company’s “squawkbox,” an interoffice radio system used for monitoring trades, and heard a boom. Then communication was cut off.

Other news reports, as well as other sources familiar with the incident, said that after the first attack, building officials in the south tower announced over the public address system that the building was safe. That set employees at Sandler and other firms in the south tower at ease and may have kept some from leaving before the second attack, 20 minutes later.

The devastation at Keefe Bruyette came just as the company was touting the completion of a turnaround after a 1999 insider trading scandal involving its former chief executive. ( “Two Years On, KBW Telling a Growth Story,” American Banker, Aug. 24, 2001)

The firm had opened new offices in San Francisco, Richmond, Va., and Boston, and boosted hiring over the past two years by 27%. Revenues had doubled over the two years, to $115 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“Looking back, we lost little and achieved a lot,” Joseph Berry, the chairman and co-CEO, told American Banker last month. “We’ve created a lot of change at Keefe Bruyette, there is no question about it.”

Keefe Bruyette was ranked No. 8 among lead advisors on U.S. bank and thrift mergers last year, closing 19 deals worth $3.1 billion, according to Thomson Financial Sheshunoff Information Services.

Sandler was one of Keefe Bruyette’s main rivals in the business, as well as a neighbor in the World Trade Center. It ranked seventh last year, closing 18 deals worth $3.3 billion.

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