Although Stuart J. Hendel '83 never studied securities law at Cornell, he is now the global head of Prime Brokerage for UBS, a company steeped in securities markets that provides wealth and asset management worldwide. "My true calling was to be a prime broker," he says.
He didn't discover that right away. After graduating from Cornell Law School, Hendel joined Hughes Hubbard & Reed as a litigator. "I didn't love it, although I didn't hate it," he recalls. But when they wanted him to move to Miami, he called a good friend from Cornell and asked her about finding another job.
The result was a position in the legal compliance department of Morgan Stanley. "I had to learn under fire, which is another way of saying, I learned a lot in a short time," he says. He also discovered that he had a skill not shared by all in the legal department there-he got along with business people. "I tried to figure out a way to say 'yes' to the business side, although the corporate culture was to often say 'no.'"
In 1992, Morgan Stanley moved him to their hedge fund finance division in Brooklyn, where the company lent money and stock, consolidated information for the clients involved, and prepared financial custody reporting. "It was my job to find creative solutions for complex problems," Hendel says. He had found his calling. "You have to realize your highest and best use," he philosophizes. Eventually, he became co-head of U.S. Prime Brokerage at Morgan Stanley.
Then, in 2004, he had the opportunity to put his consulting ideas into practice, and he joined Eric Mindich of Goldman Sachs to launch a new hedge fund, Eton Park. As chief operating officer, Hendel took care of the legal issues involved in setting up the company before hiring a law firm to represent the new organization. Eton Park became the largest hedge fund start-up in hedge fund history, opening with $3.5 billion. He enjoyed the learning experience of being at a hedge fund, but prime brokerage remained in his blood. In 2007, he returned to Morgan Stanley-which had the largest prime brokerage business on Wall Street-as global head of Prime Brokerage.
"Then we ran into the 2008 version of the 100-year flood," he says.
"The year 2008 was a once in a lifetime teachable moment that extended for months," recalls Hendel. "You learn more during the bad times than you do in the good-more about yourself than you ever thought possible." The result, he says: "I could look myself in the mirror and say we did the right things by our clients."
In September 2009, he became global head of Prime Brokerage at UBS, after leaving Morgan Stanley three months earlier.
Hendel does not regret his law training-quite the opposite. "Most people are more closely affiliated with their undergraduate school, but it's the opposite with me. I loved Cornell. I still keep in touch with many people from the Law School. Good connections, good relationships, good people."
He speaks of the skills he learned at the Law School, both academic and interpersonal. After Cornell, he says, "You get to figure out your strengths, and to leverage your strengths to achieve success."
And he continues, "The key to education is to sharpen your ability to think broadly, question thoroughly, spot issues from numerous perspectives, and think in more than one dimension. That's what I learned at Cornell."
Hendel has been back to speak in Dean Schwab's 2007 class, Law and the Ethics of Business Practice. "I would have considered doing something like that full time," he says. In fact, he doesn't relish city life, even though that's where his work is. He lives in Westchester with his wife and three children where, he says, he can't wait to get back every day.
And he wants his children to go to Cornell-perhaps so he can visit more often.