Vincent Cantella, a son of Sicilian immigrants who grew to become a legend in Boston’s financial-services community, died May 4 at the age of 89, the Cantella & Co. said in a statement yesterday.
Cantella launched Cantella & Co. in 1952; it is now an independent broker/dealer with about 250 registered reps. Despite his age, he continued to report to work regularly and to recruit advisors to his firm. He worked in his office just one week before his death.
He is said to have said, “I will never retire. All of my buddies who retire end up dead. My problem is I’m losing all of my friends and need a younger generation to hang out with.” But he had wound down control of the firm eight years ago, said James Freeman, national sales manager, “There is no change in the day-to-day management of the company.” Cantella “still enjoyed coming to work each day and would typically work until about noon,” added Freeman.
Indeed, the company he founded could not have had a better man to recruit advisors. “The guy was fascinating,” said Jeff Fishman, JSF Financial, who affiliated with Cantella a few years ago. “He was a great storyteller and really had been around the business.” Fishman said, via email, that he joined Cantella, because “I was looking for a long-established b/d with a strong infrastructure and an organization that allowed me to pursue opportunities outside the traditional box of stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Cantella realized that I was looking for entrepreneurial opportunities to benefit both some of my high-net-worth clients as well as myself, and Cantella’s flexibility allows me access to various investment opportunities, like hedge funds, in order that I may provide truly comprehensive financial-planning services to our affluent and successful clientele.”
Cantella’s career closely paralleled the rise of the financial-services industry in post-War America. Born in Boston in 1917, he graduated from Boston University in 1938 with a degree in Business, then joined the U.S. Marines—served in the Pacific at Bougainville, Saipan and Guam—and attained the rank of major. He served alongside Donald Regan, the former Merrill Lynch chairman and Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and treasury secretary to president.
For reasons that are unclear, Cantella was bedridden for five years upon his return home from the war. Even though doctors told him he’d never walk again, Cantella somehow persevered. “I will find a way,” he said. Not only did Cantella regain his ability to walk, he became one of the first representatives for the George Putnam Fund, literally walking door-to-door and up countless flights of stairs across Boston to attract clients. Walking became a regular part of his lifestyle. He regularly rose at 4 a.m. to exercise at the Boston Athletic Club, lifting weights and hitting the treadmill. He could be seen walking from his Boston office to his waterfront condominium on Lewis Wharf.
In 1952, the same year he founded Cantella & Co, Cantella obtained a seat on the Boston Stock Exchange. A Boston Stock Exchange member for over 50 years, Cantella served on its board of governors and was later named chairman. In 1964 he became president of the Boston Stock Exchange Clearing Corp. He was also a member of the Midwest Stock Exchange, the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, the P.B.W. Stock Exchange and the American Stock Exchange.
Seeing opportunities where others did not was a hallmark business trait of Cantella’s. In 1969 the company purchased a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and became the primary institutional clearing firm in America for major Japanese firms like Nomura, Yamaichi, Nicco, New Japan and Daiwa Securities. Long before most Japanese firms opened operations in the U.S., Cantella & Co. handled much of their U.S. business. The company also developed another niche—trading odd lots for banks.
Despite success with institutional business, Cantella remained a champion of the “little guy.” Securing fair rates for smaller investors was one of his passions. In 1973, shortly after being elected chairman of the Boston Stock Exchange, he contacted each member of Congress, noting, “Everything that has been done in the last five years, either from the regulatory point of view or from consideration in Congress, has mitigated against the individual investor and has strongly favored the large institutions and large brokerage firms.” He waged similar battles with the SEC.
Later, when foreign companies began purchasing their own seats on various exchanges, Cantella directed his firm to become a force for the smaller b/d. Cantella & Co. soon became a self-clearing firm for over 95 correspondents. Many offices he took on board would have been considered insignificant by most of his competitors. When asked why he continued to clear for the owner of a b/d who had lost her husband and transacted only a handful of trades per year, he stated, “Those trades and the small commissions they generate might not mean much to you or me, but to that lady, they mean a lot. We will clear for her as long as she needs us to.”
Cantella also saw the opportunity of the independent franchise model. Today Cantella has over 125 branch offices, clearing trades for approximately 250 registered reps through National Financial Services, Pershing, Bear Stearns and Raymond James.
Entrepreneurial spirit ran in the Cantella family. Vincent’s father, Michele, helped transform a small, regional pasta-manufacturing company into a national brand before selling The Prince Macaroni Company to Borden Foods for $164 million in 1987.
Cantella is survived by his wife Josephine (Castanien) Cantella, a daughter, two sons and five grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to: The Michael Carter Lisnow Respite Center, 112 Main St., Hopkinton, MA 01748 (www.hopkintonrespite.com).