- Event raises almost $1.5 million for scholarship assistance
- Highlights: A bulldog, drum & bugle corps and onion rings
Billionaire hedge-fund investor Steve Cohen was called up to the stage of the Waldorf Astoria Wednesday night by Jim Kallstrom, a former head of the FBI’s New York office, to accept the Commandant’s Leadership Award of the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation.
"Semper Fi! Nemo Resideo!" Cohen said, invoking the Marine mottoes to be always faithful and leave no one behind to describe why he founded the Cohen Veterans Network of mental-health clinics and Cohen Veterans Bioscience to research post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
Cohen told the crowd he came from a military family, with his father serving in the Pacific and his son in Afghanistan. "And me? I don’t know what happened to me," he said.
"It was amazing to see the transformation of my son within 10 weeks” of joining the USMC after graduating from Brown University, Cohen said in an interview. "If you can do that, you can do almost anything, all right, because to put yourself through that, he didn’t have to do it. I actually saw him down in Parris Island," the South Carolina locale where Marine recruits train, he said.
Asked if his son would ever go into finance, Cohen said he has "no interest" in the field, which was fine by him, “as long as he’s happy doing what he loves to do.”
Cohen learned the art of effective philanthropy in part from the Robin Hood Foundation, the New York anti-poverty charity founded by Paul Tudor Jones. It’s "a great training ground, to learn how to decide what’s important and to see how they do it, how they measure it, how they figure out which programs are worth backing. There are a lot of programs out there where you can give money, and a lot goes to who knows where."
As for the $275 million he has pledged to the clinics, he said he will be
monitoring it closely. "Absolutely. I’m funding it. We’re keeping it very lean."
Donald Trump received the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation’s Commandant’s Leadership Award last year. "We didn’t know what was on his mind then," said Gary Schweikert, vice chairman of the organization. Trump sent a check for $100,000 this year and has been a longtime supporter, Schweikert said.
The event had raised almost $1.5 million as the Marines’ Drum & Bugle Corps performed at the start of dinner. The star of the cocktail hour was the bulldog mascot of the Marine Corps, named Caffe after Medal of Honor winner Hector Cafferata.
The Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation was founded in 1995 by veterans of the Vietnam and Korean wars who had the idea in a Beverly Hills kitchen. The organization remains grassroots without direct mail campaigns, and with "one underpaid employee," said Kallstrom. It provides financial support to children, primarily of fallen Marines and federal law enforcement personnel. The organization has dispensed almost $68 million to more than 3,700 children, including $30,000 allotments for education, according to the program.
Sergeant Major Pete Haas, a founder of the organization who fought in the Korean War, received the Lifetime of Service Award. Haas selected the menu for the 660 guests: beef with a side of onion rings and quiche.
Filling tables were employees of, among others, JPMorgan Chase (Matt Zames, JPMorgan’s head of regulatory affairs, is on the board of the organization but did not attend); Moore Capital; UBS (including Casey Sedlock, who works in the internal audit group); Evercore and First Data.
Guests included Charles Santoro, co-founder of Sterling Investment Partners; Anthony Scaramucci; and Sandy Alderson, general manager of the New York Mets, of which Cohen is a minority owner.
Introducing Cohen, Kallstrom spoke of the investor’s fondness for poker in high school, which taught him about risk. Cohen went on to captivate Wall Street with his high returns while building SAC Capital Advisors. That firm pleaded guilty in 2013 and paid a record $1.8 billion to resolve U.S. claims over insider trading. While Cohen wasn’t charged with wrongdoing, he agreed to stop managing outside money, and then renamed his firm Point72 and hired new executives. In January, the firm was cleared to manage other people’s money as soon as early 2018, though it hasn’t publicly announced plans to raise outside capital.
Cohen sat with Doug Haynes, president of Point72, Anthony Hassan, executive director of the Cohen Veterans Network, and Magali Haas, CEO of Cohen Veterans Bioscience. Haynes, who is on the board of both initiatives, spoke of the importance of mental health. "The treatment of mental wounds has not advanced at the rate of addressing other challenges," he said.
The Cohen Veterans Network clinic in San Antonio opens on Monday, close to zip codes where veterans live and transport links. The facility is painted "warm colors, tans and blues" and one room has an image of an aquarium that kids can place fish magnets on, said Travis Pearson, chief executive officer of Family Endeavors, CVN’s partner in the Texas city.
The Dallas clinic will feature "essential oils in the air, to help bring anxiety down and get the veteran in a great head space," said Andrea Lewis, an outreach coordinator for Cohen Veterans Network. Cohen has pledged to open 25 clinics by 2020.