By Katya Wachtel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of Wall Street's most successful hedge fund managers, SAC Capital Advisors' Steven Cohen, told of one of the most terrifying days of his life on Monday.
Speaking at a New York City veterans event, the usually private money manager revealed his personal connection to the war in Afghanistan, and why he has focused on the welfare of U.S. military veterans in his role on the board of a New York charity with deep Wall Street ties.
"A few years ago my son, Robert, came home from college and told me he made a decision: He wanted to become a Marine," Cohen said in prepared welcome remarks at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit in Manhattan. "Like many parents who hear this in a time of war, I was shocked."
Cohen told the audience aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid that watching his son graduate from basic training at Parris Island, a U.S. military base where Marines are trained, was the "proudest day" of his life.
It was followed by the "most frightening day," when Robert was shipped off to Afghanistan. His son has since returned from the front line. "He's doing fine," Cohen told attendees aboard the retired aircraft carrier, but "many of his former comrades are not."
The Robin Hood Foundation, founded by hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones in 1988, has raised $13 million over the past year to launch the Robin Hood Veterans Fund, which has donated more than $4.7 million to programs based in New York City that help war veterans and their families get back on their feet after a tour of duty.
Cohen co-chairs the charity's Veteran's Advisory Board with Admiral Michael McMullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Robin Hood Foundation is synonymous with Wall Street charity, and its board includes a laundry list of some of the industry's biggest names, including hedge fund managers like Lee Ainslie and David Einhorn, and investment bankers such as JP Morgan Chase's Jes Staley and Goldman Sachs Group's David Solomon.
Staley spoke on a panel at Monday's event, alongside Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, who has made a rare series of public appearances in recent weeks at a time when Wall Street is desperate to fight against its reputation as greedy and out of touch with the economic struggles faced by many Americans. The accusation has been leveled at the industry by an invigorated Occupy Wall Street movement.
While typically press-shy financiers tend to avoid the spotlight if they can, charity offers them an opportunity to show a friendlier face.
Cohen is tight-lipped when it comes to his Connecticut-based hedge fund but is a regular on the New York charity and art social circuit. In his remarks Monday he focused on finding jobs for returning troops.
"Today, our nation's unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, and we consider that to be unacceptable," Cohen said. "Yet for our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the unemployment rate is a stunning 29 percent."
"That is disgraceful - and it has to change."
Robin Hood recently committed $600,000 to the Workforce1 Veterans Career Center, an offshoot of the city's Department of Small Business Services that will offer priority job placement help to veterans beginning this summer.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Prudence Crowther)