Doubles team

Identical brothers Jay and Neil Canell of The Canell Group have “twin” passions for finance and philanthropy.

If I ever found myself in a foxhole, I would want Jay and Neil Canell to be in there, too.

This dynamic duo — who co-head The Canell Group, under the exclusive umbrella J.P. Morgan Securities — personify an accomplished, united front.  Meeting at their Park Avenue offices, I learn everything there is to know about their backstories and then some.  Smart, forthcoming and entertaining, they make our one-hour meet fly by in an instant.   

The Canell brothers are not just close, co-working siblings, they are twins, having entering the world together in Queens.  Jay tells me he’s the older one — by 3 minutes. Their parents, Elaine and Roger, didn’t realize they were going to have twins until the boys were delivered. (Considering all the technology and preparation that goes into birthing these days, it’s almost unimaginable.)  So, having instantly outgrown their one-bedroom apartment, the family relocated to Scarsdale, where their parents still reside. 

As identical twins, each admits to having been able to fool teachers, classmates and friends alike, though not intentionally. Right. They sound alike and act in a similar manner, presenting both a complementary quality and a strong sense of solidarity and like-mindedness often found in twins. No surprise, then, that they have been a tag team their entire lives, nearly lifelong partners in business and entrepreneurial ventures, save for a short hiatus just after college.  In the mid-1990s, they even appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman,” together with nine other sets of twins, for a reading of “Top Ten Reasons It’s Good to Be a Twin.”  

Both are husbands and fathers. Jay, his wife and their own set of twins reside in Scarsdale, while Neil’s not far away with his band of five in Purchase.  There is a younger sister, Dina, and like Jay, she also has twins. The entire clan is close and the whole family belongs to Willow Ridge Country Club in Harrison, where Jay and Neil have been active board members, each serving stints as members of the club’s membership committee. Currently, it’s Jay’s turn.   

They didn’t compete against each other in school sports, Jay explains, but chose, by design, to assume positions that complemented each other.  Both played football, basketball and lacrosse in high school and went on to play Division 1 lacrosse in college — Jay on defense, Neil on offense — at Lehigh University.  When they played football, for example, Neil was the quarterback, Jay the wide receiver.  Musically speaking, Jay played the guitar, Neil the piano.  You get the idea. 

In fact, our interview is a collegial back and forth banter — like I said — tag team.  They were in the same fraternity at Lehigh, though they were not roommates.  “But remember,” Neil says kiddingly, “we were womb-mates.”  From their early years in school and sleepaway camp and throughout their professional careers, the Canell brothers enjoyed a robust band of friends who have stayed true throughout their lives and for whom they would do anything, they tell me. 

Their entrepreneurial spirits surfaced at a young age, too, and haven’t diminished since.  Toward the end of high school, they started a business aptly called Mirror Images, a party-promoting enterprise.  Their broad network of friends naturally signed on, leading to years-long success in hosting lavish parties, most at homes in the Hamptons.  And, at Lehigh, they sold branded boxer shorts and T-shirts as a side hustle — their drive and passion again leading the charge. 

If this sounds like a lot of togetherness, consider their post-college career tracks.  Initially their paths diverged, with both landing positions on the sell side.  Neil started at Anderson Consulting and continued in sales with an international courier company, TNT SkyPak, rising to the top of its 95-member ranks in a year’s time. Jay entered a management training program at Chemical Bank.  

Ultimately, they reunited at Lehman Brothers in 1994 — Neil had started in 1992 — and started their professional collaboration in earnest, working on the same sales team. Between them they were making hundreds of cold calls daily, the select few resulting in strong and prosperous client relationships. They were co-rookies of the year after their first year, earning the title of senior vice president and becoming the youngest members of the directors’ council there.  

The daily grind on the brokerage desk paid off, as they continued to build the foundation of their current team, many of whom have been in their employ for more than 12 years.  Their successes as a formidable group in financial product sales prompted a move, in 2000, to Paine Webber and eventually UBS and, then six years later, to Smith Barney, where they stayed on until its assimilation into Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.   

Now, since 2016, The Canell Group has been aligned with J.P. Morgan Securities, chosen, each tells me, for its leading dominance as one of the world’s largest and most prestigious banking institutions. 

“For us, as a boutique wealth advisory group,” Neil explains, “it affords us tremendous support from the organization, as well as access to upper-tier management, having long admired the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon.” 

Adds Jay, “With our entrepreneurial focus and holistic approach to investing, we run our business more like a family office and each client has a personalized, individual portfolio.”  They enjoy a 99-percent retention rate among their clients, who represent a cross-section of high-net-worth individuals, and a “Who’s Who” of entertainment-industry celebrities and professional athletes.  Over the past decade, they have been named numerous times to the prestigious lists of top wealth advisers in Barron’s, Financial Times, Forbes and New York magazine. 

Each acknowledges his good fortune not only as an individual and sibling but as a business partner, knowing that such partnerships don’t work for everyone. Being brothers, and twins to boot, “there is never an issue of trust,” Jay says, “and we are rarely on a different page.”  If they ever find themselves at a stalemate, which is rare, Neil tells me that it’s their father, a former executive with Guy Carpenter & Co., who serves as the arbiter. 

On the home front, most socializing and holidays involve the entire clan.  Each December the Canell family travels as a pack — last year it was Israel — and this year will find them in the Dominican Republic for the holidays. When Jay and Neil co-celebrated their 40th birthdays, it was with an intimate — not — group of 350 family and friends and, for their milestone 50th, they hosted 30 of their closest friends on a trip to Mykonos and Santorini.   

With great pride and passion for the work they do outside the office, the brothers became particularly animated when our conversation turned to philanthropy and community.  Both are founding members of the nonprofit SCOPE —  Summer Camp Opportunities to Promote Education — and lend both time and resources in various capacities to Timber Lake Camp, Riley’s Way, The Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and The Master’s School, among others.   

Actively engaged within their respective communities, they support youth and varsity lacrosse teams and through their business, sponsor summer internships for students — 68 to date. One annual work tradition is hosting the entire Lehigh University lacrosse team — some 30 to 40 students — for a daylong boot camp at their offices, offering life lessons and coaching. During the event, they share expertise and Canell-isms from what they refer to as the “Canell Bible,” a copy of which Neil just happens to have on hand when we meet. 

The brothers’ guiding principles and commitment to long-term relationships with key people from their past and present have brought them to a happy place in their lives — one they share with many, all of whom know that these two forces have their backs, for life. 

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