September 11, 2001: The Home Front
It was astonishing to hear how the process of reconstruction had already begun by the morning after the attacks.
At the moment the world turned upside down on September 11, we at Inc were in the process of putting our November issue to bed, but work quickly came to a halt as we absorbed the news of the terrorist attacks.
Like most people, we thought first about family, friends, and colleagues who might be in harm's way. Evidently, a lot of you thought about us. I can't tell you how much I appreciated the tremendous number of phone calls we received from people concerned about the safety of our staff. Although several staff members were in the air that morning, and one of our editors had originally been scheduled to fly from Boston to Los Angeles on American Airlines flight 11, we were blessed that no one was lost.
In addition to our staff, we were also concerned about our friends and colleagues in the larger Inc community. In the days following the disaster, we began calling around to find out how people were doing, and we soon discovered that everyone was not all right. While much attention was focused on high-profile large companies, lower Manhattan was also home to a significant number of smaller companies, many of which were devastated. We were deeply saddened by their losses.
Yet there were signs of hope amid the wreckage. It was frankly astonishing to hear how the process of reconstruction had already begun while the fires at the World Trade Center still burned.
One person we spoke to, for example, was Peter Laughter, the president and CEO of Wall Street Services, an Inc 500 company and temporary-staffing firm serving the financial-services industry. The company is located at 11 Broadway -- about five blocks from where the World Trade Center used to be, in the section of Manhattan that quickly became known as "Ground Zero." With dust and debris flying around them, Laughter and his people made their way to safety in the hours after the attack. The next morning they were back in business, operating out of Laughter's home and the offices of vendors, whose performance in the crisis, Laughter said, was "phenomenal ... just amazing."
We also talked to Mogens Smed, the CEO of Smed International, an office-furnishings maker in Calgary, Alberta (" Inside-Out Marketing," January 1998), who was in New York City on business on September 11. He saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center while watching the big screen at Rockefeller Center. By the time Smed made it back to Calgary later in the week, his company was already beginning to feel the shock waves of the tragedy as customers canceled appointments. He immediately hit the road to cheer on his sales team. "I've got to keep my company psyched up," he said. "Every CEO has that responsibility. I've got 1,600 people depending on me for a paycheck."
Then there was Dave Becker, the CEO of re:Member Data Services, another Inc 500 company and a software vendor in Indianapolis with a workforce that includes people from the Middle East, Pakistan, and Russia, as well as native-born Americans. He was concerned about the possibility of ethnic conflict in his company, but there wasn't any. "Actually, it was the opposite," he said. "We had employees line up en masse to donate blood. We also used our office as a collection point for relief supplies. People brought in water, blankets, batteries -- everything that was being asked for. We collected it here and then took it to the drop-off points around the city. And everybody jumped in. Everybody participated."
There's no doubt that tough times lie ahead for many companies. We'll provide all the help we can both in future issues of the magazine and on Inc.com, where we can respond more quickly to developments. There, for the past six weeks, we've been documenting how the crisis has been affecting members of the Inc community, and we've been offering timely advice from seasoned business practitioners on managing in this difficult period.
The challenges we face are certainly enormous, but resilience is the hallmark of our business sector, our economy, and our nation. I am confident that our resilience will pull us through once again.
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