By: Stan Silverman, Leadership Catalyst, Tier 1 Group

September 11, 2015 8:46 am EDT
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Another year has gone by since Sept. 11, 2001. Three thousand people lost their lives when four commercial aircraft were hijacked by members of al-Qaida, destroying the two World Trade Center towers and doing significant damage to the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft was brought down by courageous passengers in a field in central Pennsylvania before it could reach the White House or Capital Building.

Another year has gone by since family members lost loved ones that day. The young children who lost parents are now teenagers and young adults, having grown up without a mother or father.

I wrote an article a year ago headlined “Reflections of a CEO on the 13th anniversary of 9/11.” I received many emails in response from people sharing with me their personal stories that day. Many urged me to re-run that article on Sept. 11, 2015. I do so in part, below.

No one can ever forget where they were at 8:45 that morning. I was at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, attending a board meeting of the American Chemistry Council. A staffer entered the meeting and handed a note to the chairman of the Council. His face turned white as he announced that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

We all gathered around a TV just outside the meeting room and watched with horror as a second plane hit the South Tower. It was then immediately evident to everyone that the United States was under attack. It was announced that the airspace over the United States was now closed, and all aircraft in the air were ordered to immediately land.

As then CEO of PQ Corporation, my first thought and only concern was the safety of our employees and those traveling away from home. Our company operates in 19 countries, and it was not uncommon for many of our employees to be traveling within their respective countries and between countries around the world. I called my executive assistant and requested that she ask our travel department to determine if any of our employees were on those four flights or were visitors to the World Trade Center towers or the Pentagon that day. I also asked for a list of employees who were on trips to or from the U.S., as well as employees on flights scheduled to pass over the U.S. between Canada and Mexico.

I knew that it would be days before these employees could reach their business destination or home. I wanted to return to corporate headquarters as soon as possible. We couldn’t fly back, so my wife and I drove seven hours to Valley Forge. We stopped twice – once for gas and once to get something to eat. The genuine concern and connection offered by the people who reached out to us at both stops was nothing like we have ever experienced. They wanted to know where we started our trip and where we were heading. They provided advice on the route we should take, and long-haul truckers made recommendations on the best places to eat along the way. I thought that this is a small slice of America at its best – strangers showing concern for fellow travelers and by those whose communities we were passing through.

When I arrived home that night, I learned that all PQ employees were safe, and received a report showing the location of those employees in travel mode. Our travel department had already arranged hotel rooms for those who could not arrive at their destination. Rental cars were reserved for those who could drive home. Two of our plant operations managers drove from Los Angeles to Chicago where one lived, and the other continued on to Philadelphia. The administrative assistant of our purchasing manager was on her honeymoon in Europe. Our travel department was able to get her and her husband on a flight back to the U.S. a few days later.

What do I recall as the “best personal experience” of the horrible tragedy of 9/11 and the days that followed? It’s that we all pulled together as a nation and we had genuine concern for each other. I recall the brave first responders in New York and Washington who saved countless lives at their own peril, some making the supreme sacrifice in order to save others. I recall those courageous passengers on the fourth aircraft who resisted the hijackers over a field in Pennsylvania and prevented an additional catastrophe. I recall the generosity of PQ employees, who contributed funds to help the victims’ families. I recall attending the season’s opening game of the Flyers in October, where there was not a dry eye in the house when we sang our national anthem. It’s something to think about as we go about our lives each day.

We are reminded every day how the world has changed since 9/11, from the many additional security initiatives that pervade our society to the courageous young Americans who jumped into action last month on the train from Amsterdam to Paris, preventing a lone gunman from killing scores of passengers. Perhaps the world will again change, hopefully for the better, but unfortunately, not in our lifetime. For the time being, this is the world in which we will live.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s). Core Compass’s Terms Of Use applies.

About the author

Stan Silverman is a speaker, writer and advisor who focuses on helping businesses and organizations cultivate leadership cultures. He currently is a Leadership Catalyst for Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Stan is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Drexel University, a lead director on the board of Drummond Scientific and and serves on the board of Ben Franklin Technology Partners. He is the former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Stan can be reached by email or at his website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com.

9/11
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