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9/11 18 years after...

All experience impacts leadership and teamwork

· leadership,911 anniversary

9/11 Impact

by Ray MacDonald, September 11, 2019

Experiencing the reality of horrendous loss at the same time as going through a determined personal and global teamwork effort to overcome it -- shaped my leadership and teamwork for life.

As I write this on September 11, 2019 I sadly remember what we went through at Marsh McLennan Companies. MMC, specifically Marsh Inc., lost 295 employees, I knew about 27 of them well including Marsh's Canadian CIO who was there that day. I will never forget Bernard ( ) and the others.

Some months before it happened, I was starting to frequently visit our global headquarters IT group on the 96th and higher floors of World Trade Center 1 in NYC. The global data centre was on the 100th floor. I was working for Mercer HR, before later moving to Marsh Inc. We were just beginning to use my "Oracle Save $1B" experience in global IT consolidation to work with Marsh, Putnam, and others making up the 11 operating companies of MMC for consolidating IT operations and vendor management. I was often amused how obvious the new folks stood out in the WTC meeting rooms; in a large meeting room almost everyone would be heads down working on consolidation strategies, while the new folks (certainly included me initially) were turned around, at the windows, amazed at the view looking directly out over the Statue of Liberty from the 96th floor. I recently found my last visitors access badge with my photo to the World Trade Center building - that's certainly something I'll hang onto.

On 9/11, I was in our Toronto offices, a week after my most recent visit to WTC1, when everyone started to try and find a screen to watch the news as the 9/11 horrors were taking place. A few of us initially headed down to the basement food court to watch the coverage, then we were notified our team had setup a news video feed in our large meeting room on the projector, we went back to our floor in Sun Life Centre to watch with our teams. I remember the shock at seeing the striking yet horrific smoke on a gorgeous blue sky day and experiencing extreme concern for what must be terrifying and painful to those in and around the WTC buildings.

Suddenly, a realization came to us... this was global headquarters, and it wasn't only the local employees who could be there. So we divided up a name list and started to phone/email and otherwise try to find out where our other people where who frequently visited the Marsh (WTC1) and Mercer (WTC2) headquarters offices in NYC. What a relief for each person we reached to find out they were safe and not in NYC. We started a detailed report on peoples' confirmed whereabouts, looked like a crime investigation effort you see on some detective shows with whiteboards full of scribbled info and sticky notes etc.

An extra hurt took place after we reached one of our senior people, he was in the hotel beside the WTC and was told to stay in his room. We spoke with him and he said no worries for him, the hotel was safe... upsetting to the extreme happened soon afterwards, he was killed when the WTC building collapsed and hit the hotel. I had just gone down the hallway back towards my office when I remember the loud shriek and mournful screams as the first tower collapsed, I don't think anyone left sight of the projector image for a long-time while we waited in fear for the second tower.

One other extreme experience I'll share, a Marsh IT executive had come down from WTC1 earlier to get a coffee/muffin when the first plane went in - he was devastated, he spent the time on the ground on his phone talking with his team who were trapped above the impacted floor until the tower collapsed - they were completely cut off, the plane's impact took out the stairwells and elevator shafts as they were on the 101st floor and if I remember the first plane hit WTC1 about the 99th floor. I can't even begin to imagine what he experienced, despite speaking and working with him for some time afterwards.

The Mercer group was in WTC2, on a number of the 40-something floors, they all got out and their stories can impact your life. Despite getting out, they were hit with all the falling debris (remember, it wasn't just building debris, there were also people falling from the buildings).


The business recovery effort was extraordinary, my phone etc was constantly ringing from vendor partners offering us whatever we needed, without paperwork saying "we'll straighten out the paperwork another time", equipment - software - expertise - even Telco was all offered immediately without delay.

The thought I want to share today... having experienced at the same moment both the tragic loss and then being part of the determined teamwork to recover -- there are likely more important things than today's difficulty, but I'm confident we can get through just about anything -- together.

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