I was nervous that morning. It was a big day for me and my career, and my leadership skills were about to be tested in a way I could never have imagined. As a newly appointed Branch Manager with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, I was about to conduct my very first branch sales meeting for a group of very tenured Advisers. I felt like a kid that went to Career Day at my dad’s office.
After much preparation, I had what I felt to be an informative and useful presentation for my group that would solidify my purpose and merit as their new leader. Little did I know; my true mettle was about to be tested.
I was about two-thirds through the meeting and focused on balancing a well-paced engaging delivery with the awareness that these folks were frankly just eager to get back to their offices and begin their day. At that moment, one of my senior assistants entered the conference room and said in a low voice, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
Now, I heard the words that she said, but in my mind the first thought was, “How the heck did a crop duster miss a building of that size?” Logical? Hardly. But in what forevermore more would be defined as ‘surreal’, it was the first thing my mind thought went to. I calmly, but quickly, wrapped up the meeting so that we could find out what was happening. You see, our Corporate headquarters were located in 2 World Trade Center and I had three trainees and many friends on site.
At this time, each of our workstations were equipped with business television streaming all the financial news stations to each employee. As I sat in my office and viewed the preliminary footage of what was the horror just beginning to unfold, it was still very difficult to process what I was seeing. It was however quite evident that we needed to maintain a professional calmness in the branch. My leadership instincts kicked in as I made my way through the office to communicate what actions I was taking, what actions I needed them to take to address the clients who were beginning to flood our phones with concerns about our safety. The more dire the situation became, the calmer my outward demeanor became as I continued to gather intel and keep communication and connection with my team.
As was the case for the world, news about what was really happening was at best speculative but the sight unfolding before our eyes was not. I recall, with goosebumps as I type this 17 years later, the surreal horror as I watched as 1 World Trade was struck by a second plane. What was happening?
I recall frantically thinking, “Which Tower are we in?” as with nothing short of numb horror, I watched the first Tower struck collapse into itself. It was a scene out of a Hollywood film as the Tower literally compacted into itself like a defunct building that was professionally leveled. In a split second, another utterly illogical thought entered my mind. “That was just too perfect of a collapse. Seriously, is this actually happening?” The mind does not wish to see, much less process, such atrocities.
This was the beginning of an ongoing cascade of change in our world, the likes we as a Country have never known. There were so many souls lost that day and so many hero’s who gave their lives selflessly. Our security team, led by Rick Rescorla, our Head of Security and a highly decorated Purple Heart Vietnam Veteran, was the reason so many survived and were able to escape the flaming tower. After the first terrorist bombing years prior, he mandated evacuation drills for everyone…Executive to Janitor…down 70+ flights of stairs. These drills saved their lives this day and, in the end, Rick and thirteen of his team of heroes sacrificed their own lives to save everyone else’s.
Experiences like these change you, at your core. Perspective becomes more relevant. Things you thought a were important diminish as the fragility of life crashes in around your feet. I will never forget that day or the subsequent days to follow that were filled with tears and disbelief and a call for leadership parallel to none prior. Every day I have gratitude for this life and endeavor to make a positive and meaningful difference in the lives I am privileged to touch. I had superior role models. Gratitude.
(note: as I am concluding this article, my eyes glanced at the clock on the kitchen stove…it’s 9:11 AM)
Dorothy Patrick is the founder and CEO of SPARX International™, a firm that drives profits by providing organizations with ideas, products and services that improve culture, communications and employee engagement; specializing in the leadership development and cultural integration for growing companies. Dorothy’s passion to develop successful organizations and teams is reflected in her legacy as a corporate executive with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, UBS Financial and IFCO International.
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