The smell of death is still in the air. "When the wind blows our way," says Stephen Goldstein, CEO of Alacra Inc., "it's a constant reminder of what happened."
Nobody needs to be told, of course, what happened. What happened is the reason six employees from Lehman Brothers are, half a year later, working out of the offices of Alacra, which provides financial information to institutions like investment banks. What happened still seems impossible.
Alacra is located six blocks from Ground Zero. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, the 5-year-old company was forced to leave its offices-but only for a week. With many of his nearby clients not so fortunate, Goldstein, 43, figured he could squeeze 25 extra people into the offices of his 65-employee company. He and some of his staff were offering their clients free office space even before they were allowed back in their own building.
By the time Alacra reached its clients-difficult, because they no longer had phone numbers-everyone had made other arrangements, save some of Lehman Brothers' staff, who gladly accepted Goldstein's offer. "We introduced them to everybody," says Goldstein, "and showed them where the coffee is, and tried to make them feel like they were working with us."
That generosity may seem surprising, but there's a tradition of American entrepreneurs who, to paraphrase JFK, have asked not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country. During World War I, dozens of entrepreneurs and high-profile executives on the home front became known as the "dollar-a-year men" as they went to work for the United States for next to nothing.
After September 11, the tradition continued. From giants like Starbucks-which at last count had donated more than 47,000 gallons of coffee to New York City centers assisting victims-to startups like JenBen Communications LLC, a Manhattan toy-marketing firm. JenBen's CEO, Jennifer Newman, 28, closed her four-employee company for two weeks so she could volunteer her time at a shelter, helping victims to everything from saline to underwear.
Here's a handful of other entrepreneurs who have shown us the true meaning of "hero."
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.