To varying degrees, September 11, 2001, changed us all. For the individuals who have shared their stories here, it was life changing. That fateful day was the catalyst that motivated them to become entrepreneurs or, at the very least, altered the way they ran their existing businesses.
A dozen years after the Twin Towers fell, we asked entrepreneurs to reflect on that day and explain how it shaped their personal and professional trajectories. The responses, curated in this gallery, are in the words of the entrepreneurs themselves.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length where necessary.
"I was so grateful to be alive and learned that life can be cut short at any moment, so pursue what you love."
Clinical nutritionist, certified personal trainer and holistic health coach
In a nutshell, on the morning of 9/11 I was 3 blocks south of the WTC trying to go to work when everything crumbled before my eyes, including my job. At the time I was working as an event manager for a beautiful loft located on West Side Highway and Rector Street. So, I showed up for work that morning, ran for my life, got covered in ash and I survived!
I had to find a new job, but I also came to some serious conclusions about my life and career. I was so grateful to be alive and learned that life can be cut short at any moment, so pursue what you love. At the time, my passion was martial arts. Contribution is a key to happiness and fulfillment. I wanted to pursue a career that helped people get fit and feel healthy both physically and emotionally.
From that point on, I invested in my future by training in martial arts, attending multiple nutrition schools, all while training people for income. I now live in Los Angeles, have a successful career coaching people to health and happiness through self defense.
I've created a DVD and workshop called Stilettos and Self Defense and have been featured on The Today Show, The Doctors, Bethenny, Marie and more. When it comes to nutrition, I have a private practice, I consult for fitness companies and teach corporate wellness workshops.
"We created an ID card with the American flag on it so that they [would] be viewed as Americans. They also all wore an American flag on their lapels."
Attorneys and others used to order boxed lunches from us daily. After 9/11 we discontinued the entire individual delivery division because our delivery staff could no longer enter buildings at will and go up to the floors where the clients were. We no longer deliver for individuals. Orders have to be for a minimum of six people. Additionally, we could not drop menus off as we no longer had easy access to buildings.
We also needed to create a new system of IDs for our staff. Since many of the delivery personnel were from Bangladesh, they were afraid of reprisals. We created an ID card with the American flag on it so that they [would] be viewed as Americans. They also all wore an American flag on their lapels.
We had to hire more delivery staff and had to charge a surcharge because it now took twice or three times longer to make each delivery. Additionally, we had to comply with more stringent security procedures in commercial buildings so we had to arrange for a different sort of insurance policy which allowed us to create a new COI (certificate of insurance) quickly. We now maintain a COI for almost every major commercial building in the city.
In terms of sales and marketing, we no longer could "just drop by" a client's desk for a meeting. All meetings had to be arranged ahead of time. Which made the process cumbersome and much less productive, especially since pre-9/11 we counted on volume. Of course now we work almost entirely through email, which makes the interpersonal relationship, once so important in sales, be all but nonexistent. We still insist that the sales staff go to visit clients, but they can manage only a few appointments per week.
On a side note, since 9/11, all Between the Bread's promotional material goes in clear cello pouches or as self-mailers. The traditional white envelope is gone. This is due to the poisoned powders which were mailed after 9/11.
"I lived in Soho during the attack. I was deeply affected by the events and six months later moved back to New Jersey. Because of the move, I was able to adopt a dog named Max."
Founder of Dog Files Media
I lived in Soho during the attack. I was deeply affected by the events and six months later moved back to New Jersey. Because of the move, I was able to adopt a dog named Max. My dog, in combination with 9/11, made me re-examine what I was doing with my life. They both taught me to follow my heart and find work that would mean something to myself and the world.
I left my advertising agency job and started a video production company. The company gave me the infrastructure to build a website and video series, called Dog Files, that allows me to get the word out about man's best friend. Soon after, I blended my feelings about 9/11, with my love of dogs to create this viral video: http://www.thedogfiles.com/herodogof911.
This year, a one hour television special entitled, Hero Dogs Of 9/11, premiered on Animal Planet, with me as an Executive Producer and a Director.
Dogs do not deserve the abuse and neglect they often times receive and it's my life's mission to educate the world about responsible dog ownership and how special these amazing creatures really are.
"The country saw on that tragic day was that life is too short not to take some chances."
Michael W. Byrnes, Jr.
National speaker and president of Byrnes Consulting, LLC
The country saw, on that tragic day, that life is too short not to take some chances here and there. When the opportunity presented itself, I decided to risk it and build a now successful consulting business out of not much more than a network of friends, some common sense and an entrepreneurial spirit.
In the aftermath, the country came together like no other time in recent history. At its core, a consulting business is similar. It is all about helping others. I truly love my job, because when my advice makes others more successful it is a great reward.
I am proud to be a U.S. citizen and of all that the United States of America stands for.
"Clichés aside, the time is now. Do everything right, sweat every detail, never settle or compromise."
Founder of KEEL Vodka
On September 11, 2001, I lost the most important person in my world.
Stacey Sennas and I met in 1984 during our senior year at Boston College and quickly became inseparable. Stace was always more than a girlfriend – she was my best friend. And she became a best friend to many of my buddies who constantly bemoaned the fact that I had gotten the "coolest" girl. Not just cool, she was an incredible athlete and a gifted student. Following graduation and a brief stint on Nantucket and traveling Europe, we began a career on Wall Street which took us from Manhattan to London and back again. Along the way we became married and were blessed with two beautiful, amazing little women, who, thankfully, take after their mom!
While we enjoyed our careers on Wall Street and enjoyed the challenge and the pressure and, of course, the fun that accompanies being young and in NYC we always spoke about one day being our own bosses. We constantly tossed entrepreneurial ideas back and forth between ourselves and our closest friends. The ideas ran the gamut from running a small inn or restaurant to starting a line of casual, yet stylish clothing for expectant mothers called "Cool Mama". I still like that one!
The plan was to work hard, make some money, raise the girls and wait for our opportunity. Stacey was never given that opportunity. I have been. Nothing can be more motivating. Losing her on that fateful day has obviously shaped everything I have done from that moment on with our girls and our lives. It has also directly affected the way I approach KEEL and the opportunity that I and my partners, BIll Dessel and Matt Light, have been afforded.
Clichés aside, the time is now. Do everything right, sweat every detail, never settle or compromise and create something you can be truly proud of. We constantly remind each other that KEEL has but one chance to succeed, one opportunity to be done successfully, one moment in time, that if not seized fully, will inevitably pass. This is the reality, sadly illuminated by 9/11, that drives me, and regardless of your motivation, is the way I believe all businesses should be run. Shape your idea and your business as though there is no second chance, and always remember that many times there is no first chance. You are fortunate just to be able to try.
This is Stace’s opportunity as much as it is mine. I will not allow it to fail...
"Now, every time there's a tremor or a power surge, the first thought is terrorism. I can't board an airplane without thinking about 9/11.”
CEO of TalkPoint
Located just three blocks from Ground Zero, we remember when the towers collapsed, running from the dust cloud and tracking down colleagues. From 1998 until today, TalkPoint has remained in the same location, so 9/11 has created a new awareness, and that fateful day is never far from our thoughts. Now, every time there's a tremor or a power surge, the first thought is terrorism. I can't board an airplane without thinking about 9/11.
September 11th caused TalkPoint to redefine a disaster. Now, I laugh at a blackout. We have to think bigger-like what if New York City is closed-how do we ensure our employees are safe? How do we run our business? At the time of 9/11, our data center was in New York. We've since established data centers outside of New York and the United States while implementing a much more robust recovery system. We also have a disaster recovery day once a year-kind of a company-wide fire drill-where everyone works from home. Now, our headquarters can be closed for months, and business continuity is not affected.
We have also established an employee phone chain. Four senior members of the management team initiate a series of calls that puts in motion an established sequence of phone calls that ultimately contacts every person in the company. The phone chain is tested twice per year.
Following 9/11, TalkPoint has recognized an exponential increase in virtual/online meetings, due in large part to people's reluctance to travel. Additionally, because of our experience with crisis communications, we have seen many companies utilize our webcasting services to communicate to their employees.
"As a type A personality, it was easy for me to get sucked into the 'workaholism' syndrome. 9/11 was a huge wake-up call that shouted the reminder to me that we never know how much time we have left here on earth."
Business growth coach
Paramount Business Coach, LLC
9/11 inspired me to completely change the business I was in. When 9/11 happened I was running three different businesses at the same time – a large performing arts center, a retail store, and a production company – with 35 people on my payroll. As a type A personality, it was easy for me to get sucked into the "workaholism" syndrome. 9/11 was a huge wake-up call that shouted the reminder to me that we never know how much time we have left here on earth.
No one ever says on their deathbed that they wished they worked more or achieved more. When we face death and tragedy we all evaluate the relationships in our lives. As a working mother with three children (two at that time), 9/11 inspired me to create instead a lifestyle business, so that my new business could be built around my family which would allow me to be available for them on their schedule. I didn't want to miss out on enjoying my family and loved ones.
I ended up selling all three of my businesses and started my lifestyle business which is my coaching practice. The majority of my work is virtual, allowing me to be at home in the mornings to see them off to school and available for my kids when they get home at 3pm. I choose how much I want to work each week. I can work anywhere in the world, so when we decide to pick up and travel I can work around that no problem.
My lifestyle business also comes with the added perk of no overhead. I used to have a high maintenance- high overhead 5,000-square-foot building. Plus, my lifestyle business offers me a leveraged business model which allows me to work a fraction of the time while earning 10 times more than the traditional billable hours model.
I think the anniversary of 9/11 each year serves an important reminder for us all to prioritize and cherish investing in the relationships of our family and loved ones.
"We were humbled by the way we approach our business, as we are grateful for what we have accomplished and what we have. We lost sight of that before 9/11."
Author, speaker and consultant
Learning Lessons in Business Inc.
Our business attitude changed after 9/11. We were humbled by the way we approach our business, as we are grateful for what we have accomplished and what we have. We lost sight of that before 9/11. We changed our attitude on business issues that it is not the end of the world when something happens, but a simple challenge to overcome. A challenge unlike the families that lost loved ones on my birthday....9/11. Today for me, September 11th it is not a day to celebrate but a day to be thankful.
“My assistant DeAnn and I have found and integrated tools to make it possible for us to walk out of the office, never to return for any reason and be able to be back up in business within a few hours.”
Amy Rose Herrick
Chartered Financial Consultant, Investment Advisor
Christiansted, Virgin Islands
As I watched those buildings bursting apart and then collapsing aside from the realization there were still people in those burning symbols of terror, I saw all the papers fluttering through the air that I knew held records of something on them.
I knew the flames had destroyed offices and jobs. I knew that the piles of rubble mean there was nothing to recover or repair. No jobs to go back to for survivors. No business left to run for owners. Clients with no business to go back to in a state of chaos. I knew a lot of things died that day along with the named victims. Businesses and jobs affected did not have a memorial service or death certificate issued in the aftermath.
I am a small business. As a result of this and other out-of-the-box thinking I am no longer dependent on a location to operate. There is too much vulnerability for loss in this scenario as we have seen from 9/11, wildfires, acts of terror and natural disasters.
My assistant DeAnn and I have found and integrated tools to make it possible for us to walk out of the office, never to return for any reason and be able to be back up in business within a few hours. We can be back in business the same day even if that means we set up temporarily in a hotel across town, move in with family, rent a home states or continents away, etc. All we really need is a roof and electricity plus a trip to an office supply store for minimal equipment.
We have integrated tech tools that allow us to serve our multi-state investment, financial and tax clientele with minimum interruptions from any reason and we keep no paper records that could be destroyed as our only resources.
From my view, we are a changing constantly mobile society. The bricks and mortar establishments of the past are not thriving. They are vulnerable standing alone or in mass in twin towers. It is the remote or often skilled telepreneur who can be flexible who is shaping today's workforce. Although we did not plan it, DeAnn and I are an early successful model of that employer/employee business that operates thousands of miles apart from each other.
This location independence flexibility allowed me to relocate my office from Topeka, Kansas to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands when opportunity knocked a few years ago. I kept my continental practice in place and we are still growing here in the VI and stateside. We never planned for a move to the VI to be the reason to test our ability to set up an office quickly in this case thousands of miles away at the end of a plane ride, yet it was our test. We passed!
A second very important lesson learned from those who were paying attention had to do with those who planned and those who did not for continuity in crisis. For example, if I should die suddenly, I have a funded buy/sell agreement in place with another trusted professional to step in and take over my client base so they are not left to fend for themselves in chaos.
The lack of a funded continuity plan for death and disability of owners or key employees at any time from a group crisis or single loss is another business loss lesson learned from unprepared businesses of 9/11. This one is easy for any size business to avoid with a little advance planning. This is a business lesson that should never need to be repeated, but it will be countless times in not so dramatic examples every day.
For those in 9/11 affected that had some portion of a workforce left, a lack of cash resources still was insurmountable to rebuild a company and continue jobs for survivors to come back to. Why? When no adequate life insurance on owners or key employees was in force to give the company an immediate cash infusion so desperately needed to start over, the business was unable to rise from the ashes like a phoenix without it.
"I've always admired entrepreneurs. I find it ironic that the tragedy of 9/11 transformed me into one."
Andrew T. Gardener
President, Tanglewood Legacy Advisors, LLC
In September 2001 I had recently completed my 20th year with Merrill Lynch. It had been a wonderful and successful career. Then, in shock, I watched those twin towers come down. I turned to look out my window, on the top floor of the Galleria Financial Tower to make sure I could see the Williams Tower. At 64 stories, it was the world's tallest skyscraper outside of a central business district. Up until that day, I would typically close the blinds in the afternoon due to the hot Houston sun. I never closed my blinds again, as I needed the assurance that the Williams Tower was still there.
The events of that morning seemed so random, so senseless and yet so final. I began to think of my own mortality, legacy and purpose. I started thinking of my clients -- Who would take care of them and who would take care of their children were I not there? I knew I needed to provide a future for them and that included a succession plan so that I could hand pick who would serve them if I could not. I soon realized that that meant that I needed to create my own firm, a firm focused on solutions, not products; on families, not investments. One where I could set a very high level of service and advocacy with every family I worked with. I would also limit the number of families to ensure that concierge-level service.
In May, 2003 I founded Tanglewood Legacy Advisors to serve as the Family CFO for Houston's most successful families and private businesses. We've now grown from 2 to 8 employees. The core of the firm is what we refer to as Wealth Planning – everything you do with money unrelated to investments. We've also added Exit Planning – helping other entrepreneurs with the most important decisions of their business lives. I've always admired entrepreneurs. I find it ironic that the tragedy of 9/11 transformed me into one.
“I lost my aunt Arlene T. Babakitis on September 11th, 2001 in the World Trade Center Attacks. I was 13 years old at the time.”
MPettignano Enterprises, LLC.
I am 25 years old. I lost my aunt Arlene T. Babakitis on September 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center Attacks. I was 13 years old at the time. My aunt is my mother's middle sister. She worked in the North Tower on the 64th floor for Port Authority of NY/NJ.
When I was 13 years old, I was in middle school, in math class. Our school's guidance counselor came into our classroom, alerting our teacher along with the students of the class that the World Trade Center had been hit and had collapsed. Immediately, I began to pray. I thought of my aunt who was like a second mother to me, my cousins (her two sons) my family, and everyone around the world.
I saw in my fellow classmates faces that were around me that day. Many of my fellow classmates were upset and concerned, which are normal reactions. I didn't want anyone to be traumatized by this horrific event. I didn't want children to feel afraid, not understand what all this was about. I wanted them to be able to express how their emotions were, but the right way.
Through my many experiences in life, 9-11 being one of the biggest, I wanted children, teens, pre-teens, young adults, adults, everyone to really know that everything can and will get better. I started my own business. It all began May 2013 of this year to be exact. My company is MPettignano Enterprises, LLC. My company deals with signing writers and musicians.
In addition to being an entrepreneur, I am a professional music artist, songwriter and author. My book Suzanne Lantana: A Collection of Short Stories, Fiction and Non-Fiction includes a short story in regards to what I went through on 9-11 in losing my aunt. My book is to help every young girl and boy know they can make it through anything and that the light is always at the end of the tunnel.
In my business, which I just started this year May 2013, from 9-11 and the many other experiences I have endured, it has made me stronger and wiser. It helps me strive even harder for the greater good – for people in the world to know the truth and to rise above every obstacle that comes their way.
"From this experience, I decided to build my own office-space solution center, called Quest, designed to accommodate companies in flux looking for somewhere to power up and get back to business as usual, especially when disaster strikes."
Founder and CEO of Quest Workspaces
New York and throughout Florida
The majority of my professional career has been in commercial real estate. I was managing an executive office space center in New York City when the 9/11 tragedy happened, and my boss nearly forced me to rapidly increase rent prices on temporary office space and capitalize on the disaster. I could not add an extra burden to these business owners, and I knew this was not the right thing to do.
From this experience, I decided to build my own office-space solution center, called Quest, designed to accommodate companies in flux looking for somewhere to power up and get back to business as usual, especially when disaster strikes. Quest's move-in ready offices allow speed to market within 24 hours, and flexible leasing terms, from one week to three years with no startup capital.
Last year New York city was pummeled by Hurricane Sandy days before we were opening Quest's fifth location in the iconic Time Life Building. Greeted with power outages and flooded streets, my staff and I worked around the clock to accommodate businesses displaced by the storm, and we did so with the highest level of integrity.
I was accepting phone calls from large corporations in search of a place to power up and get back to business until the wee hours of the morning. Through the night, we signed more than 7,000 square feet of Executive Class A office space to companies such as Foursquare, who took 48 work stations, Aflac and Guardian Life Insurance, all within the first 24 hours of the storm breaking. I was one of the few companies who saw a silver lining in the storm, but I knew there were many people out there in need, so I decided to donate 10 percent of revenue from disaster displaced business to Tunnels to Towers' hurricane relief fund benefitting neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Amid 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and many other disasters I have learned a thing or two about making it through tragedies and planning for an emergency. Below please find three ways I suggest on continuing business and weathering any storm:
- Communication is Critical – Utilizing multiple communication channels for the instant dissemination of company information to employees is vital. In addition to the traditional group notification system of the phone tree, update employees’ contact info to include personal email addresses, and approved social media accounts where they can be messaged. Maintain updates on the company’s internal intranet site, utilize text messaging services, company Facebook postings and even Twitter depending on the circumstance.
- Protect Digital Property - The identification, protection and availability of important data files is critical to conducting “business as usual” despite the disruption. Regularly back up vital electronic files, especially billing, payroll records and client lists, and store backup copies on an external hard drive in a secure off-site location. Also, back-up files to a cloud computing system for easy off-site access if Internet is available.
- Pop-Up Offices – There’s only so much working from home can accomplish. Lack of access to servers, phones, internet, printer facilities and other amenities can make employee productivity difficult. Establish personal contacts and create a detailed list of nearby executive business centers and shared office space facilities that can be called upon to provide temporary work stations during disaster displacement situations.
“The entire 9/11 experience humbled me. I realized how fragile life is and how little control we have over it.”
Simon Associates Management Consultants
Greater New York City area
I was the vice president of marketing and communications at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J., on 9/11. We immediately went into emergency response mode. I set up a complex the telephone communications system, and staffed it with several others from the hospital. For two days, we answered the phones as people called: “Do you have my father, my brother, my husband, my wife, my son, my daughter?” Basically, people were calling to get their lives back or to find the missing parts of their lives. It was heart-wrenching. We couldn't tell them much, as we didn't have any of the people they called to find. We had no one. Then we held our faith-based services, including one with the Muslim community, since Paterson has a very large Muslim community.
As I looked around at life, and death during those dark days, my husband, Andy, reminded me that I always wanted to be in my own business.
So, it was then that I knew it was time for me to go into my own business to help people and companies change. It was time to take what I knew so well and help people deal with challenges that appear overwhelming. It was time to be that anthropologist I knew I always was, but had not been able to really be in the corporate executive positions that I had been in, since leaving academia in 1981.
The entire 9/11 experience humbled me. I realized how fragile life is and how little control we have over it.