September 11, 2001— I was talking on the phone when I looked through the glass interior wall of my office out into the rest of our space and noticed people standing around a TV monitor. So when my call eventually ended, I poked my head out the door to see what was going on. A commercial airliner had just crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that this was no accident. Then the second plane hit, a plane crashed into The Pentagon, and you all know the rest.It was a horrific, frightening, and scary day for all of us. But it must have been really awful for those who were there in Washington, D.C.; New York; and west of Pittsburgh who experienced the tragedy firsthand, and especially awful for those in the airplanes or buildings who lost their lives. Then I started thinking: We have offices in Washington, D.C., and consultants flying all over the country. Was everyone OK? I have a brother in New Jersey who works in Manhattan. Was he OK? Did I know anyone on the two hijacked planes from Boston? What was going to happen next? Would they attack downtown Boston or San Francisco or Atlanta? Would there be a run on the banks? And I was supposed to be on my way to Chicago later in the day for our Making Money seminar. Was my will up to date? Fortunately for me, all of my loved ones and all of our employees turned out to be safe. I went to the bank, got a bunch of cash, and sent the nanny to the grocery store to stock up. The day was shot here at the office. We had clients in the World Trade Center that were completely wiped out. Everyone was so dumbfounded that productivity ground to a halt. Not to mention the fact that the phones didn’t work— land lines and cell phones. All of our business trips were cancelled. And so we let anyone who wanted to go home do so.I thought that, in light of recent events, now might be a good time for firms to take another look at a few of their policies and business practices:When do you send people home and who makes the call? I don’t know the answer. On the one hand, why should we send everyone home in any location other than our Washington office? On the other hand, no one was getting any work done, and it was the compassionate thing to do. We chose the latter course. But it was also glaringly evident that we didn’t have any process or means for making this kind of decision. We should at least have that. Who should never be allowed to travel together? This question was driven home when the plane on a trade mission with executives from a number of industry firms and U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown went down. Maybe once you get to a certain level, specific people— the CEO and CFO, for example— should not be allowed to fly on the same plane. This policy needs to be formulated and stuck to. It’s hard. We don’t do a good job of it here. I can think of several trips that Fred White, Mick Morrissey, and I went on together. Where will operations be moved in the event that an office has to be closed or is completely destroyed? You should develop some alternative spaces to temporarily relocate each of your locations so that there is a plan in place should it ever be necessary. Who will take over for each of your top people in the event of an untimely death or injury? Again, in order to keep things moving in a positive direction, this kind of planning is absolutely critical to do. It just makes good sense. What happens if your bank shuts down? I don’t mind saying I was concerned about a run on banks. If that happened, weaker banks could close down. That’s why I suggest firms have a second banking relationship that they can call on should they ever face a credit crisis. Anyone who knows you and has had experience with your firm will always be more likely to grant credit in a time of need than will a complete stranger. No doubt all of these things need some quality discussion in your firm. Make them part of your year-end planning process, if you don’t deal with them sooner. Some day you may be glad you did. Questions or comments for me? E-mail me. And God bless you all.Originally published 9/24/2001.
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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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