Saturday, September 02, 2006

Surviving September 11: A Story of Renewal

The new issue of Business Week has an exceptionally compelling story on the grief and recovery of the surviving employees of Cantor Fitzgerald, a top New York-based finanicial services concern, which lost 658 people on September 11, 2001, when terrorists slammed a jet into the WTC tower housing its office. One of the firm's survivors, Howard Lutnick, who was taking his boy to kindergarten when the plane struck, lost his brother in the attack:

For five years, Lutnick and his brokerage firm have been fighting back from the horror and heartache of 9/11. The worst terror attacks in America's history killed every one of the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald brokers, traders, technology specialists, and secretaries who were at their desks that morning.

It was the single greatest loss suffered by any company or organization. After three moves and countless business crises, the firm's future is secure again, and it now has more employees than before the attacks.

Lutnick, who lived because he was taking his son to his first day of kindergarten, calls the recovery "miraculous" and credits those whose lives were spared and stayed with Cantor. "The normal course of events is you have a crisis, and you go for weeks sorting it out. But in the fall of 2001, we'd have a crisis at nine and another at eleven and then another at one. We were in crisis mode for basically a year."

Survivors are quick to share stories of 90-hour weeks, of adrenaline-fueled problem-solving, and of an unshakable belief in one another. Work was not just a distraction; most say it healed them.

As the country reflects again on the meaning of the events of September 11, 2001, and as politicians invoke the day in campaign ads and stump speeches, the story of Cantor Fitzgerald has morphed from one of unfathomable loss to one of ingenuity, perseverance, and finding meaning through work.

Cantor people are starting to take vacations and reflect on their good fortune. Still the anniversary fills many of them with dread because no matter how far they've come, they will be asked to tell their 9/11 story again. Where were they? Why did they live? How did they feel? And they're simply tired of reliving that day one more time. It just might be that the Americans most able to move on from the events of September 11 are the men and women of Cantor Fitzgerald who lived through them.

Be sure to check out the article's photo slideshow, which shares the survivors' incredibly moving stories.

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