Open for Business

Once again acts of terrorism dominate the headlines. Once again many are called and many more answer the call to serve and to help restore order out of chaos. Terror thrives on dislocation, but so does #‎Solidarité‬. 14 years ago I was a proud, small, part of the reopening of the NYSE after 9/11. As a member broker of that market place I was there to hear the bell ring. That bell would send the signal that the stock market was open for business. I was ready for business. When it seems that it would not be possible to go on; the free world and the free market does. There were no strangers that morning.

For new readers here is an excerpt of my experience from Kenny’s Commentary:

On that morning in 2001 I was in Ireland on a golf trip with seven business partners and associates. Some members of this troupe were exchange governors. Some were specialists. Some ran the largest firms that populated the world of finance and all were members of the New York Stock Exchange. In several cases very critical members for their roles in making markets in Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 listing. That day in the early morning we had played Parkland. All was well. Playing golf in Ireland in the early autumn with dear friends. How could things not be well? Little did we know that everything was about to change. Everything. We were oblivious to what was about to occur in our beloved New York City. The horror. Everything changed as dramatically as conceivable when we pulled up to the club house at Tralee. No sooner than we had walked into the facilities, the first plane hit. The laughter stopped. The vision before us was literally unbelievable. We were all speechless. Others that were there at the club house were urgently trying to call home. It seemed as though everyone was trying to call the United States. Virtually no one could get through. We were all completely stunned, panicked and helpless. We did not know what to do. We couldn’t even talk. All of us wanted desperately to be home with our families. Then the second plane hit – live on television. We went from being panicked to being completely emotionally overwhelmed. With few exceptions, these captains of industry were quietly weeping. Each man was alone in his own world. Alone, terrified and introspective.

Then the towers fell.

Our questions about what was going on in New York were too numerous to count. Television coverage provided us with the only information we could use to make decisions about next steps. How do we get back? Were our families safe? As a group our terror and extreme fear of the future turned to action. All air traffic in the western world was grounded. Markets were closed. We knew we had to get back to our families and the United States but we did not know how that could be accomplished. Somehow, some way we simply had to get back as immediately as possible. Within the next 24 hours we heard from the CEO and Chairman of the NYSE, Dick Grasso. He told us we had to return immediately and that the NYSE and US markets had to open on Monday. It was a question of national security and global financial stability. He assured us that he would do what he could to facilitate our return. With Dick’s help we were able to charter a jet that we had located in Dusseldorf, Germany to pick us up in Amsterdam. It took us several days just to get to Amsterdam from Dublin. Once there we immediately boarded the small private jet that had arrived for us. Our journey across the Atlantic seemed to take forever. We stopped in Iceland to refuel and had our passports checked. We stopped again in Gander, Newfoundland for fuel a thorough security briefing and another security check. On the ground in Gander there were six F-16s with their cockpits open, red lights flashing and engines on. We all knew we were heading into a new world order. We lifted off the ground in Gander with our next scheduled stop being Newark, New Jersey. The flight was short but lasted an eternity. As we approached Newark International Airport, one thing was clear. We were the only jet in the sky –in one of the busiest air traffic corridors on the planet. We flew past New York City and saw the WTC site in flames and smoke. That seven acre smoldering tract of land was the center of the universe. Lives lost, families destroyed, city blocks gone. We were all emotional. Every one of us was so grateful to be back in the United States. We were grateful but angry. Why? Who? We knew we would get answer at some point but one thing was undeniable for all of us. The world as we knew it had changed.

The next morning we all got to the exchange independently of one another after multiple security checks. We walked past military snipers that lined roof tops, military check points and German shepherds on the street, and through the stench of the rubble. Stench that was thoroughly unfamiliar. Thousands had died in terror. Steel was bent in every direction but largely facing down. Smoke was in every breath and utter fear filled the air. Over the previous night, Dick Grasso had the NYSE hosed down by fire trucks to remove the 6-8 inches of soot and debris that covered every surface of downtown NYC. He also had spot lights on the iconic façade of the Greek style structure and American flags everywhere. It was as if to say to the world that the American free enterprise system would not bend to terror. Our markets would open on time and we would continue to be the financial leader of the world in the face of devastating tragedy. Hearing the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange that morning was unlike anything I have ever felt. I am tearing up just writing about it. The trading floor was packed. CEO Dick Grasso, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Senator Chuck Schumer were among those on the podium. We stood shoulder to shoulder in silence at 9:30 for five minutes of silent prayer. There was not a dry eye among those assembled. The opening bell was rung in the members podium and markets rallied.

We had all lost family members, friends, partners, associates and strangers. There were no strangers that morning and there have been none since among those gathered. Last night the Freedom Tower was lit with the colors of France. Houses of worship are open.