Flashback: Where I was for 9/11

As told to Brooke Smith, managing editor of Benefits Canada by Arti Sharma, principal and head of business development, North America, with Mercer Sentinel Group.

On Sept. 10, 2001, I was enjoying a round of golf near Uxbridge, Ont., with prospective clients from Scandinavia. We had a wonderful day getting to know them before our big presentation.

The next day, at the CIBC Mellon office in downtown Toronto, a couple of my colleagues
and I had just started our presentation for the Scandinavians at 8:30 a.m. and were expecting the rest of the CIBC Mellon team to join soon after 9 a.m.

At about 9:15 a.m., a few more colleagues stepped into the conference room. To this day, I will never forget the expressions on the first two or three people who walked in. My first thought was, Guys, this is a prospect, you should look upbeat.

I was concerned there was an issue. I assumed that maybe one of the demonstrations wasn’t working properly or that some part of the presentation was going to be delayed.

One of my colleagues asked whether we had heard the news and then turned on the TV in the room. The group of about a dozen people just sat for a few minutes in shock. By 9:30 a.m., we turned off the TV; the clients made calls to their families back home and told me they would reschedule the meeting.

I walked the clients back to their downtown hotel, and by the time I returned to the office around 10 a.m., our company had started to send employees home. I don’t remember anything
that happened from then until about mid-afternoon, when a security guard suggested I should go home. I didn’t do any work. I was numb.

While CIBC Mellon didn’t have anyone travelling in New York at the time, we did have employees in Pittsburgh. Our first plan of action was focused on contacting staff who were in Pittsburgh and discussing a plan to get them back home, because there were no planes. Some employees rented a car and drove seven hours straight.

We later learned that one of our senior members of the management team lost his best friend in one of the towers. He was there on a business trip.

Despite the enormous emotional impact, the impact from a business perspective for many of CIBC Mellon’s Canadian clients was minimal—except when dealing with their U.S. counterparts. The New York-based banks had significant challenges in getting staff to backup sites; this is when clients experienced issues.

For me, the incident reinforced the understanding that life is fragile. Since that day, I have started living in the moment. I don’t leave anything for tomorrow.
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