Eighteen years ago, 9/11/01. I was sitting with a friend having coffee when my wife, Pat, called to tell me that an airplane had just struck the World Trade Center. At first I didn’t understand, but as I listened to the radio I realized that the situation was grave, and that we needed to talk to our son, Adam, a reporter for Reuters in the heart of New York City. We needed to be sure he was safe.
We sat for hours, watching in astonishment as people jumped from buildings familiar to us.
When the first building collapsed, we gasped. When the second building collapsed we cried. It was not until 4 pm that afternoon that we got word that Adam and his family were safe. A day later I received a call from Reuters, who was a client of mine, asking for advice. I told them I would be there to help. Two days later I was in my Jeep, driving to New York City to provide whatever help I could. Two weeks after that my wife, Pat, flew to New York as a Red Cross volunteer to work with the families of the victims of Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
What follows are exerpts from a case study of Reuters written by Jane Dutton, Ryan Quinn, and myself. Jane and Ryan were my colleagues at the University of Michigan, who joined me a few weeks later in New York City, to document Reuters’ response to 9/11.
CASE STUDY SERIES
Written by: Jane Dutton, Ryan Quinn, and Robert Pasick.
The Heart of Reuters – Part A
WHEN THE WORLD FALLS APART
“No one has a plan for what to do when the world falls apart.”
The 1200 employees of Reuters America located in 3 Times Square (3XSQ) had a clear view of the World Trade Center from windows above the 22nd ﬂoor of its brand new building. After 8:45 a.m. on September 11, people from all over the building ﬂocked to those windows to conﬁrm that an airplane had hit one of the WTC buildings. The thick stream of smoke and the discernable ﬁre made it clear that the rumors were true. It was not until the second plane hit that the disbelief, uncertainty, and fear struck 3XSQ. Pandemonium reigned in 3XSQ for the ﬁrst hour or two after the attacks. Some employees stayed by the windows to watch the towers burn. Some left for home immediately. Others went out to the streets, but went nowhere in particular. Some made phone calls to loved ones, or to people they knew in the World Trade Center. Some got on the internet to follow the news reports. And some retreated to ofﬁces or conference rooms.
The following account is a reconstruction of Reuters’ responses immediately following the events of September 11. This description is the product of interviews with 30 individuals from Reuters America done between the dates of October 19th and November 8.
I. Chaos into Order
Phil Lynch, Chief Executive Ofﬁcer of Reuters America, was at a meeting at Compaq Computers when a person burst into the room to tell them about the attacks. Lynch literally ran back to 3 Times Square. He watched the tower burn from the southern window, and realizing that he needed to take control of the situation, announced that he would be going up to the boardroom on the 22nd ﬂoor to establish a Command Center for managing the crisis. When Lynch got to the 22nd ﬂoor, he found that other members of his top team already had the same idea. He joined them in establishing the Command Center — it was up and running in a half hour after the attacks. They had placed a call to London and established an open line with Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters Group, and other members of the top management group in London.
The ﬁrm’s priorities were very clear from the beginning: “People ﬁrst, then customers, then the business.” This message came loud and clear from Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters, located in London, and the message came simultaneously from Reuters America located in New York. This meant: locate and ensure the safety of Reuters staff ﬁrst, learn what clients need and help them meet those needs, and then and only then worry about the implications for the business. But ﬁrst, they needed to adapt their organization to the needs of this crisis. Fortunately, Reuters had a 150-year tradition as an information business.
II. The Search
“This is the Reuters touchstone: to be there for other people. We are there for clients and we are there for our own.”
As managers from all units began the daunting process of trying to locate all 1200 plus employees based in and visiting New York and affected clients, the 3 Times Square Command Center became the central node in their efforts. They used a hunt and peck process, relying heavily on managers’ knowledge of where their employees were that day, and if they were unsure, identifying who might have leads about how to ﬁnd them. For example, Gary Mindlin, Vice President, Operations for Reuters Consulting, America, described the process as where, when you used your networks to locate people, you would then ask questions like, “Did you see this person? Did you see that person?” As you would ﬁnd out information, you would ﬁnd there was a deﬁnite ‘CONFIRM’ or a sighting of a person.
By the evening of September 11, 20 employees were still missing. The search had been exhaustive and methodical: Who among the Reuters employees was on the hijacked airplanes? Who was attending events in the World Trade Center? Who among employees working at the World Trade Center was not able to get out?
Phil Lynch took it upon himself to personally make the phone calls to the homes of the not-yetlocated employees. He explained that these were high alert phone calls, and he could not see himself delegating them to anyone else. Phil explained to the families that they were looking for everyone, but hoped everything was ﬁne, and they had no reason to believe the contrary. He asked families to let him know as soon as they heard anything, and he promised to do the same. By the next morning they had it down to 8 people, and four hours later there were two whose names kept coming up — Alex Braginsky and Geoff Campbell, who ironically were attending a risk management conference at Windows on the World on the top ﬂoor of the World Trade Center. Both were members of Reuters America, the group that Phil was responsible for. Phil and members of the HR group kept in touch with the families as they struggled to learn of the fate of two men.
The Reuters Group eventually learned that they also lost Steve Tompsett and Anil Bharvaney from Instinet, a Reuters subsidiary, and Douglas Gurian and Chris Hanley from Radianz, a company created by Reuters in a joint venture. The separate reporting structures for these two units meant that Reuters America was focused primarily on the Campbell and Braginsky families and on the Reuters employees who lost family members, friends, clients, and colleagues.
FOR THE FAMILIES
As Phil Lynch put it, “It’s all about the families. Just remember it’s all about them. I knew therewas nothing I could do that would make them feel better. But it was all about them. What could we do for them? Where do you want to go? Do you have a place to stay? Do you have a way to get around? What do you want to see? Do you want to see where he worked? Do you want to meet who he worked with? It was all about trying to serve them.”
THE MOBILIZATION OF HR ON SEPTEMBER 11
By Wednesday, over 50 counselors had called in. They were able to contact the New York Institute of Mental Health, which activated another very large network. HR also decided that they needed counselors in D.C., Chicago, and other locations as well. By day two, Reuters had two counselors on site. They also distributed a number of handouts encouraging people to contact the onsite counselors. At the same time, HR recognized that leaders could use coaches to help them lead in this tough time. Support personnel came on site very rapidly to help employees deal with the unfolding trauma and events begun on September 11.
One of the counselors on site was Rob Pasick, a business consultant/psychologist who had worked with Reuters before. When he received a phone call looking for counselors, he hopped in his car and drove to New York from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to arrive Monday morning. Finding no pattern for using professional counselors at Reuters, Rob took initiative in giving people the opportunity to talk about their experiences and feelings in informal settings. Rob and the other counselors walked the ﬂoors and made themselves available, helping individuals and work teams to work through their experiences. Each afternoon Rob would meet with the managers in the Command Center to review how people were doing. Reuters showed great ﬂexibility in enabling Rob and his colleagues ﬁnd the way to work most effectively.
TOWN HALL MEETINGS
HR and leadership thought there was a need to have a town hall meeting where people could come together to tell their stories and hear the leaders reﬂect on Reuters response to the events. They held three town meetings on Friday, September 21 — two with Reuters America and the other with Bridge Information Systems, a company Reuters was in the process of purchasing. The meetings were milestone events in providing an opportunity for the community to come together to reﬂect and to ask questions. One of the main goals was to help people manage their fear. Times Square had been subject to a number of bomb scares in the days following September 11.
The meeting opened with Phil showing a Reuters picture Shannon Stapleton had taken of Father Mychal, the beloved and deceased chaplain of the New York ﬁreﬁghters, being carried away from Ground Zero in a chair by his ﬁreﬁghting colleagues. He then read the letter from the family of Father Mych that described how grateful they were for the memory preserved in this picture. Phil used this story to afﬁrm the meaning and importance of Reuters, what it does as an organization, and its importance to people as well as to clients and markets. Phil went on to explain that this picture captures what Reuters is as a company, what Reuters does to serve the people of the world. He explained how ﬂying the ﬂag could be seen as undercutting Reuters global role. It’s important, he said, especially in times of crisis, to adhere to fundamental editorial principles, particularly for the safety of Reuters employees.
Then everyone had a chance to talk, and the Reuters employees saw executives openly sharing their feelings. A manager attending the meeting described the meeting’s impact this way: “You sometimes forget what our company does. Through these events people saw what Reuters does…. You could see the impact…” Phil talking about the picture of Father Mych “had a profound effect on a lot of people, I think. It helped people [to realize] that we provide a valuable service to people.” Another person explained, “I think it reminded them what was important about what we do. Rather than it just being about kind of hawking an information product at a customer. That, I think, made a lot of people feel very good about working for the company.”
Read the case study in it’s entirety, here.