14th anniversary reflections of a CEO on 9/11

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on September 11, 2015

Another year has gone by since Sept. 11, 2001. Three thousand people lost their lives when four commercial aircraft were hijacked by members of al-Qaida, destroying the two World Trade Center towers and doing significant damage to the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft was brought down by courageous passengers in a field in central Pennsylvania before it could reach the White House or Capital Building.

Another year has gone by since family members lost loved ones that day. The young children who lost parents are now teenagers and young adults, having grown up without a mother or father.

I wrote an article a year ago headlined “Reflections of a CEO on the 13th anniversary of 9/11.” I received many emails in response from people sharing with me their personal stories that day. Many urged me to re-run that article on Sept. 11, 2015. I do so in part, below.

No one can ever forget where they were at 8:45 that morning. I was at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, attending a board meeting of the American Chemistry Council. A staffer entered the meeting and handed a note to the chairman of the Council. His face turned white as he announced that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. We all gathered around a TV just outside the meeting room and watched with horror as a second plane hit the South Tower. It was then immediately evident to everyone that the United States was under attack. It was announced that the airspace over the United States was now closed, and all aircraft in the air were ordered to immediately land. As then CEO of PQ Corporation, my first thought and only concern was the safety of our employees and those traveling away from home. Our company operates in 19 countries, and it was not uncommon for many of our employees to be traveling within their respective countries and between countries around the world. I called my executive assistant and requested that she ask our travel department to determine if any of our employees were on those four flights or were visitors to the World Trade Center towers or the Pentagon that day. I also asked for a list of employees who were on trips to or from the U.S., as well as employees on flights scheduled to pass over the U.S. between Canada and Mexico. I knew that it would be days before these employees could reach their business destination or home. I wanted to return to corporate headquarters as soon as possible. We couldn’t fly back, so

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