A CEO’s reflections on the 17th anniversary of 9/11

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on September 11, 2018

No one can ever forget where they were at 8:46 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Sept. 11,
2001. Two hijacked aircraft flown by terrorists destroyed both World Trade Center
towers. A third aircraft caused significant damage to the Pentagon. A fourth
aircraft was brought down by brave passengers and crew members in a field in
central Pennsylvania before it could reach its target, possibly the White House or
Capitol building.

As then CEO of PQ Corporation, I reflect on how that day impacted me and my
employees. I was at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West
Virginia, attending a board meeting of the American Chemistry Council. After a
staffer entered the meeting and handed a note to the chairman, his face turned
white as he announced that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade

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 that
the United States was under attack.

My first thought was for the safety of our employees and those traveling away
from home. Our company operated 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 asked that she find out 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 United States, as well as employees on flights scheduled to pass over the
continental U.S. I knew that it would be days before these employees could reach
their business destinations or home.

I wanted to return to corporate headquarters as soon as possible. Since all flights
were grounded, my wife and I drove our rental car seven hours to Valley Forge.
We stopped twice – once for gas and once to get something to eat.

The genuine concern and connection offered by the people who reached out to us
at both stops was nothing like we have ever experienced. They wanted to know
where we had started our trip and where we were heading. They provided advice
on the route we should take, and long-haul truckers made recommendations on the
best places to eat along the way.

I thought of this as a small slice of America at its best – strangers helping others.
People helping other people in need: It’s one of our country’s best cultural norms.

When I arrived home the night of 9/11, I learned that all PQ employees were safe.
I received a report indicating the location of those employees in travel mode. Our
travel department had already arranged hotel rooms for those who could not arrive
at their destination.

Rental cars were reserved for those who could drive home. Two of our plant
operations managers drove from Los Angeles to Chicago, where one lived, and the
other continued on to Philadelphia. The administrative assistant of our purchasing
manager was on her honeymoon in Europe. Our travel department was able to get
her and her husband on a flight back to the U.S. a few days later.

What do I recall as the “best personal experience” of the horrible tragedy of 9/11
and the days that followed? It’s that we all pulled together as a nation and we had
genuine concern for each other.

I recall the courage of first responders in New York and Washington D.C. – fire
fighters and police who saved countless lives at their own peril. I recall those first
responders who made the ultimate sacrifice and did not return home to their

I recall the two F-16 pilots who took off from Andrews Air Force Base with orders
to intercept and ram hijacked United 93 flying towards Washington, D.C., to
prevent the hijackers from destroying the White House or Capital building. There
was insufficient time to arm the F-16s, so this was a suicide mission for these
courageous pilots. I recall those 40 brave passengers and crew members on that
aircraft who resisted the hijackers and brought the plane down themselves,
preventing an additional catastrophe.

I recall not having the American flag that I had proudly flown off the stern of my
sailboat for 14 years, regretting not keeping it when I sold that boat in August

2001. Flying a new store-bought flag at my home a month later was not the same
to me.

I recall the generosity of PQ employees who contributed funds to help the victims’
families. I recall attending the hockey season’s opening game of the Philadelphia
Flyers in October, where there was not a dry eye in the house when our national
anthem was sung.

I recall visiting the site of the World Trade Center a month after 9/11 to pay my
respects, walking on hallowed ground with thousands of other visitors.

I will never forget. None of us will ever forget.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker,
advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and
corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in
chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an
alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.
He can be reached at

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