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NEWS

Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Corporate camaraderie emerges
'Nobody's panicking' as Canadian stocks rise in first day of trading since attacks
By KAREN HOWLETT, RICHARD BLACKWELL, ELIZABETH CHURCH AND ANDREW WILLIS
Friday, September 14, 2001

David Kassie, chief executive officer of CIBC World Markets Inc., was heading toward the firm's Manhattan office Tuesday morning to host a conference for clients when he heard the sickening news.

As his taxi was pulling out of the Lincoln Tunnel, a colleague on the other end of his cellphone suddenly blurted out: "You're not going to believe this. I think it must be a bomb or something."

Two hijacked airplanes had just slammed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, eventually causing the 110-storey buildings to collapse. The colleague was in the World Financial Center across the street in the city's financial district.

Since that morning, Mr. Kassie has spent all of his time overseeing the firm's efforts to evacuate its 2,000 employees from the building and relocate them to their makeshift home -- CIBC's regional office on Lexington Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.

The firm is throwing in phone lines and cheap desks in non-essential space such as the cafeteria. It's only a temporary solution, but being all together in one place has proven to be a morale booster for the bankers, many of whom were eye-witnesses to the skyscrapers' collapse.

No employees lost their lives, to the best of the firm's knowledge. Many of them, covered in plaster and debris, walked all the way from the World Financial Center that morning to the Midtown office.

The investment banking arm of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is one of four Canadian bank-owned firms with operations in Manhattan's financial district. They are joining a massive effort by Wall Street companies affected by the terrorist attack to restore their operations and deal with traumatized employees.

But stories of corporate camaraderie are also emerging, with companies offering their rivals the use of office space, executives staffing crisis hotlines and firms launching fund-raising drives.

Bank of Montreal's investment banking arm, BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., for example, is in informal discussions with other firms that are looking to use some of its space in the 30-storey Reuters Tower in the city's Times Square area.

And yesterday, Canada's banks began making large donations to help victims of Tuesday's attack. Royal Bank is donating $1-million (U.S.) to a United Way fund in New York, while Bank of Montreal is launching an employee fund-raising drive, which it is kick-starting by donating $500,000 (Canadian).

All the Canadian banks are also collecting monetary donations for the Canadian Red Cross through their branches.

Davies Ward Phillips Vineberg, a Toronto law firm with a Manhattan office, is offering space in its Midtown office to clients.

"It's impossible to describe just how shell-shocked New Yorkers are," said Jay Swartz, a partner at the firm.

Torys, a Toronto-based law firm with 65 lawyers in New York, had about 15 of its partners who live in Manhattan open their homes Tuesday night to colleagues who couldn't get back to the suburbs. Most of the lawyers spent Wednesday giving blood. Yesterday, the office was open, but little work was taking place.

"You can't understand how silent New York is; there are no cabs on the streets," said managing partner Charles (Trip) Dorkey. "The ultimate in-your-face city is very, very quiet."

The Plaza Hotel, a landmark on New York's Park Avenue owned by Canadian Pacific, threw cots into meeting rooms and ballrooms Tuesday night to accommodate those stranded in Manhattan. Televisions were placed in common spaces, such as the bars, so guests would not have to sit alone while watching the horrid scenes unfolding in New York and Washington.

Canadian Beverly Behan, a principal at Mercer Delta Consulting, watched the World Trade Center crumble through the windows of her 37th-floor office in Midtown Manhattan. The firm's parent company, Marsh & McLennan, had 1,700 staff in the two towers. As of yesterday afternoon, only about 1,100 had been accounted for. Many of her colleagues also had family and friends in the building.

"People were weeping all around me," she said yesterday. "People were on cellphones and on phones trying to reach people. . . . It was awful."

Since then, Ms. Behan has volunteered at Marsh & McLennan's Midtown "command centre," answering calls from people trying to track down family and friends who worked for the company, and going to hospitals to hand out information about the hotline.

"It was really, really tough," she said, at times fighting back tears. "One woman had a sister who worked on the 100th floor. Her name wasn't on our 'safe list,' and you have to tell her, 'I'm sorry, we don't have a record of her yet.' "

Already she said her firm is trying to pick up the pieces and return to some semblance of normal routines. Those who still have offices are returning to them. For those who don't, the firm is hunting for new space -- at least one law firm has offered to let displaced workers move in with them.

Bank of Nova Scotia is bringing Canadian crisis counsellors to New York this weekend to help its 400 employees at investment arm Scotia Capital Inc. cope with the tragedy.

"We're pulling together to help in any way we can," said spokeswoman Pamela Agnew.

Scotia Capital is left without a New York home after employees were evacuated from One Liberty Plaza, a 54-storey tower just east of the World Trade Center. The firm could not get access to its backup site located in the same area.

A lot of staff are working from home while others have been rerouted to Boston, Atlanta and Toronto, Ms. Agnew said. Scotia Capital is in the process of securing office space in a law firm.

Royal Bank of Canada subsidiary RBC Dominion Securities Inc., which also had about 300 employees in One Liberty Plaza, managed to get all staff to safety on Tuesday and then launched its "business resumption plan."

The formalized plan is set out "in a huge binder," said RBC Dominion spokesman Paul Wilson. Contingency plans for disasters have been in place for years, he said, but procedures were refined and expanded during preparations for potential Y2K computer problems.

"The idea is that you have a location where you can get up and running very quickly."

RBC's back-up location for New York is a secret, but several dozen key employees are already in place, and others have moved into offices in Midtown New York and Greenwich, Conn.

Many of RBC Dominion's New York employees remain at home, however, as there is no room for all of them in the back-up facility, and little for them to do with the U.S. equity markets still closed.

TD Waterhouse Group Inc., owned by Toronto-Dominion Bank, has had to relocate hundreds of employees from an office on Wall Street to other company locations. For companies with New York offices outside the disaster area, the impact has been more psychological than physical.

Eric Rosen, New York-based managing director of Onex Investment Corp., which has an office in Midtown Manhattan, said yesterday his operation was shut for just half a day.

"Emotionally, it's draining, given what happened a few miles away. Luckily I didn't have anybody who was close to me [in the World Trade Center]. But everybody who works in the city knows somebody who knows somebody. Everybody has a story to tell. It's very very difficult."





 PHOTOS

Life Goes On
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SPECIAL
Voices From After the Fall, The Facts Behind the Fear, and the preview of a new Discovery documentary filmed at Ground Zero.


VIDEO






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  • Six-month Memorial for Sept. 11 - U.S. President George Bush speaks from the White House. "The terrorists will remember Sept. 11 as the day their reckoning began," he said.

  • In Canada - Relatives of Canadian victims of the World Trade Centre attacks wonder why there's no six-month memorial here at home.

    CTVNEWS.com video reports



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