It’s been 10 years, yet it’s still difficult to fathom the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, ever took place. The world shuddered that morning and, in many ways, it seems like another lifetime. We all measure the distance between then and now in different ways, but the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 surely conjures some common sentiments.
Donald F. Donahue, DTCC’s president and CEO, was on the front line for DTCC that Tuesday and the long week that followed. The night of 9/11, he walked from Lower Manhattan towards home in pitch-black darkness, one of the lucky few who had a glow stick to guide his footsteps “through the moonscape of the financial district.” He worked the remainder of the week at DTCC’s alternate site, overseeing a critical push to keep post-trade processing on track for the U.S. markets. The success of those efforts sent a signal, both real and symbolic, to the world: the U.S. financial system was intact and unbowed.
@dtcc asked Don to share some of his reflections 10 years on.
* * *
Most Sundays, my family and I drive back into the city through the Lincoln Tunnel, where you see the downtown skyline as you make the loop around. I’ve lost count of how many times I look at that skyline and think something is missing. Now, it’s wonderful to see Freedom Tower rising there.
One enormously striking memory from that day was how people in the company understood the need to focus on what we do, and to carry on.
I remember being in our command center around 11:30 that morning and watching our people in action. It was an incredible flurry of activity. When the planes hit the Trade Center buildings, our processing was already well underway with $280 billion worth of transactions already completed for final settlement that evening. I clearly remember looking around the room and seeing the focus of the people there, and then looking out the window and seeing the FDR Drive choked with people from other companies walking north to get out of Lower Manhattan. Our folks did not even for a second think about getting out. Everybody was so intent on keeping the company functioning and the financial system stable.
Throughout that week it was amazing to see people’s dedication in terms of getting the industry back up and managing the risks we were dealing with in that extreme environment.
Another remarkable aspect of our response as a company was that in October of ’01, three weeks after the event, we presented to our Board the next generation of our business continuity plan. We had already thought through, at a 50,000-foot level, what we needed to do and recognized – and told the Board – that there would be a significant price tag attached. And the Board immediately gave its unequivocal response: do it.
Huge business changes flowed out of 9/11. It completely transformed the industry’s understanding of business continuity. For the first time, we began to fully appreciate that the “post-trade processing system is the network,” to paraphrase the old Sun Microsystems slogan. When individual financial firms’ ability to connect to the central infrastructure was in question that week, it made everyone realize the infrastructure is an ecosystem: one firm’s ability to function depends crucially on its counterparties’ ability to function. We had started to understand the full implications of that with Y2K, and 9/11 drove the message home a lot more intensely.
That day, our understanding of the gravity of our responsibility took a quantum leap. DTCC had always made contingency planning a priority. What changed after 9/11 was the thinking. Those events made us understand the need to always be thinking multiple moves ahead. How do we constantly make ourselves more resilient? Now that we have addressed one issue, how do we move the ball further? How do we build on the latest improvement and take it even further?
That’s the spirit we bring to the much broader global risk issues we face today compared with the continuity issues we were dealing with 10 years ago. It’s the mentality that nothing is ever good enough; you have to constantly go back and reexamine the issues.
Acknowledging the people we lost is an important part of the remembrance. I recall being at the backup site on Friday the 14th and getting the call that a friend who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald hadn’t made it. That was the moment when it really hit me.
If my grandchildren ask me about 9/11, certainly one of the things I’d tell them would be that we lost people that day who sacrificed themselves for this country – and what this country represents. @