Sunday, September 11, 2011

Consulting and 9/11

This week, I read an interesting blog entry on the effect that 9/11 had on another consultant (  I, too, was affected heavily by 9/11; this is my experience.

Starting in late 1994, I worked primarily as a consultant.  At first, I was doing Excel consulting.  After all, I had co-authored some Excel books and was one of the original five Microsoft Excel Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) in the world.  In early 1995, Dave Farnsworth from Solutions Experts and Ron Moore from Marketing Technologies Group showed me Essbase when we were all working at Smith Kline Beecham in Philadelphia; I was highly impressed.  Shortly afterward, the small consulting firm I worked for was contracted by Microsoft to write some demoware showing Excel as a frontend to Arbor Essbase.  That job changed my life.

Soon afterward, I was on the road every week doing Excel / Essbase consulting all around the country.  I spent tons of time in both California and New York while my wife held down the fort at home.  By 1998, I had ideas for a product, but my colleagues at the consulting firm wanted to continue consulting.  Many of them were not doing the heavy travel at the time, so I decided to leave and founded Applied OLAP.
I spent the first nine months of Applied OLAP doing consulting and spent most of that time in the New York area.  In fact, I spent something like 150 nights that first year at the Newark Airport Hilton; I was on a first name basis with the room service people there.   That initial travel did provide the capital to write a product and our original ActiveOLAP for Essbase product was born.   Having a product, though, led to even more travel.  I took 35 trips to San Francisco in one year!

ActiveOLAP also caused me to write the world’s first web services for Essbase.  Hyperion was highly interested in these web services; they eventually became the Hyperion Application Builder for .NET product and directly affected the architecture of Smart View.  Hyperion also told me they wanted to acquire the technology and invited me to join XML for Analysis Advisory Council.  Interesting story, right?  But what does this have to do with 9/11?

My meeting with Hyperion was on 9/6/2001 and the inaugural XML/A Advisory Council meeting was on Tuesday, 9/11/2001.  I flew to Seattle for this one day meeting and was due to fly home late that evening.   I will never forget the events of that morning; probably no American alive that morning could ever forget.  And although nobody from my family or any of my friends in New York were injured or killed, I still can’t think about what happened without choking up in tears.

I was in a hotel just off the Microsoft campus in Redmond when, early in the morning, my wife called and was upset.  An airplane had hit the World Trade Center and, at that time, it was thought to be a smaller plane.  As we had been flying a lot of trips in our Cessna 210, she asked me “How could that happen?  Didn’t they have GPS?  Could a GPS be off that much?”   I assured her that it wasn’t a GPS problem as I reached to turn on the TV.  Before the TV turned on, my wife screamed as the second plane hit.  That is when I knew this wasn’t a navigation issue.

The XML/A meeting was held that day, but I was the only Hyperion-related representative.  The Hyperion team was on a plane that was forced to land somewhere between San Francisco and Seattle.  There were representatives from many companies including Microsoft, Cognos, Microstrategy and Temtec.  We managed to get some work done that day, but there were some side conversations about how we would all get home.  A number of guys who attended the meeting set off the next morning driving eastbound to Toronto and beyond.  When I was younger, I made the drive a couple of times from my native Michigan to the west coast, so I really wasn’t interested in driving back to Alabama.

That night and the next day, I watched, along with most of the nation, as the search continued for possible survivors in the rubble.  I had worked with some companies in the World Trade Center and been there many, many times.  I remember walking through the mall under the World Trade Center at 3 am during the blizzard of ’96; it was absolutely silent and it seemed as though I was on the only person in the building.  When I traveled to New York, I normally took the PATH train into the World Trade Center from Newark.
Another day passed and I finally decided to get away from the TV for a while.  It hurt not being with my wife and family during this national crisis.  I thought about going to Mt Rainier; it was something grand and beautiful and strong and seemed untouchable for terrorists, but it would require several hours of driving to get there and back.  Instead, I headed to downtown Seattle and ended up at the Experience Music Project, a museum dedicated to guitars.  I saw the guitar played by my guitar hero, Eric Clapton, on the song ‘Layla’ and forgot about New York for a while.

Due to the airline groundings and with people trying to get home any way they could, rental cars where in short supply.  People were renting moving vans to drive themselves home.  I was reluctant to give up my rental car in case I needed to drive across the country, so I engineered a plan to keep my rental car until I knew I had an airline seat.  I parked my rental car at the home of a friend in Seattle and he drove me to the airport.  He generously volunteered to return the rental car after I finally left Seattle.

As I was traveling so much during that time, I had Delta Airlines Platinum status.  That certainly helped me on Friday, 9/14, as I waited 20 minutes in the Platinum line instead of waiting in the ¼ mile long line of those without airline status.  It took only a few minutes to get through the newly rigorous security and into the Delta Crown Room.   A couple of hours later, I settled into a first class seat and, as the plane lifted off, came close to breaking out spontaneously in the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.
In the weeks, months, and even years that followed, I heard from friends I knew to be in or near the World Trade Center.  One friend, a well-known Essbase consultant, was supposed to be in towers but was saved when his boss called a company meeting that morning.  Another friend, who worked at Deutsche Bank, told me he felt jolts but didn’t know what had happened.   He was evacuated a short time later through the basement but still was unaware what had happened.  When he came to the door at the surface, the first responder told him to ‘run and don’t look back’.   Only then did he know the scope of the tragedy.  He ran for his life as office furniture, and people jumping from the towers, fell to the ground all around him.

My wife had been urging me to spend more time at home and it was an easy decision to cut back on my travel.  Travel was fun at first, but I realized after a while that cubicles look the same in every city in the country.  I am happy to report that I have not had Platinum status since that year and, in fact, have probably not been in first class either.  And when I do have to travel, my wife often travels with me which makes exploring cities much more fun.

As a guy watching 9/11 on a TV in a hotel room in Seattle, the events had, and still have, an effect on me.  I can’t start to imagine the effect that the attacks of 9/11 had on the thousands that lost a loved one that day, but I will always keep them in my thoughts.  I am thankful I was nowhere near New York that day.

1 comment:

Markus Shipley said...

Excellent Blog, Tim. Thank you for sharing.