Strength in Unity

Ed Baldwin Communication, Ed Baldwin, Generations, in the news, Leadership 3 Comments

What do you remember most about 9/11?  It’s perhaps the most memorable day in our generation’s history. I suspect it will be mine.

Here’s my story.

I was working for an agricultural cooperative and I was responsible for a team of 430 men and women who sold agricultural input products to farmers. We were in the middle of our three-day annual conference being held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and I had just finished introducing our first speaker of the morning. Heading down the hall outside the large convention room where my team assembled I saw a banquet setup worker scurrying my way. He abruptly stated that they were putting three TVs in the small room across from where our conference was being held and that they should be ready to watch in the next ten minutes.

“Watch what?”, I asked.

He told me that a plane had been flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. “A commercial plane, a personal plane or what?” I responded to which he replied, “I’m not sure but they think it’s a terrorist attack.”

I had never before heard that term and I didn’t really know what it meant.

I wasn’t prepared for what I would watch on those three televisions over the next thirty minutes, and I was terribly unprepared to deliver the news to my team of 400+ people who were across the hall. I can’t recall who was speaking or what they were speaking about. It doesn’t matter. Everything except what was happening on the East Coast had become trivial.

The gravity of what was unfolding on this day can never be over-stated.

I recall standing on that makeshift stage attempting to explain to people what was happening outside our large conference room, and looking out over the crowd. They didn’t understand it any more than I did. A terrorist attack? What the hell is that?  Using planes as weapons, in our country?  They seemed to be waiting for the punchline to a sick joke.

Once I had finished sharing the news that was unfolding and that we would be taking a one-hour recess for everyone to better understand what was going on and contact their loved ones, one person seated near the front of the room shot out of his chair and ran past his colleagues out the back of the room. I’ll never forget his name. I would learn later that he was from New York (even though he worked in Illinois) and that he had a brother and sister working in the World Trade Center towers.

Suddenly everyone who I thought of as an employee had instantly become a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a niece, a nephew, a cousin or a close friend.  On this day and at this moment, the events of 9/11 instantly bonded us all. We were all Americans.  It didn’t matter where you came from, where you lived, how old you were or what you did for a living.  And it didn’t matter that we were in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We were glued to the television for reports of what was happening on the East Coast and were willing to do ANYTHING to help. ANYTHING.

What happened that day forever changed the world we live in. Not just here in America, but everywhere, and it changed something in the hearts of every person who experienced it.

I remember how unified my team became. Not unified around a mission statement or business purpose – unified around a catastrophe, unified around helping others.  The strength that emerged from that unity was stronger than anything I had ever experienced, before or after.

Today I remember fondly the good that emerged from the rubble of the World Trade Center towers, and the other horrific events of 9/11 where 3,000 people lost their lives – the immeasurable strength and goodness of people.

People unified.

Ed Baldwin

Ed’s a career HR front man who’s advised business owners and the C-suite on developing great cultures and inspiring work environments since the profession was called “personnel.” Yeah, that makes him seasoned but also quick to call out the fluffy HR theoretical crap from HR strategies that actually work.

His versatility has taken him all over the world, continually acquiring knowledge of how to build a great company through innovative HR practices, learning mostly from real world experience and his own mistakes.

He’s the founder of HRO Partners, a HR consulting firm that specializes in guiding leaders on what they need and don’t need from HR for their business.

Comments 3

  1. Ed,
    Great post and an important one beyond just HR and Talent. As a fellow FOT’r I appreciate this post immenssly.
    I was heading HR at Leviton Manufacturing in Little Neck, NY. about 30 minutes from the Trade center when the attacks occurred. My Wife was working at 5 Penn (the CNN building) in Mid-town Manhattan. I had just arrived at work and heard on Howard Stern radio that a plane had hit one of the trade center buildings. The next 3 hours were unbelievable and etched in my memory forever.
    I was contacted by NYC police that the roadways (LIE and Northern State Parkway) adjacent to our facility were going to be closed for Emergency Services use. I had to coordinate evacuating 650 employees to go home immediately. My wife was able to reach me and told me there was no train service into or out of NYC. I said I would get our daughter at her elementary school in Syosset, Long Island….
    After evacuating our staff and arriving at my daughters school, I was struck by the fact that there might be children sitting and waiting in the gymnasium with parents that might not make it home to see their children again. My daughter was 6 at the time and oblivious to the attack. I took her home and luckily my wife was able to get home about 6 hrs.later. We lost no parents at our school, but we did have a few losses in our community.
    My wife upon arriving home shared that she witnessed both Towers collapsing from her 15th floor conference room with a clear view downtown of what where once the most magnificent buildings ever constructed. My best friend was able to meet my wife and get the first train allowed to leave Penn Station that night, home.
    My older brother at the time was at ground zero when the event occurred. A senior investigator – police officer with the NY state department of motor vehicles, he had a meeting that day in Tower 2 at 9 am. His boss had forgotten some documents and they were a little late to the meeting. He and his boss arrived to fire engines and Chaos that led to bodies flying out of windows and literally watched from the street as the first tower crumbled to the ground . Initially there inclination was to help in any way possible, the realities were things were too far gone. He was traumatized and spent months in therapy afterwards.
    For my family and I, 9/11 was not just an event on television. Many of our co-workers lost family and friends. For weeks my company provided volunteers (myself included) to help with supplies at Shea Stadium (where the NY Mets used to play) that was a staging area for volunteers.
    It was months before any of us felt like the world was back to some level of normalcy. I have lots of HR stories relating to the event and the days and week after…
    But more importantly we should remember the day and have some care for all the victims and family’s impacted by this tragic event.
    This is certainly the longest “comment” I have ever written.
    Ed, thank you for honoring all those that lost their lives and there memory.

    1. Ed Baldwin Post

      Mark, Thanks for sharing your story of that day as well. Every story I’ve heard is personal, emotional and leaves me thankful and proud of the way people rallied around victims, responders and all those impacted by these tragic events. There were no businesses or employees on that day, just people with a genuine desire and willingness to help. And the powerful display of what can be accomplished and how much hope can be restored when we all band together. Again, thanks.

  2. Kris Dunn

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