“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer
After 19 years of reflection, the above quote comes to mind when I remember where I was on September 11, 2001.
I was in Manhattan walking down Madison Ave, heading to the offices of Maxon’s Restoration to give a presentation on leadership to their leadership team.
In hindsight, there are so many ironies to that.
Maxon’s Restoration is the city’s premier choice in property damage restoration. (That would become incredibly clear to me later that day and in the weeks to come.) I was a block away from their offices when I saw about a dozen people looking in a bank window at a TV screen.
I had witnessed a group of people with that collective look of fear and concern only once before. I was working at my college radio station, and it was the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and a crowd gathered around an AP wire machine.
When I arrived at the company, many members of the leadership team were already there. Howie White, the executive VP of Business Development, was on the phone trying to locate associates who worked that morning on projects near the towers. “We need to locate them and make sure they are OK,” he said. Members of the team were shell-shocked.
Simultaneously, Damon Gersh, the founder and CEO of Maxon’s, was driving into the city from Long Island when the midtown tunnel was closed, and he had to head back home. As Damon drove back home, he scheduled a conference call with the leadership team for 11 a.m. By the time of the call, the second tower was hit, and both had fallen.
At the start of the call, Damon asked everyone how they were doing. He listened and responded to everyone, and then he said in a strong, confident voice (I’m paraphrasing):
“Our mission, as always, is to get people’s lives back to normal as soon as possible. How we respond to this crisis will define us. It will determine who we are, what we are capable of, and define us for the future.”
When Maxons held a follow-up meeting on September 12, the phones were already ringing off the hook. Howie received a call from the historic St. Paul’s Chapel asking for help to prepare the building for use as the primary Ground Zero relief center for first responders and emergency recovery workers. Maxon’s was asked to clean up the historic Trinity Church for services. During that same meeting, one of their associates they had not yet heard from finally called in. You could hear the sighs of relief from everyone who listened to his voice and knew he was safe.
Over the next 90 days, Maxons’ project managers coordinated the clean-up and restoration of more than 50 high-rise office buildings, hundreds of businesses, and 3,000 residences and important landmarks.
The conditions and challenges of the clean-up were formidable. The collapse of the World Trade Center blew over two million tons of gritty concrete dust and debris, including sheetrock, concrete, ash, soot, asbestos, and particles of glass and steel into the air. The air quality was so bad it required special face masks.
When the towers collapsed, the plume was so robust that it blasted into everything from elevator shafts to computers, and the dust went three miles in all directions.
As soon as buildings were permitted to reopen, the restoration work began. Maxons hired over 1500 emergency workers who were on-site for months.
I never did present that presentation on leadership at Maxons. Watching the way the company held it together on 9/11 and during the ensuing weeks and months, I’m not sure they needed to learn leadership from me. They had learned it from Damon and the experience of their mission.
I work with many great small businesses, but I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed so much courage, resiliency, and determination. It was Maxons’ core values — combined with Damon’s strong leadership — that guided them every step of the way:
- Responsibility: Be accountable for our words, deeds, attitude, effort, and results—no blame games.
- Sincerity: Caring and respect are the foundation of all great personal and professional relationships. Our word is our bond.
- Tenacity: We make things happen through courage, determination, and resilience to achieve our objectives. Obstacles are opportunities.
- Optimism: It is our job to restore people’s hope as well as their damaged property. Say no to negativity.
- Results: We have a relentless focus on delivering tangible benefits to our clients, customers, and coworkers. Make it happen.
- Energy: People count on us to take immediate action and make things happen to solve their problems. Maxons to the rescue!
Damon won the NYC Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2002. The company received praise in newspapers, magazines, and local and national television for Maxon’s role in the city’s recovery from 9/11. Damon also donated some of Maxons’ proceeds to the NY Police and Fire Widows and Orphans Fund.
After the company’s work at ground zero was completed, he called his team together and thanked them for their extraordinary efforts. He then told them that now they knew what they could achieve, and it set a new standard.
Because of Damon’s leadership and the skilled team he has in place, Maxon’s has continued to grow every year. My relationship with Damon and Maxon’s has so much history. It’s an inspiring company that lives its values and is committed to individual and team growth.
“When your values are clear, your decisions are easy.” – Roy Disney
Make today a day of remembrance for the lives lost on 9/11/2001 and the lives to Covid-19 by 9/11/2020.