It is fascinating when two people have a shared experience that they remember so differently. Thus was the dinner conversation with my old Oracle colleague Chris Pirie who is now a General Manager at Microsoft. Although the org chart at the time showed him working for me, I always felt lucky to work with Chris. He is intelligent, innovative, visionary, with a hysterical self-depreciating wit. We recounted two very different perspectives on the days following 9/11, but it was a Multiplier moment for both of us.
Stuck in NY on 9/11. I was driving to SFO to get on a plane headed to Nice France to join a global management meeting with about 20 of my colleagues. I got the call about 6:45 am from my manager that a plane had been flown into one of the world trade towers and that air travel had come to an abrupt halt. I turned around for home and sat riveted to the TV.
Meanwhile, Chris was watching the events from close up. He had flown into Manhattan a couple days earlier to speak at a conference before heading on to France. With the jolting news of the attack, the conference dispersed. After calling home and the office to let everyone know he was OK, Chris wandered through the crowded streets. It was a surreal experience as people cleared the city. Unclear what to do or where to go, Chris returned to his hotel and started making calls to find a way out of New York. Air travel had locked down completely. Trains had stopped running. Rental cars in NYC had been snatched up — people were buying cars to drive home. Chris waited hoping options would open up. He began to quickly sink into his first experience with depression.
“You are Smart and Will Figure it Out.” Chris remembers two particular phone calls. The first was from me (and my manager John) checking on his latest whereabouts. Chris recalled, “At this point I felt stuck and helpless and I had no idea what to do, so I was just waiting. But then you said emphatically, ‘Chris, you need to get home. Get yourself out of Manhattan and start heading west. We’ll take care of the rest.’” Chris continued, “But behind your words, your message was clear. I knew you were telling me was that I was smart and would figure it out. I just needed to get moving.”
Chris found a train running to New Jersey. He then found a rental car agency that had a car. He started driving west and called in his whereabouts to me regularly (while rationing his precious cell phone battery life). I pressed the VIP desk at Oracle Travel into service, and we scrambled to find airports opening up departing flights.
The second call he vividly remembers came about a day later. It went like this:
Liz: “Chris, are you coming up to Columbus, Ohio yet?”
Chris: “I just passed the sign that says, ‘Welcome to Columbus.’”
Liz: “Good, drive to the airport. I’ve booked you a reservation on every flight leaving Columbus today. Get on one of them.”
Despite the fact that Chris was apprehensive about surrendering the keys to the car that have moved him west and nervous to board an aircraft, he took the flight. He got home safely and 2 days earlier than most everyone else stuck on the east coast.
In hindsight, I had a different perspective on the events. I don’t recall the “kick in the pants” nor the “smarts reminder.” But, I remember vividly how rewarding it was to focus solely on the success of a colleague for 2 days. It was a chance to get out of my own head, my own challenges, and truly enable someone else.
Hearing Chris’ side of the story was a poignant reminder that that team of travel agents and I didn’t get Chris home. Chris got himself home. But, it came with the encouragement of someone serving as a Multiplier in a moment when it mattered most for him.
Multiplier Practice: We can be Multipliers just by reminding people that they are smart and will figure it out!