9/11 was a time everyone in the U.S. would never forget, and was a day that changed lives forever. In this Sales Secrets Episode, sales exec Jim Donovan talks about how 9/11 changed him.
In this article:
9/11 Never Forget | How September 11 Transformed Jim Donovan’s Life and Career
Jim Donovan is an investment banker turned inside sales executive. He has built four different shops at various enterprises, hired and fired 1500 inside sales reps throughout his career, and brought in 1 billion dollars’ worth of revenue.
For him, the 9/11 attacks were a point of transformation.
That time, he was just starting his career on Wall Street and went into a management trainee program with JP Morgan, where he spent two years learning the ins and outs of investment banking. The day before, he and his fellow management trainees gathered around the steps of the World Trade Center to take a photo as the graduating class of that program.
What Happened on September 11
The next day would’ve been their graduation, so their families would be coming in from all over the country to attend the ceremony. The trainees would then be placed in various positions within the company depending on how they performed in the program.
On the morning of the attack, Donovan was living in a company-sponsored apartment in Battery Park, and part of his morning routine was to run from his apartment to the southern tip of Manhattan. He’d end his run in the Marriott Hotel situated between the Twin Towers.
He went up to the roof deck gym and swam laps as he usually did. At around 7:15 in the morning, he went back to his apartment to change into his suit.
The First Plane
Donovan then went to get a shoeshine in the Marriott Hotel’s mall area. At that point, he also saw one of his classmates, Matt, who was later killed in the attacks.
Suddenly, the guy who was shining his shoes asked him if something happened underneath them. It was at that point where the first plane crashed into the North Tower.
Donovan left the area quickly, feeling uneasy, but he still had no idea what was happening. He ran to Chase Plaza to meet his colleagues, and the rumor mill was already churning on what was happening with the Twin Towers.
As he was walking into Chase Tower, a security guard told everyone on the floor that they’d have to stay inside. However, Donovan and his colleagues insisted on going down to street level.
Going Down to Ground Zero
Once they were on the street, Donovan got a call from his father, who was watching the coverage on the news. He told Donovan that he’d have to get out of there.
Despite that, it still hasn’t sunk in that they were experiencing a terrorist attack.
In fact, they were so deep in denial that they imagined that what was coming out of the building were desk chairs and other office furniture being thrown out the window. They then realized that it was desk chairs, office items, and people.
At that time, he was talking to a female colleague about a woman who went flying out the window. His colleague said that the woman was lucky because, since she was in a denim skirt, she wouldn’t be able to see where she was headed.
Seeing the events unfold before their eyes, Donovan and his companions headed over to the South Street Seaport for safety. The rumors were flying along the way, which ranged from it being a Spike Lee film shoot to a political stunt.
The last rumor was that there was a bomb on the plane. At that point, they said that, if there was a bomb, they’ll be okay as they could just jump into the river.
A moment later, the second hijacked plane hit the South Tower. That was then they knew it wasn’t a joke and survival was the priority. Donovan and his companions braved the smoke, soot, and the mayhem since they had to go right past the burning towers.
When the Towers Fell
Donovan couldn’t forget the screaming he heard the closer they got to Alphabet City. People kept shouting and reaching out for wet paper towels, used to be able to breathe properly through the smoke.
Along the way, they stopped over a convenience store to get some beer. In their minds, they’re close to dying anyway, so they might as well make the most out of it.
Then, they splintered off into different directions. Donovan’s group decided to head north towards Central Park.
It was also convenient since one of their colleagues was staying in a hotel room in Midtown.
The moment they arrived at Park Central Hotel was the very second the towers fell. The screams from the people in the towers that surrounded them disappeared into the rubble.
The Final Days in New York
When they arrived in the lobby, for a moment they felt safe. Until someone ran to the hotel screaming that there’s a bomb in the Starbucks next to the hotel in Grand Central Station.
Next thing they know, 50 to 70 people ran screaming into the hotel lobby in panic. Then, a police officer stood on top of the steps and told everyone:
“People, people, the White House, the World Trade Center, and a Starbucks? I don’t think so.”
While it was a great comic relief moment then, people didn’t care and hightailed out of the hotel. They ran to The Plaza where the bartender served food and drinks.
Everyone in that group then headed over to Central Park and laid on the grass and played I Spy for the next couple of hours until it was safe enough to go back to the hotel. Still shaken from the previous event, everyone’s heart froze when a jet plane flies overhead. They felt that way for the next 24 to 36 hours.
The group spent a couple of days in the hotel. According to Donovan, he could still remember the smell of the towers, the screams of the victims, and the leftover debris.
The scariest part was going past Ground Zero so he can get what remained of his belongings.
At that moment, Donovan realized that investment banking wasn’t for him. While he loved learning the ropes, it wasn’t his passion.
After 9/11, he quit investment banking and came out as gay soon after. On September 14th, Donovan caught one of the first planes out of New York and went back to his hometown in Dallas to start a new life.
The events led him to the path of inside sales. He went to Atlanta and built an inside sales division for one company, and it all snowballed from there.
If he stayed in investment banking, he would’ve been much heavier in numbers and data. While he still is now, being in inside sales helped him to connect with people.
Lessons Learned from the 9/11 Experience
For Donovan, flipping the switch after 9/11 was a matter of respect. He witnessed so much deterioration, and he vowed that if he were to be part of something great, he’d want to do it from a place of authenticity.
He admitted it wasn’t a well-thought-out decision. Family members and colleagues from JP Morgan tried to talk him into staying, but in the end, he decided to walk away from it all.
While his experience is unique, one lesson you can take away is that everyone has a story. If you consciously try to connect to people and allow yourself to be vulnerable, people connect in a much more meaningful way.
It doesn’t matter what kind of experiences you’ve had. Your story matters, and it’s all about what you’re willing to share with people.
Vulnerability and the willingness to do so can transform not only your career but also your whole life.
Don’t forget to have fun. Make sure you find your passion.
Passion has nothing to do with data — it has everything to do with what your heart wants. The closer you can get to making the most out of life rather than living out of fear, the better it would be for you.
When you’re terrified of what’s going to happen next, it could be the catalyst to the best days of your life.
Don’t run away from it. Run towards it.
It’s been almost twenty years since 9/11 happened, but the lessons and insights from it are some of the things that’ll always remain. 9/11 is a tragedy we’ll never forget, and we’ll always remember the lives that were lost that day.
Where were you during 9/11? How did the events transform you and your career? Let us know in the comments section below.