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A Tale of Two Towers

by Stephen Lautens


September 12, 2003

I figure I’m entitled to one serious column a year, so this is it. It’s not a story I’ve told before, not even to many members of my family, but I think about it every anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. It’s a story about good timing and plain dumb luck, and how a single decision can change your life.

A few years ago my day job was with a software company. It was a great little company. Nice people, fun work. Everyone worked hard to get us on the map. The technical people were very bright. Not being that bright myself, I looked after sales.

We went to all the trade shows, and managed to have more fun than most other people there combined. And none of it involved booze, flirting or staying out past ten o’clock. We just loved what we were doing.

Then one day a new customer appeared - one of the biggest software companies in the United States. They liked what we were doing so much they wanted to buy the company, even though it wasn’t for sale. Eventually they made an offer that no one could refuse (this was before the dot-com technology bubble broke and people were paying stupid amounts for software companies), and in the beginning of 2001 they arranged to buy the company.

As luck would have it, since we were such a small company there were only two of us in sales - the president and me. The president decided early on that he would be leaving the newly purchased company for fresh challenges. That left me. The new owners decided they needed someone to run the Canadian operation, and offered the job to me. To go with the job, they were going to make me their newest Vice President. The position came with a bigger salary than I may ever see again, stock options and the works.

The new owners all talked about their private airplanes and personal helicopters, or the multimillion dollar homes they were building for their very early retirement. There were week long seminars in Tuscany and Paris, and bonuses that were bigger than what most people paid for their houses. They even announced that I was their new Vice President.

I hemmed and hawed for a while. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay on without my friend, but it isn’t every day you walk away from a job as Vice President of the fourth largest software company in the world.

Still, that’s what I did. It sounds stupid now, but I didn’t think the job would be much fun and the people I would have been working for seemed a little too sharp for their own good. My friend the former president said I was welcome to join him in his new venture, and that’s what I did.

About six months later I watched the unimaginable as the World Trade Center crumbled to dust with so many people inside.

When the dead were finally given names I realized that one of them was the new senior person in the Canadian office where I had worked and had been offered the job. He had been on a company seminar in the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, and managed a brief cell phone call to a loved one before he died.

Would that have been me? Who knows. Maybe, maybe not. It’s not something I really want to think about too much.

On 9/11 I know where I was. After watching that horrible morning unfold on TV, my wife and I kept an appointment for an ultrasound, where I saw my unborn son curled up and oblivious to what was going on in the outside world.

And if that’s the last bit of good luck I ever have in my life, you won’t hear me say another word.

© Stephen Lautens 2003

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