Today is the 18th anniversary of 9/11, a day that changed our lives. The terrorist attacks on that day were particularly impactful for me, since I was nearly on American Flight 77. Deciding to take a different flight, I arrived safely in San Diego to attend the CTIE Wireless and Internet conference on 9/11. In an instant, our world was completely turned upside down. (My father told me later that the feeling on 9/11 was the same as the feeling the country felt on December 7, 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.) By noon that day, the conference was cancelled. Even calling home to check in with family was hard, because the cellular network was overwhelmed.
The first reports coming in from New York City were horrific. Newscasters reported that the death toll in New York City alone could be 20,000 people, the occupancy of the two towers on a typical workday. Fortunately, the terrorists were not smart enough to wait until later in the day when that number of people could have been in the two towers. We also didn’t know if any more flights had been hijacked by terrorists. At one point, I remember the number 14 being discussed. Where were they? Where were they headed?
We were all glued to TVs. I sat at the bar in the San Diego Hilton through lunch (drinking iced tea, BTW) watching the news. When I could get through to my assistant, Candi Krug, I started discussing the travel details to get home. Like everyone, I just wanted to be with my family. Unfortunately, all flights in the U.S. were cancelled. Candi even investigated renting a car, but all were gone almost immediately. At one point, I suggested to my wife, Carol, that I could buy a new car. “John, we don’t need another car,” she said. As usual, she was right. So, I was stuck watching the news reports, watching the planes fly into the world trade center repeatedly. Watching the towers collapse. Watching the Pentagon burning.
The emotions I was feeling are hard to describe: the shock, the sadness for the loss of life, wondering how much worse can this get? Then anger. How could anyone attack this great nation? How could anyone think that killing innocent people was justifiable?
It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that Candi called and said she was able to get me a rental car. I could pick it up at the San Diego airport at 6:30 AM on Thursday morning. I rented the car and proceeded to drive home, 3,000 miles away. I drove 1,100 miles (20 hours) the first day. It was a beautiful drive through the desert, Rocky Mountains, and our big cities (Las Vegas, Denver, etc.).
My constant nagging thought was, “How could we let this happen to our great nation? There must have been some indication that this was coming.” All subsequent investigations confirmed that there was information that could have prevented these attacks. The information just didn’t get to the right people at the right time.
After returning home, I was obsessed with the notion that we could have prevented the attacks. I spent time talking with friends and co-workers. During a racquetball game with a good friend and mentor, John Beakes, he suggested that we create a company dedicated to protecting the country and saving lives by delivering actionable information to end users.
Together with John, Paul Butterfield, and Charlie Butterfield, we established a new destiny: to build a company dedicated to protecting our nation and saving lives. On February 4, 2002, we opened the doors of Next Century Corporation.
When I meet people today and tell them our story, I conclude by saying that we never would have dreamed that we would be making as much of a difference as we are. Thanks to all of you, we are protecting this country and saving lives every day. Although we can’t quantify the number of lives saved, or in many instances we can’t even talk about our successes, you know how you are helping and that’s good enough for me.
On behalf of the founders and the Board of Advisers of Next Century, thank you for your passion and commitment to our mission. You should all be proud of what we have accomplished, and I look forward to continuing this journey with you.