by Jim Karrh
Posted 9/24/2001 12:00 am
Updated 2 years ago
The first time I saw New York from the World Trade Center was in 1987. A graduating MBA student, I was riding high on a strong job market. Several banks had courted me to New York during the recruiting process, and a VP with Chase Manhattan invited me to dinner at Windows on the World, a very nice restaurant atop one of the towers. It was a beautiful, clear night, and the view was spectacular. I remember trying to be cool about the whole experience and avoid the open-mouthed Gomer look that would reveal me as Not Ready For The Big Time.
Still, I was awfully impressed. Those towers, 100-plus stories of glorious excess, symbolized American economic power. Maybe it was the stunning view that night that convinced this small-town Southern boy New York City was worth a shot (at least for a time). Those towers said New York and America were big, proud, strong and about as permanent as you could get.
I remember thinking I must have come to New York City at the absolute worst time. Only weeks after I had moved to the Big Apple to work for Bankers Trust Co., Black Monday arrived. On that one scary day — Oct. 19, 1987 — the major stock market indexes fell about 22 percent, and we all began to fear for not only our jobs but the future of the country.
Shortly before Black Monday, a lot had been made of the supposedly brittle foundation of the stock markets and the American economy. Most of the rise in stock values was attributed to too much paper shuffling — mergers, takeovers, divestitures, restructurings. We weren't creating anything, the thinking went, just lining the pockets of a few slick corporate raiders and bankers.
And there was the matter of the Japanese. It was widely assumed that the Japanese work ethic, corporate cultures and lockstep partnership between industry and government would prevail over the messy, I'm-out-for-me mentality of the United States.
On Black Monday, it seemed that America's shortsightedness had come home to roost.
But a funny thing happened on the way to American economic ruin. Corporations whose company values had gone into the tank rushed to buy back their own shares. The stock markets made up the lost territory in just over a year. It turned out that many firms had been doing much more than shuffling paper — they had been learning new processes, investing in new technologies and becoming more productive. Consumer confidence, briefly shaken, returned. The recession (or even depression) that had been feared from Black Monday never happened.
Anyone care to compare Japan's Nikkei average to our S&P 500 over the past 14 years?
America and its economy are remarkably resilient. Our way isn't perfect, but it works. It will continue to work this time, too.
By the time this column is out, we will have started to, as President Bush has implored, get back to business. Corporations nationwide have responded to the attack in wonderful ways — providing money, donating goods, sending people to help in any way possible. It's been nice to see.
I hope that a year from now, once the shock and anger and passion subside a bit, we're still holding onto our resolve. When yet another airport security delay puts Christmas plans at risk, let's remember why the security is necessary. When the political sniping begins, let's remind everyone of the need for unity in times of war. When someone says the danger is past, politely remind him that the terrorists who attacked us are a patient lot. We have to keep our edge over the long haul.
A few days ago, while driving on Rahling Road in Little Rock, I saw two preteen girls beside the roadway. They were waving big American flags. I honked; they waved, beaming.
Great causes are more permanent than great buildings. God Bless America.
(Jim Karrh, Ph.D., is assistant professor of marketing and advertising in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's College of Business Administration as well as a marketing consultant. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)