Just My Luck – Chapter 6 -Part 1
The day before the worst day of my life I worked long and late.
It was a Monday, the start of a very busy week for me. We were hosting an in-house conference at the University Club that was to begin with a dinner Tuesday evening and continue for the rest of the week. This was to be an important gathering of about 25 of our firm’s senior account managers from across the country during which we would review our results to date and discuss plans for the upcoming year.
I had been in the corporate risk management/insurance brokerage industry since 1979 when I began my career as a writer of client reports in the New York City headquarters of the largest insurance broker in the world, Marsh & McLennan.
Now, some 22 years later (almost to the day), I was a bona-fide Managing Director of the second largest broker, Aon. I left Marsh five years earlier (three days after being named a Managing Director there) following my boss and best friend Bob when he was recruited to be Vice Chairman of Aon. He was given a mandate there to create and lead a new strategic risk management initiative for major corporate clients and he invited me to join in the effort.
This final day before the conference, he and I spent a good deal of time making adjustments and refinements in the contents of the agenda as well as preparing for Bob’s private meeting with Aon’s Chairman/CEO that would precede the dinner. It was a pivotal time; decisions on several thorny organizational problems and client related issues needed to be ironed out in that private meeting before the conference.
Ultimately, the meeting never took place.
Earlier that day I’d called Tony, the most senior and worldly of the account managers, to welcome him back from his family vacation in the Mediterranean and to ask his sage advice on parts of the agenda. Tom, the new leader of our Pharmaceutical Industry Practice, stopped by my office later for the same purpose. Both were important participants in the upcoming conference. On the front line of the delivery of our company’s services to our most important clients, Tony and Tom were both senior to me in the hierarchy of the company. While we held similar titles, my responsibilities were in the back-office. I was pleased to be a trusted advisor, sounding board, teammate and friend to them both.
As we talked, Tom shared some serious concerns about changes he needed to make to build up our company’s capabilities in his practice group. I remember he sat casually on the credenza beside my desk as we talked. Normally very positive and confident, I had never seen him as worried as he was in that conversation.
Mary, whose office was next door to mine, was a brilliant and tough insurance broker and the second in command of Aon’s global Property Insurance Practice. I’d known and admired Mary for many years at Marsh. She and Aon’s Global Property Insurance leader, Gary, left Marsh the year before Bob and I did. I was glad they were there to welcome Bob and eventually me to Aon when we did likewise.
Mary and Tom were also preparing for a very important meeting the next morning. They had orchestrated a gathering of senior property insurance underwriters and loss prevention engineers from several insurers to meet with the Risk Manager and assorted staff of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to familiarize them with one another. Gary and Mary won Pfizer’s property insurance business for Aon the year prior and this meeting was the beginning of the next coverage renewal process. Pfizer was the flagship account in Tom’s new practice as well as one of the large complex clients for which our broader strategic risk management approach was developed. So there was a lot at stake in the week ahead for all of us.
When I returned to my office from Bob’s at about 8:00 p.m., I dropped my notes on my desk and prepared to leave for the night. Since I would be back in the office in another 12 hours, contrary to my custom I decided not to take my laptop computer home with me. Tomorrow I’d be bringing in my luggage for the remainder of the week at the conference, so
the laptop would just load me down unnecessarily.
I grabbed my suit jacket and headed out my door empty handed.
I noticed the light was still on in Mary’s office next door, so I poked my head in to say good night. Still working, she looked uncharacteristically distressed, so I asked, “What’s the matter? Are you okay?”
“ No, I’m not. I’m used to preparing my own tables and exhibits for meetings like tomorrow’s,” she said, “but Aaron insisted I delegate that to his people. I just got to see the handouts an hour ago and they’re all wrong. So now I’m doing the work I wanted to do in the first place, but with very little time.”
“Can I help?” I asked.
“No, I’ve got it covered. Re-organizing this stuff is a one-person job. I’m pissed, but okay.”
“Yeah, but thanks anyway.”
“What time’s the meeting tomorrow?”
“It’s going to be a long day so we’re starting around 8:00 a.m. in the conference room on 105.”
“Well, good luck with it. Hope it all goes well. G’night”
I left her office and mine on the 102nd floor of Tower 2 (the “South Tower”) of the World Trade Center in New York and made for the elevator.
It was September 10, 2001.
I had no idea that I’d never see Tony, Tom, or Mary as well as many other friends and colleagues again. Few of the participants in the Pfizer meeting survived the following day.
(to be continued)
©2016 James Ash