10 Years Later: 9/11 Changed The Lives And Businesses Of New York VARs


It's been 10 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a period that seems like it was both yesterday and long ago for many New Yorkers.

Every day in the city there are reminders of the tragedy – "In Memoriam" car window stickers, the rising Freedom Tower near Ground Zero, and the birthdays and anniversaries of friends and family members never celebrated the same way for the 2,000-plus people who died that day.

Here are the stories of three New York solution providers and how those tragic events saw their lives and their businesses change forever.

eMazzanti

Carl Mazzanti was in the subway beneath the World Trade Center's north tower when the first plane hit, more than 90 floors above.

Mazzanti and his then-business partner and now-wife Jennifer Shine were set to attend a product meeting with Quantum and Ingram Micro on the 78th floor of the north tower. Of course, they never made it. After the plane hit, the pair quickly left the building amid falling debris and made their way north, not yet able to understand what had happened.

eMazzanti
Jennifer and Carl Mazzanti

Mazzanti and Shine had opened their solution provider business, eMazzanti, less than two weeks before September 11, ensuring that the company's history will always be tied to the attacks .

"We started with a handful of customers and wild dreams of great grandeur. That day, all that changed," said Mazzanti. "We continued and are doing great. We're holding our 10th anniversary party on Sept. 15. But it seems like a long time ago.

"When the first plane hit, some alarms went off. I couldn't believe how many security people all ran up the escalators. Everyone was trying to figure out what was happening. When we walked outside we saw a bus crushed, a New York City bus just flattened. Jennifer noticed there were no people at the moment to our left. She said we have to go the other way. She had noticed debris still falling in that area. On the other corner, people were mingling around. That's the way we ran."

View an archive of CRN's 9/11 coverage

Shine went to the office of one new client, while Mazzanti made his way north to another client just coming to prominence -- Kate Spade, which at the time had less than 15 employees, Mazzanti said, and is still a client 10 years later.

"I was in Tribeca when the second tower went. The building where we were was brick and at the desk a red mist filled the area. We lost lights and the Internet. I remember finally getting back into Hoboken and having washing stations to rinse off your body. It was like a hazmat station and you could tell people who were close to the [towers] because their hair was covered with concrete," he said.

Thrust into the worst possible circumstances, Mazzanti said he learned overnight that customers responded to value and the ability to solve their problems. That soon became the company's philosophy and it made them strong during a difficult time.

Next: Through The Tough Times"When we started, we learned how to eat every meal for around $1. Ramen noodles were 13 cents per meal. Gray's Papaya had a drink and two hot dog special," he said. "We had almost nothing left to our name. We spent everything we had on getting our name out and getting our Web site up and all the stuff we think is really important. I remember having $300 left to our name and we were trying to decide whether to buy food or business cards. We bought the business cards.

"Because of that day, we learned we were not going to sell sales force automation or other high end customer solutions. We started selling network infrastructure because it had a very short sales time."

With a strong focus on networking, security and business continuity, eMazzanti has earned many awards from vendors over the last 10 years and Carl and Jennifer married in 2007.

Last May, when SNC Squared, a Joplin, Mo.-based VAR, had its headquarters demolished by a tornado, eMazzanti helped the VAR get its e-mail back within 90 minutes on its hosted platform.

"Even during Hurricane Irene, we responded very quickly. We got a communication out to customers. We had engineers on staff calling people to help with preparations and had people in the field with what we considered high-risk accounts. We had 100 percent of our customers up and running come Monday after the hurricane," he said. "I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish."

Micro Strategies

"If you're of a certain age, the day Kennedy was shot you remember where you were. This was like that," said James Veraldi, executive vice president at Micro Strategies, a Denville, N.J.-based solution provider.

James Veraldi, Micro Strategies
James Veraldi, Micro Strategies

Veraldi was in a Microsoft Server 2000 certification class on Sept. 11, 2001 ouitside of Manhattan when he learned a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Everyone in the class went to the lobby to watch TV, where he saw the second plane hit the south tower, Veraldi said.

"I called home. I called the office. We have people in the city almost every day of the week," Veraldi said. "That day, luckily we only had three people in the city and only one was close to the World Trade Center. He was able to get out but not until that night."

Veraldi's thoughts were also with his brother-in-law, a New York Police Department veteran and first responder.
"He would just walk into a disaster and didn't care. I finally got through to him about 9 p.m. that night. At least I knew he was OK."

To say, the events of Sept. 11 brought New Yorkers a new perspective is an understatement, said Veraldi.

"What happens with these tragedies, and it's indicative with [Hurricane] Irene too, is the closer you are on something, the bigger the impact it has. For the New York metro area, businesses and IT providers, September 11 had a huge impact. We all are within a connection of someone that perished, someone who lost a sibling, an uncle, a parent. There's a huge void out there.

Next: A Missed AppointmentMore than a week later, Veraldi was allowed back into the city to help some financial services companies get up and running.

"We set up remote access systems, which then were more challenging than they are today," he said. "I'll never forget dust on every kind of surface around the city. This is a mile away from ground zero. It was still just an unbelievable sight."

A transplant from Michigan, Veraldi had thought New Yorkers were somewhat self-centered when he arrived in the 1990s, he said, but that changed on September 11.

"It brought people together on a personal business level. That hasn't waned. Everybody got patriotic in the months that followed but I think people's behavior also has changed forever," Veraldi said.

The events also changed the way Micro Strategies does business, Veraldi said.

"When emergencies hit and things aren't going right, people think differently. There's been an uptick in continuity planning and we've helped some businesses relocate. When people do [IT] upgrades and overhauls now, [business continuity] is part and parcel of what they do. It's not something that's thought of afterwards. Everyone asks what happens if you can't get into the building. The business deliverables have changed in the last 10 years."

Chelsea Technologies

Meyer Ben–Reuven, president of Chelsea Technologies, a New York VAR with headquarters in Lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center, also was supposed to be at that Quantum/Ingram meeting on the 78th floor that day, but a last-minute need by a client had him on an early-morning train to Washington, D.C. He asked a partner to go instead.

Meyer Ben–Reuven, Chelsea Technologies
Meyer Ben–Reuven, Chelsea Technologies

"At 8:45 a.m. I got a call from my sister. You're not going to believe what's happened. A plane hit the World Trade Center," he said. "I called my partner. Where are you? He said 'I'm on my way to meet a client."

The [Quantum] meeting got moved to 11:00 a.m.
When he got to his client's office in D.C., about a mile from the Pentagon, everyone was crying.

"I thought, 'What's happening here? What am I missing?' We find out and we make a decision, let's leave. But D.C. is completely shut down. There's nowhere to go," Ben-Reuven said. "The only thing I could think of is my office is in the Century 21 building right in front of the World Trade Center. If my office collapsed too, I had everything there. I'm screwed.

Amazingly, Ben-Reuven was able to communicate with his office until about 5 p.m. on Sept. 11, until 7 World Trade Center collapsed, taking down the communications infrastructure to his building. Chelsea Technologies regrouped at another location and tried to notify all its clients and vendors what was happening. His office was in the rear of the building and avoided a lot of damage that the front of the building sustained after the towers fell.

Next: 'Give Thanks That You're Alive'"Every day we tried to walk back into the building. It took about two weeks then they allowed us in for 20 minutes," he said. "We assembled a whole team and created a plan for how all of us would go into different rooms and pick the most essential stuff. What an operation. It was raining and we had dollies and carts with servers on them," he said. "We had a hard time recovering. We couldn't forward the phones. We lost a lot of business. You think when it hits you, I can recoup from that. But it's not the hit, it's the later on that's hard. It takes a while to realize all the things you've lost."

Ben-Reuven said he learned not to take even the most basic technology requirements for granted after that.

"Today, we run IT from a data center. In the offices, we just have desktops. Anything we need is remote. Redundancy is extremely important. Our niche is the hedge fund industry. It's very highly regulated and business continuity and disaster recover are very important. We now are very extremely well versed an all that and everything that needs to be redundant."

Ben-Reuven says he's tried to learn from the events of September 11 and to make his business stronger.

"Other things we learned are documentation to all the vendors. That disaster was monumental but you're resilient and you pick up things and move on. Many businesses did not. We were lucky, but we almost failed. A year and a half later, we were struggling pretty hard. Somehow we worked out the kinks.

"Am I better prepared today? Yes. If we didn't go through that, disasters wouldn't look the same. We've been here through hurricanes in Florida [Chelsea has an office in Hallandale, Fla.], but terrorist attacks are more harsh than nature. With hurricanes, you see it coming. You know how to move around. Something like this hits you from left field."

Every year on September 11, the events come back fresh in Ben-Reuven's mind.

"During the year, you don't really think about it," he says. "We returned back to the same office. We're in exactly the same location that we were 10 years ago. The same floor, the same room, the same everything. You can see how the new buildings coming up. It's different. But there's always a reminder, hey, you were supposed to be there. You give thanks that you're alive."