Sept. 11 A Year Later: Distributors Seek Return To Normalcy

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Tech Data Chairman and CEO Steve Raymund plans to be in the office Sept. 11. So do Ingram Micro President and COO Mike Grainger and Westcon Group CEO Alan Marc Smith.

Some distributors have small memorial services planned, but most executives said they feel the best way to mark the one-year anniversary of the terrorist strikes at the World Trade Center and Pentagon is to engage in a normal business day, showing how much the nation has healed.

"The sooner that we appropriately get back to our business, the more we have done our share of lessening the effect of what the [terrorists' intent was," Smith said. "That's not meant to be cold. Through our charitable work, I think we've been very understanding of this tragedy. But there is a strong economic argument that if we allow business to be hurt more than need be, they've had more of an effect."

Westcon's headquarters are in Tarrytown, N.Y., a suburb about 30 miles north of Ground Zero. Its communication lines ran under the World Trade Center. When the towers collapsed, so did Westcon's ability to do business. The company was supposed to have a backup system, but nobody ever expected the hell wrought that day, Smith said.

"The [utility providers were working with us as best they could, but they were also trying to get New York City lit up again," Smith said.

The phones were spotty for almost a week as Westcon scrambled to fill emergency orders for networking and videoconferencing equipment, often shipping product without worrying about payment, Smith said.

Like Westcon, Ingram Micro has had to re-evaluate its business-continuity plans. In the weeks following last Sept. 11, the company's Memphis distribution center had a scare when it found some packages with suspicious powder. Several news and government agencies had received packages that tested positive for anthrax, so the distributor was on high alert. The packages tested negative, but Ingram Micro learned a lesson, Grainger said.

"We have increased our focus on our IT security and disaster recovery and [worked to make sure our storage lineup is proper. That's matching what our customers are saying," Grainger said. "Sept. 11 changed the way you pay attention. We are more alert, more conscious of things."

Ingram Micro's mailroom and warehouses now have more secure processes for shipping and receiving products, he added.

As their counterparts did at Ingram Micro, Tech Data employees worked around the clock in the wake of the attacks. The distributor's Swedesboro, N.J., facility was just a short truck ride away from Manhattan.

Besides bolstering its physical security, Tech Data has beefed up its data security since the events of Sept. 11, Raymund said.

"The attack, along with other events, have sensitized us to the risks associated with more open networks that characterize today's IT environment," he said. "When events like [Sept. 11 happen, terrorists might not limit their efforts to physical damage on the institutions of their enemies. They also could disrupt their economies by sabotaging data security among large corporations."

Tech Data also has installed a state-of-the-art videoconferencing system to help reduce corporate travel. "There's a general reluctance by our people to get on an airplane, particularly for international travel," Raymund said.

Despite all of the things that have changed since the attacks, it's important to try to keep many things the same, distribution executives said.

"We have to give people confidence. If I'm not willing to walk in here every day or to travel, how can I ask employees to do it?" Westcon's Smith said. "We have to lead by example."

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