For Joseph Noviello, September 11 began at 6:30 a.m. with a phone call confirming that an annual fishing trip with colleagues at the Cantor Fitzgerald bond trading firm was still on, despite some foul weather offshore.
Minutes later, the most intense two days of his life would begin. The first plane hijacked by terrorists would hit Cantor’s building. Watching on TV from his Manhattan apartment, Noviello had no way of knowing what ultimately lay in store. But clearly, a disaster of a proportion he had never had to deal with was unfolding.
Fortunately, he had a plan to follow.
That plan may have saved the companies. No firms suffered worse fates on Sept. 11 than Cantor Fitzgerald and its electronic marketplace unit, eSpeed. More than 700 employees of the two companies died in the destruction of the World Trade Center’s north tower, where Cantor and eSpeed shared their headquarters and a vital computer center.
Yet eSpeed was up and running when the bond market reopened at 8 a.m. on Sept. 13, little more than 47 hours after the disaster. That was possible in part because of some lucky timing. But the rapid response was really enabled by careful planning, help from other companies and an indomitable team determined to show that even if their colleagues might be taken away, their spirits couldn’t be. Their riposte to terror would be virtually uninterrupted service to the financial industry.
"The difference for us was the planning we had in place," says Noviello, 36, who was promoted to eSpeed’s CIO after the disaster. He is sitting in the cramped, windowless office he now shares with another executive at the Cantor/eSpeed data center in Rochelle Park, N.J. "We understood that we needed to be able to respond to some sort of outage, that there is no acceptable downtime."
To that end, eSpeed’s systems were built on a dual architecture that replicated all machines, connections and functionality at the World Trade Center and at a Rochelle Park site, with a third facility in London. "These are decisions made on logic, not technology," Noviello says upon reflection. "You don’t buy one of anything, you buy at least two."
By 8:50 a.m. on that Tuesday, Noviello had heard from Jim Coffey, the man responsible for the Rochelle Park mirror site. Coffey was on his way to Jersey.
"It was instinct," says Noviello. "We always talked about the event that would cause [us] to run things out of here."
Unable to reach his friends or colleagues in the building by phone or pager, he called eSpeed’s London office to get a read on what systems were still functional at the trade center.
"That would give me some idea of the status on a particular floor," he says. He watched in horror as the building collapsed. The line to London, which had been routed through Cantor’s New York office, went silent.
ESpeed, which operates as a freestanding business and also serves as the trading engine for its parent company, would lose 180 employees, including about half of its U.S.-based technology staff. Among them were eSpeed President and Chief Operating Officer Frederick T. Varacchi, a former CIO of Cantor and the driving force behind eSpeed, and Joseph Giaccone, architect of eSpeed’s disaster-recovery plan.
But eSpeed had some important assets left. Most of the top technology executives had been out of the office, including Matt Claus, eSpeed’s current CTO and Noviello’s right-hand man, who had been scheduled to go on the fishing trip.
"People have stories about why they made it," says Noviello. One senior network engineer was late to work because his wife burned the cake she was baking for their daughter’s school and he had to run to the grocery store for ingredients. Some workers were on vacation; others were simply not due in on the 24-hour, three-shift schedule. So about 306 survivors, including more than 260 IT employees, were ready to work.
By mid-morning Tuesday, some staff members had been dispatched to Rochelle Park to conduct an inventory of which systems were running and which were not, the status of communications with customers and the actual transactions from the moment of impact that needed to be settled.