Career paths that changed after 9/11
September 11th, 2017
As Americans deal with swath of destruction left by two hurricanes, they’ll also pause to remember the dark days after 9/11.
“When something like that happens, you can’t help but take stock of what you’re doing. You only have one walk around the sun. It frames how you look at your life,” says Maria Kim, the president and CEO of Cara Chicago, which helps people break out of homelessness and poverty.
Kim is among Chicago CEOs who changed their career paths after 9/11.
Kim decided that day to leave the boutique insurance firm that had employed her since college and work in nonprofits. “It was a smack in the face.”
She started writing grants for Christopher House, an education center for low-income families, before joining Cara in 2005.
Her family worried about finances, wondering “‘Why would you want to leave what some might consider a fancy job to work with folks affected by poverty?’”
But Kim, a graduate of Glenbrook South High School, University of Wisconsin at Madison and University of Chicago Both School of Business, never looked back.
“I still think about the fragility of days,” she told me. “It’s not a guarantee what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Keating Crown was on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower when it was hit by the second plane.
More than 200 people were on the floor. He was one of a dozen to survive. In one way or another, he has said, “I think about it ever day.”
The grandson of philanthropist Lester Crown worked for Aon Financial Services Group at the time. After recuperating from leg injuries in Chicago, he switched careers and stayed put in Chicago. He’s now an executive at the Sterling Bay development company. And he’s involved in New York’s 9/11 memorial and Chicago’s new elevated park, The 606.
The experience taught him “not to sweat the small stuff.”
Eric Smith, the CEO of Fifth Third Bank in Chicago, was starting his first day at a new job in the World Financial Center, adjacent to the World Trace Center, when the first plane hit. “I saw the tail of the plane hanging out. It seemed like an accident,” he recalls. “Then the second plane hit and we knew.”
He would return to Chicago. His wife, who was expecting their second child, and daughter hadn’t yet moved to New York. And they never did. “The first thing I did was to get life insurance,” he said.
Smith redirected his banking career and last year was named CEO of Fifth Third in Chicago. And he threw himself into civic work. “I wanted to live a life that my kids could look back on and see as one of contribution to them and to society at large.”