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The Counselor - November, 2001

Finding the new balance

The balance has shifted. An empty train car and no saxophone music. These were the first tangible manifestations of change. A client needed me in California in late September, and I took the subway to O'Hare. For the last three stops, I was alone in the train, and very aware that plenty of people didn't think flying was very smart. At O'Hare, the mediocre saxophonist who played for coins in the tunnel had left, moved on. Later, on arrival in San Francisco, the captain asked us to wish our cabin crew good luck - they had been laid off, and this was their last flight.

For the most part, our focus is misplaced. It is the newness of this risk that scares us, not its scope. For most of us, cell phone users present a greater threat than do terrorists. Yet things have changed. Each day brings a freedom given up, a priority shifted, a rule changed. Postponed meetings, delayed work, fewer trick-or-treaters after dark.

But we are in motion again - planning, acting, connecting. After nearly a month of stunned silence, and stunned talk, we began to act. Two weeks ago in Chicago, our annual membership meeting took place, during NAR's meetings. A handful of Counselors attended, and the agenda moved fast. Incoming President Pappelardo made his remarks, and we retired to lunch around Chicago.

Stunned silence is bad for business. Our major task now is addressing a new element of risk. The threat of terror has always existed, but its image is now strong enough that it affects our behaviors, our markets, our decisions. Former labor secretary Robert Reich observed noted last month that economists bemoan the renewed focus on family, introspection, and home, none of which involves buying anything. This doesn't support the economy. "But we don't live to support an economy. It lives to support us." The new balance point is not yet apparent.

The magazine rack provides an odd perspective on just how much we've changed. It takes months to print a magazine, but the world changed in just one day. Flying magazine, in its October issue, babbled exuberantly of hot, new light planes, while that entire fleet sat on the tarmac, banned from the skies. By November, only Flying's opening column had been edited to reflect the new era. Newspapers in late October were grim, but the magazine rack was oblivious. So in the weeks following 9-11, I vowed that I wouldn't use the words "stunned," "tragedy," or "changed forever" in this column. When it came time to write, this proved to be impossible.

We have work ahead of us, hard work. Our clients are returning to the market, and reworking their plans. Many are fighting to survive. A few are thriving. All need help. Our upcoming meetings will focus on fundamental shifts in markets, property, business and the economy. Though plans are laid now, the content will change constantly in the intervening months. Finding this new balance isn't easy, and isn't obvious. But it's interesting, and rewarding, and worthwhile.

Copyright 2001 - Noah Shlaes