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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / Business
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After tragedy, executives feel invincible no more

By Liz Kowalczyk and Beth Healy, Globe Staff, 9/13/2001

They were the muscle of the new economy, entrepreneurs who built businesses and still squeezed in time to play violin concerts or sail sloops. They were men and women who would go anywhere to woo or satisfy a client, even if it meant cancelling a family dinner and jumping on a plane on short notice.

Graham Berkeley, a 37-year-old former violinist for the BBC radio orchestra, drove home to Boston from Cape Cod on Sunday, talking software to colleagues on his cellphone the entire trip. Then he boarded United Flight 175 on Tuesday morning at Logan International Airport for an important conference with journalists and analysts outside Los Angeles.

''It was a very complicated job, and he was very talented at it,'' said partner Timothy Fristoe.

Richard Ross, 58, of Newton, who started his first company at age 18, drove to Logan in his new gun-metal gray convertible and boarded American Flight 11 for a trip to teach executives in Southern California about team-building and leadership.

Venture capitalists David Retik, 33, and Christopher Mello, 25, were on the same flight, headed to a start-up communications company they were considering as an investment.

Two days after terrorists commandeered four airplanes, crashing two into the World Trade Center in New York and killing an estimated thousands, a stunned New England business community is counting its losses. They include MIT graduate and Akamai Technologies founder Daniel ''Danny'' Lewin, 31, and Genzyme Corp.'s top lobbyist, Lisa Raines.

In the high-tech and venture capital worlds, a new perspective has gripped executives who felt invincible just a year ago. For many, the deaths of colleagues bring a stinging reality check: A stock market crash is no longer the worst disaster they can imagine.

''The venture business thinks the last year has been crisis management,'' said Tim Dibble, a coworker of Retik and Mello at Alta Communications Partners in Boston, started by venture pioneer Bill Egan. ''We didn't know the half of it.''

Many of the business travelers who boarded flights 175 and 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, which carried 157 crew and passengers, were part of the new fast-paced and competitive global corporate culture that values face-to-face meetings with clients, no matter where they live.

''The kind of work that we did, that Richard [Ross] did, has to be done in person,'' said Larry Butler, senior vice president at Ross's Boston company, Ross Group. ''It's about coaching. It's about getting to know them. The clients always come first; this is central to Richard's philosophy.''

Flight 11 was the first of the four hijacked jets to leave Logan, at 7:59. Christie Coombs drove her husband, Jeffrey Coombs, 42, to a commuter rail station near their Abington home. Coombs, a project manager for Compaq Computer Corp., was headed to a weeklong meeting. He tried to talk his wife into going, but she decided against it because their three children were starting school.

''We were going to celebrate our birthdays and our 17th anniversary together in New York,'' Christie Coombs said as she cried.

On the plane, a Boeing 767, Retik and Mello were booked in coach seats. But Alta's Dibble said they used Retik's frequent flier miles to upgrade to seats 1C and 1D, in the front row.

Mello, an analyst, rarely flew for business and planned to return home on a red-eye flight the next day, but Retik, a partner in the firm with a pregnant wife and two young children, traveled regularly.

They shared the flight with many other New England business executives: Lewin; Christopher Zarba, 47, a software engineer for Concord Communications; Heather Smith, 30, of Boston's North End, a financial analyst at Beacon Capital Partners for just eight weeks; Peter Hafhem, 41, of Tewksbury, a senior software manager for Teradyne; and David Kovalcin, 42, of Hudson, N.H., a mechanical engineer for Raytheon.

Kovalcin wasn't supposed to fly to California until later this week, but managers were looking for someone to leave on Tuesday to discuss a hardware problem with a supplier. He volunteered.

As Flight 11 was in the air and hijackers began to attack flight attendants and subdue the pilots, American Airlines Flight 77 took off from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., at 8:10 a.m. Flight 175 left Logan four minutes later.

Raines, 42, who was scheduled to speak at a national meeting in Palm Springs, Calif., about Genzyme's treatment for dialysis patients, was on the Washington flight. She was one of biotechnology's first and most influential lobbyists and helped shape policy decisions over the last decade that helped foster a fledgling industry. But soon after the Boeing 757 took off, hijackers herded the 64 passengers to the back of the aircraft.

At the same time, tragedy was fast unfolding on another plane, United Flight 175.

Barry Bycoff, president and chief executive of Netegrity Inc. in Waltham, and his chief financial officer, James Hayden, 47, of Westford, were booked on the flight. Hayden got on. But Bycoff was delayed, first by car accidents on the expressway and then by airport security people, who stopped him to check his briefcase - annoyances that turned out to be lifesavers.

At 7:56, Hayden called Bycoff on his cellphone to tell him that the plane's doors were closing and that he'd wait for him in Los Angeles. That was Hayden's last communication to his boss.

''People like Jim are just irreplaceable,'' Bycoff said. ''He helped build this company plank by plank. He wanted to make things work, he really wanted to create something. This is a very difficult time for the company, and for me personally.''

Flight 11 was the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center's north tower, at 8:45 a.m., 46 minutes after takeoff. Flight 175 crashed into the south tower at 9:03. Then, at 9:40 a.m., Flight 77 out of Dulles crashed into the Pentagon.

As soon as Genzyme executives heard about the crashes, they began trying to locate the 75 company employees who were travelling that day. By mid-afternoon they had located everyone but Raines, and their creeping dread was confirmed the next morning, Wednesday, when American Airlines placed a call to Raines's husband, Stephen Push.

''It's a shock when you hear it, and you're stunned,'' said Janice Bourque, chief executive of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. ''Then you start coming to the reality that life is very fragile.''

Naomi Aoki, Michael Rosenwald, Ross Kerber, Diane Lewis, and Andrea Estes contribued to this story.

This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe on 9/13/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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