Melvin Esdaile remembers September 11, 2001 as if it were yesterday.
“Nobody knew what had happened. We felt the building shake, but it was 108 stories. It’s a full city block almost, the building, so it’s sizable. To have it shake the way it did was pretty scary,” he says in reference to the day that many Americans watched in amazement on television, but that he experienced firsthand.
Esdaile served as President and CEO of the New York offices of Tai Fook, an Asian-based sales and trading brokerage firm. He was having a conversation with a specialty hire who traded stocks for him when, in mid-sentence, he and his colleague felt 1 World Trade Center shake. On what he describes as a beautiful, sunny, bright day with not a cloud in the sky, his only thought was that there had been an explosion. When he heard metal from the 108-storied building screech, he knew that something serious had happened.
Likening the events to a scene in a scary movie, and with the stairwell positioned directly across from his office, Esdaile and his colleagues scurried down 22 flights of stairs. Fear consumed his thoughts. After reaching the bottom of the structure he wondered why glass was scattered on the ground of one of the tallest buildings in New York. As he looked into the sky after reaching the World Financial Center, he then saw a sight like he had never seen before.
“You could see the flames shooting up and you could hear the flames. It was like you were dreaming, or having a nightmare. It was hard to believe it was actually happening,” he says.
Esdaile saw the building where he led a multimillion dollar company burn before his eyes. Prior to starting work at the company, the offices were located on the 50th floor. Had they still been in their previous location, perhaps his story would have been different, he says. With the opportunity to look back on his life ten years ago, he says that he was “very lucky” to have only been 22 flights up.
“Every day that you have is a blessing. It’s easy to take what we have for granted, but we should never take it for granted because anything can happen,” he says, reflecting on the day.
He never knew that in an instant his life could forever change. After September 11, the company’s Hong Kong headquarters decided to close their New York offices and consequently Esdaile’s position as the head of that office was terminated. He calls that point in his life “difficult.” At the time his children were in preparatory high schools and he ultimately had to look for another job to support his family. As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., he also says that it was difficult learning that a fraternity brother who was also a former co-worker at Lehman Brothers also died in the events downtown.
Having traveled across the world to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Bali, Indonesia, London and other countries, he says that he was never afraid of his security, yet he found it ironic that he would be a victim of a terrorist attack in downtown Manhattan. He never thought that he would be running to spare his own life.
Today, Melvin Esdaile still keeps the shoes he wore when he ran down 22 flights of stairs on September 11. As the current president of Open Circle Wealth, a private wealth management firm, he says that he uses the shoes as a symbol for the type of work he does. He calls the pair of shoes representative of his appreciation of taking risks. In wealth management, he says that his company helps to protect his clients’ assets because, just like the unexpectedness of September 11, "anything can happen."
“The reason for keeping the shoes and talking about this with clients is to help them protect themselves and prepare for things that cannot be predicted. Certainly, in our world, the financial world, there’s no predicting what’s going to happen. You try and prepare, and we work with clients and their investment portfolios on preparing,” he says.
Happy to have his life back to normalcy, September 11 is a day that Esdaile will never forget. Though he was unsure of what was happening as he escaped from the stairs of a building that no longer exists today, 10 years after the date now termed 9/11, he is sure of one thing:
“I am very fortunate” he says.
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