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Things Have Changed

Earl G. Graves, Founder and Publisher, Black Enterprise Magazine

Nothing in America looks or feels the same as it did prior to September 11th of this year. Even here at Black Enterprise Magazine, we were preparing for the prospect of a recession, but with a soft rather than hard "R." In fact, I wrote on that topic for the September issue of Now, the recession is here and it's real, it's arrival accelerated by the infamous terrorists attacks that rocked our great nation. Of course, not only our balance sheets were shaken; our very way of life received a brutal shock to the system. As a result, we can take nothing for granted - least of all the sense of security, and even invulnerability, that we have come to expect as Americans.

For example, events that would have once been beneath our notice are now occasions for concern, if not alarm. At our company's headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York, someone opened a white envelope with stuff coming out of it, little particles, and panic ensued. We called the police, and all of a sudden people in white suits showed up. It turned out that our fears of anthrax exposure were unfounded, but the threat still hovers over us, even as we move forward with our lives.

Simply put, things have changed. Multiply what happened here at Black Enterprise, and you have people all over America worried about opening the wrong piece of mail, suspicious of the person next to them on airplanes, and, sadly, for some Americans (such as those of Arab descent), facing a crackdown in civil liberties. In a way, the terrorist attack has struck everyone; children and adults are frightened. People lost spouses, parents, children, employees, clients and friends; my oldest son lost a best friend in the World Trade Center.

Change Across The Boards

The impact is having a ripple affect across American, and even global, industry. I am on the board of American Airlines, and that company is cutting 20,000 jobs. (This was prior to the crash of American Airlines Flight 587). Many people are too frightened to travel, putting pressure on an airline industry already characterized by narrow profit margins and an even narrower margin of error.

Aetna Casualty and Life Co., on whose board I also sit, worries about paying out on the claims resulting from that day in September. And Federated Department Stores, another of my directorships, is the best of breed in American retailing. But the last 45 days of the year, that's bet-the-farm for retailers, and Federated is concerned that consumer confidence won't rebound in time for the holidays.

Now American Airlines, Aetna, Federated, they're not going out of business. But the changes of September 11 have been a rude awakening, one that will be with us for years to come.

Here at Black Enterprise

As the anthrax scare at our offices illustrates, we at Black Enterprise have hardly been spared. Prior to September 11th, as I wrote in my article back then for this Web site, we were already trimming our budget in anticipation of cutbacks in magazine advertising as the recession took hold. Now we're operating under the most stringent budget we've ever had, down 20 to 30 percent.

Mid-year, in an effort to cut costs, we were going to lease part of an additional floor we had taken here at headquarters; now we're leasing out the whole floor. Charitable giving: we're trimming the fat. We aren't doing Christmas like we used to. We aren't giving gifts to clients and customers.

But it's more than just cost cutting for our entrepreneurial company. Some of our people are scared. When they have to travel, some don't want to fly. So, when possible, we say, OK, take the train. Or drive.

The bottom line? Things have changed. The terrorist attacks have created an environment in which the world is in a protracted war. As for the business of our country, it's getting hurt, which is having a ripple effect down to the smallest entrepreneurial shop, and outward to other places where money would have been spent, such as social services and government projects. Five - 10-year plans are being redrawn; if you're a business, you must regroup.

This tragedy, like the attack on Pearl Harbor, will be with us for generations. But we will come back-America always does.

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