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Friday, Aug 12, 2022
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BACK—Same 9-to-5, a Different World

The phones are ringing. Fax machines are humming. It’s back to business as usual. Ask anyone. “I think after the first three, four or five days and the president’s speech saying get back to your lives, everyone has done that,” said Doug Sink, chief financial officer at Remo Inc. So bills are being paid, orders are flowing in and services are resuming. Just as always. Ask anyone, the folks hanging flags over doorways, the ones canceling travel plans and those logging onto CNN.com every few hours. “Obviously, we’re updating our disaster plan, but in terms of day to day, we’re functioning very well,” said Mel Kohn, managing partner at accounting firm Kirsch, Kohn & Bridge. Psychologists call it denial. The hideousness of Sept. 11 turned the world upside down. The first war in the first year of the new millenium has begun. No one can shake that off, they say. “I think what you’re hearing is mass denial,” said Steven Berglas, a psychologist and researcher at UCLA’s Anderson School for Management and the author of “Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout.” “It’s a primitive defense against fearing that you’ll be overwhelmed.” But in a Valley itself once removed from a city, which, in turn, is 3,000 miles and three time zones from New York and the Pentagon, what else is there to do but get back to work? “I think deep inside this does bother everybody more deeply,” said Brian Poliquin, president of Poliquin Kellogg Design Group, a Woodland Hills architectural firm. “Work is a good thing to grab onto when something bugs you.” Everyone is back at work at Syncor International Corp., a provider of diagnostic and therapeutic imaging services based in Woodland Hills. But like most companies, the talk at the water cooler is no longer about the latest hot TV show. It’s about the war. A flag flies over the company’s Woodland Hills entrance. Managers have been urged to watch for signs of stress. “Do I know what’s going on in people’s heads?” asked Sheila Coop, vice president of human resources and communications. “No, but things are kind of calm. Everyone showed up this morning (following the first air strikes). We chatted a bit, and then went on with our business The last thing you want is for this to paralyze us. That’s the only true objective of terror.” Such thoughts are echoed by many executives. “For me personally, and for a lot of the people that work with us, it’s nice to have something to do to keep your mind off things,” said Daniela Meltzer, vice president, chief operating officer at CopterVision in Van Nuys. But try as they might to ignore it, things are different, some obvious, some insidious. “I think people are determined to get back to business, but I don’t think business is back to normal,” said Carlos E. Garcia, president of Garcia Research Associates Inc., a Burbank-based market research firm. CopterVision was anxiously awaiting the release of “Collateral Damage” to promote its newly developed camera system, Rollvision, which was used on the action film. But because of its subject matter, the film’s release has been postponed indefinitely. “There are shots there that you can’t get any other way, and that would have brought a lot of interest for us,” said Meltzer. Several companies have suspended all but the most critical travel, at least for the time being. A few are considering long-term changes, including the purchase of videoconferencing equipment. Little things too are askew. Like a Hitchcock movie, they hover furtively over the daily routine. Like the other day when phone service went dead throughout Newbury Park and workers’ first thoughts turned to terrorism. “You make associations,” said Josh Barinstein, president and creative director at Eclectic Multimedia, one of the companies affected. “Anything that means some kind of disruption, you think, how is it related?” Or a recent order received at Art Lewin & Co., a Woodland Hills firm that makes custom clothing, mostly for business executives. Lewin has a client, an attorney, who twice a year orders a single suit, the same order he has placed for years, until a few weeks ago. “This time he did one suit and a sport coat,” said Art Lewin. “He’s never done that in the six years I’ve known him.” Even temperaments seem different in the wake of Sept. 11. Take the phone conversation Garcia had recently. Like many small businesses, Garcia depends on receivables to keep cash flow moving, and the pace of bill-paying has slowed considerably in the wake of the attacks, in turn affecting the company’s own payables. When a supplier called to ask about a payment he was owed, the tone of the call, and his own response, caught Garcia by surprise. “I just said, ‘OK, I understand. We’re sitting around waiting for our clients to pay too,'” Garcia recalled. But instead of growing insistent, the supplier assured him that he’d continue to ship to the company anyway. “They just fell over themselves saying, we’re all in the same boat together. I don’t think I would have gotten that response before,” Garcia said. “Clients who would call and be all business are now asking, ‘How are you?’ I think people are more considerate, more aware that we do share this place together.” Academics, as well as those who deal with interpersonal relations within organizations, say such responses are normal. It’s the situation that isn’t. “We’re not in a normal, mundane everyday life right now,” said Jill Stein, a sociologist at UCLA. “We’ve had a kind of traumatic experience that has heightened a lot of feelings. They could be negative or positive.” Indeed, given the events of the past month and those to come, some argue that putting nose to the grindstone might be the best defense against those feelings.

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