Bounce Back: J.P. Morgan - InformationWeek

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Bounce Back: J.P. Morgan

Getting off the elevator at the ninth floor of the 50-story tower at 270 Park Ave. in New York is like stepping into a page from Town And Country. Marble floors lead to classic white French doors, and a long hall leads to a bright, open room. Inside, 200-plus traders stand and talk on the phone or hunch over their desks--each with three monitors and phones that handle up to 100 lines. Welcome to the new home of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.'s equity trading division.

The market is down on this Friday, Oct. 12, and the room is surprisingly quiet. The traders are focused on the duties at hand, ignoring the fact that just a few blocks away, officials are evacuating buildings to test for anthrax contamination. An idle computer displays an American flag screen saver, and other flags are posted and hanging throughout the room. A sign over one trader's desk reads "Welcome to the Playground of the Fearless," and on a column in the front of the trading floor hangs a poster of Osama bin Laden with the caption, "Wanted, Dead or Alive"--reminders that to stop working is to let terrorism win.

That drive to get back to business was immediate for IT departments such as J.P. Morgan's. On Sept. 11, the workers who now seem almost at home in the Park Avenue offices were doing business at the company's 60 Wall St. location, three blocks from the World Trade Center. J.P. Morgan was renovating the Park Avenue space and planned to relocate its equity trading division there in November. Only the desks and the cables running under the floor were installed, not the telephone lines, computers, or applications.

"On that day, we still had power and, in theory, we had an option to go back" to 60 Wall St., says Paul Brandow, chief operating officer of equities trading. "We had an immediate decision to make: Were we going to try to open there or were we going to try to open here?" By staying downtown, J.P. Morgan faced certain risks. For example, it had to rely on power generators to support all of its computing capacity, and executives were concerned that they might not be able to refuel the generators at the appropriate times if they weren't allowed to enter Wall Street freely.

Rather than take a chance that the existing floor would be operating properly by the intended market reopening date of Sept. 17, weary executives decided to move all operations to Park Avenue six weeks ahead of schedule. That presented a huge task to J.P. Morgan's IT staff, which had to set aside personal grieving and trauma in the days after the attacks and work around the clock to get the company back in business amid a severely damaged city infrastructure.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was telecommunications. Phone lines connecting J.P. Morgan's Wall Street trading desks to the equities trading floor were inoperable because Verizon Communications Inc.'s West Street substation was damaged in the attacks. Verizon rerouted phone lines and installed a T3 circuit between the two sites.

J.P. Morgan called IBM to outfit each of the 300 trader desks at the Park Avenue building with multiple systems, while the IT staff raced to install all the necessary applications. By the first day of trading after the attacks, the staff had 100 trader desktops running flawlessly; all 300 desktop systems were operational by Oct. 5. "The traders showed up on Monday morning when the markets opened and everything just worked," Brandow says. "The reason we're in this building is because we have such great technology and great office people."

J.P. Morgan still has many problems to resolve. Backup facilities remain in its Chase Building at 75 Wall St. Company executives must decide whether to move them outside the city. Company officials also will revisit contingency plans in the coming weeks and discuss ways to make employees feel more secure.

The effort to relocate quickly helped workers at one of New York's largest employers refocus, despite personal jitters and frustrating market conditions. At 4 p.m. that Friday, one month after the attacks, a trader rang a bell to mark the end of another trading week, in which the Dow was down 63 points. Only one person clapped. But soon enough, buzz about going home and weekend plans filled the room. In some ways, it was business as usual.

"Look at this room. It's bright, there's light, everything works," Brandow says. "We're proud of what we did to get this place running."

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