Ten years ago John Paul DeVito, now 55, was chief operating officer of a small investment banking firm, working on the 87th floor of One World Trade Center. When a plane slammed into offices seven stories above, DeVito led 13 May Davis employees and an auditor from the Securities & Exchange Commission into the stairwell for a harrowing 50-minute escape, later described in a New York Times front-page story. This is how he's lived since:
When I got home, back to Chappaqua, there were so many calls coming in it was relentless. Some calls came from certain employees who were not there on 9/11. Instead of calling me and saying, "Any news on Harry [the head trader, who died]?," they were calling complaining about one negative comment in the Times article about the company.
How disgusting. Just deplorable. All they cared about was supposed dirty laundry of the firm. These were not people I was going to move forward with on a business level.
That was like the tipping point. I'd always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and this was the kick in the ass that said, That's it! I'm not going back to working for someone! So I quit. I got a call from Lehman and another tier-one firm. They offered me a job. But I didn't want that. I just was looking for something that would allow me to attempt my entrepreneurial spirit.
My last two years at NYU I owned a bar. And it worked. I wanted to try something again. So now I got a call from a colleague I helped years ago. He was working at a small proprietary trading broker-dealer and said, Now it's my turn to help you. There was a tremendous amount of flexibility and some interesting software. I decided to take my talents, see what I could do.
The salary was insignificant. It was not easy financially [for my wife and me]. We didn't have a tin cup, but things had to change. We had less times going out to dinner, cut back on certain types of vacations.
And I couldn't dwell on 9/11. My wife Marilyn's been passionate about that. My love would not bring 9/11 in the house. I could get caught up in depression. She was very passionate about saying, "Okay, that's it, it's over. Let's move forward."
A year later the broker-dealer imploded. We restructured it as a software company, Bon Trade Solutions. I took a stake after the restructuring. In 2005 my colleagues and friends from another software company, InteliClear, they approached me in the same capacity. They said come join us.
Then two years ago I got involved with a third company, VFH Turbine. It has this hydro turbine for waste-water treatment plants that passively generates electricity. I'm so excited about it. Throughout the world cities like Philadelphia and New York could create enough energy that over the 50-year life span, there is in excess of $100 million in savings for each of those cites alone.
The event of 9/11 hasn't caused me to pontificate on street corners for people to find religion. There are many levels of being Mother Teresa. There are many levels of accomplishing the same goal. I do it within my own world. I do it within, okay, the social-economic structure of American capitalism.
There's a difference working for someone and working for yourself. I'm loving every minute of life, family and business. I spend Thursday nights with Gina, my mom. I'm so honored that I will never look in the mirror and say I wasn't there for my two daughters.
I've done some motivational speaking, six or seven times. I spoke with Billy Graham's daughter in Indiana in front of 5,000 people. You don't do the right things because you say, What's in it for me? You do it because it's the right thing to do in life. I'm doing the right thing, that's what it's all about. If it turns into money, all right, that's gravy.