I left Israel inspired by the defense of capitalism in that tiny nation.The idea of writing a book about Israeli business management in the age of terror came to me one morning in front of the television set.
I had just watched grim news media images of the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Having seen such images on the screen since the beginning of the intifada, in October of 2000, I, like most Americans, had become somewhat inured to the horror of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. In this case, the target had been the passengers on yet another metropolitan bus. And, although the casualty toll had been high, and particularly outrageous (the dead and wounded included many children), I found myself looking upon the scene from the perspective of a businessman. How, I wondered, do you run a bus business, when your customers are being murdered in your buses?
Intuitively, I knew the answer couldn’t be simply ‘increased security’. How could any transportation company protect innumerable passengers from bombs, bullets, Molotov cocktails, and adjacent cars rigged with explosives, along hundreds of routes, over thousands of miles, for a single day, much less a year? I supposed that guards would be placed on buses, as a first step. But to what effect? And at what cost? And suppose the attacks simultaneously occurred, as they do in Israel, at restaurants, markets, coffee shops, and shopping malls? The wonder wasn’t that Israelis still boarded buses to go to work; it was that there was still ‘work’ to go to. Why weren’t the businesses in Israel ‘out of business’?
Then, by way of an unavoidable and possibly neurotic progression of thought, I imagined what it would be like in the United States if random acts of terror were commonplace; if, for example, a sniper now waited patiently in the bushes by the road as I drove to work, or if a suicide bomber melded in the line of passengers boarding the light rail bound for downtown. How would the American business community react to years of terror (four and counting, in Israel), how would my company deal with managerial issues for which corporate policy has yet to be written, and how would I plan my business day, much less my career, in an economy under attack?
That’s when I decided I would go to Israel. As a business writer, I felt I had a good chance of persuading somebody in the Israeli government to facilitate in depth interviews with prominent business leaders, managers and supervisors from a variety of industries. I wanted to learn how Israelis businesspeople coped with the terrorist crisis, and to see if their ‘best practices’ would serve American companies well, even if – as we all hope – terror never strikes the United States with the punishing regularity experienced in Israel.
While researching the ways in which the Israeli business community has responded to an unrelenting campaign of terror, I immediately realized I would have to walk a fine line, lest I wander into territory well beyond the scope of the book – and certainly well beyond the experience of an American visitor. I made up my mind to focus solely on the management principles revealed to me, rather than on the crucible from which they have emerged.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, therefore, is the context, not the content, of this business book. The origins and nuances of the terrorist crisis are subordinated by the business practices created to deal with it, just as the causes and characteristics of a hurricane are taken for granted in an emergency preparedness manual. It is my sincere hope – and, frankly, the hope of everyone I met in Israel – that this tragic conflict, which has caused so much suffering on both sides, will be soon resolved.
I interviewed over thirty Israeli business leaders during my stay in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. What did I learn? I learned that Israeli CEOs, execs and managers have rewritten the book on business management. I learned that the management principles which have emerged from the crucible of the Israeli experience would serve any company well, in any industry, and in any country – whether or not there is a terrorist crisis. And I learned that, oddly enough, Israeli companies are stronger for the tests they have endured, and have become even stronger business partners and better investments.
Some people leave Israel inspired by the relics of their faith, still standing in the Holy Land after thousands of years. I left Israel inspired by the defense of capitalism that I saw taking place in that tiny nation.