Learning to Live and do Business in the Face of Terrorism


Learning to Live and do Business in the Face of Terrorism


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Business Under Fire

by Dan Carrison

At the time of this writing, the Israeli economy has been under assault, from this most recent intifada, for nearly four years. There is every indication this crisis will continue unabated. While other nations all over the world have also been attacked, and are also on high alert, Israel is still, by far, the country most harassed by terrorism in the world today. Their economy has suffered accordingly, but businesses have also become stronger—in terms of operational efficiency, and in positioning for the future.

The hard lessons learned by Israeli executives and managers have been institutionalized into the business culture, which means companies are making money under conditions previously thought to have spelled bankruptcy. And that is what makes Israeli best business practices so relevant for the business community, worldwide. If Israeli companies are turning a profit now, under dire circumstances, the management principles which have emerged from the crucible of the intifada should prove to be even more successful for companies competing under happier economic circumstances. Israeli best practices work well, whether there is a terrorist crisis, or not—and will remain embedded in its business culture long after the passing of the intifada.

The experience of the Israeli business community with terrorism is also relevant because the war against Israel is obviously also a war against capitalism itself, just as the attack on 9/11 targeted not only working New Yorkers, but the very symbols of American dominance in the global market: the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. While innocent human beings are the literal victims, the true target of terrorism is a nation’s economy.

Terrorists have no armies to field, nor can they effectively threaten military formations with defeat. They feel they can, however, go to the heart of the opposition by attacking the comparatively unguarded economy. Damage to an economy can be inflicted at grotesquely disproportionate costs; for the price of fifteen box cutters, terrorists wrecked havoc in New York that only historians will be able to accurately measure. Economies are absurdly vulnerable to attack, from all sides and from oblique angles.

True, free enterprise systems are protected by armed forces ready to, if need be, enforce the rules of the game. But, within the perimeter of the guarded playing field, even a robust economy is vulnerable, precisely because it presents so many “soft” targets. In the hopes of toppling a government from within, or, at the very least, forcing concessions upon a beleaguered public, terrorists will try to make life miserable for their opponents; by destroying the means to enjoy life.

Anyone with the slightest business experience would acknowledge that running a successful operation under the most benign conditions is a difficult enough proposition. For all of its virtues, the free enterprise system is fraught with risk; businesses open and fail every day, in a perpetual cycle of birth and death. Success is possible in the system often characterized by critics of capitalism as “dog eat dog.” But even the boldest executive would reel at the prospect of operating a business where fanatics are trying to murder his or her customers, destroy investor confidence, and spread fear throughout the society at large.

Israeli execs and managers have no choice in the matter; they must engage in all the usual struggles of operating a business in an increasingly competitive marketplace, while simultaneously dealing with a relentless terrorist campaign. Even after 9/11, many of us may have difficulty imagining business-life under conditions similar to those endured by Israeli companies. The constant terror alerts affecting commuter traffic, the gas mask in the desk, the emergency drills at the workplace, would all strike us as very sobering working conditions, indeed.

Yet, over time, we might grow accustomed to these conditions, as the Israelis have, and occupy ourselves with traditional business challenges. The executives, managers, and team leaders interviewed herein have dealt with anxieties their counterparts in America—and elsewhere in the world of free enterprise—are just now beginning to face. Just as the police and military from many nations now travel to Israel to study under the “experts,” so can business leaders from all nations learn from those who, sadly, have had to become expert in the art of business management under the relentless threat of terrorism.

Dan Carrison's new book, BUSINESS UNDER FIRE: to be published by AMACOM in mid-October. It can be obtained via their website: www.amacombooks.org


from the November 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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