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Managing in an Age of Terror
Military Experience Means Business
by Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh



The news media can cause more damage to the Israeli economy than all the suicide bombers combined - not because it reports on the acts of terror, but because it reports on nothing else. I should have known better than to believe CNN. But, as the El Al 777 cruised on its 10 hour flight from New York to Tel Aviv, I prepared myself mentally to enter a war zone. I imagined Israeli citizens furtively scurrying across the streets, avoiding buses and coffee shops, and living wary, joyless lives under the constant threat of terror attacks. I expected to see a society paralyzed by fear, and I steeled myself for the grim experience of interviewing business leaders who are trapped in an economy under siege.

When the jet landed, I was greeted by the car from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which was to drive me about Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for two weeks. My heart sank as I noticed that the rear windows were covered with black curtains - no doubt to protect an important American VIP, like myself, from assassination. As we drove off, I huddled in the shadows of the back seat. The Israeli driver soon saw me peeking through the curtains like the star witness in a Mafia trial, and laughed out loud.

The curtains, he explained, were for the summer heat. "But this is winter, so open za curtains." I did so, both literally and metaphorically, and what I saw during my visit was a vibrant, resolute society, packing the buses, cramming the coffee shops and nightclubs, living lives of commitment, purpose, and hope.

Military Experience Means Business

Does former military experience, within a large, societal model, translate into business success for that nation? Well, if Israel is considered, the answer is a resounding 'Yes!'

Israel's national defense strategy is one of 'total defense.' With very few exceptions, every Israeli young man and woman must enter the military at the age of eighteen, for a minimum period of three years for males, and two years for females. After the mandatory active service, Israeli men must remain in the reserves until age forty five, if in a combat unit, or age fifty five, if in a specialist's unit. "Reserve duty" very likely means, in today's political situation, one month of every year on patrol in the West Bank.

It is noteworthy that, for all practical purposes, one's military obligation cannot be postponed; instead college and career is postponed, until the young Israeli man turns about twenty one, and the Israeli lady twenty. That suggests that Israeli youth may be, in some sense, like the tortoise in its race against the hare. While American kids, for example, are allowed a three year "head start," Israeli kids must put the pursuit of their professional lives on hold.

Of course, there is another way to look at this tortoise-hare race: while American kids are prolonging their adolescence, partying with their friends for the first two or three years at college, before they take graduation seriously, Israeli kids are making life and death decisions on the urban battlefield of the West Bank. One youth enters college at eighteen; the other young man enters a crucible of leadership. Today's Israeli generation is much like the American "drafted" generations of WW II and Vietnam, which began their college education a few years late - as mature adults, very often with combat experience.

How does this leadership training pay off in the business world? Well, to continue with the Israeli example, very well indeed. Consider Israel's predicament. In the year 2000, the Israeli economy was at its peak; the nation was a world economic power. Today, its economy has been under constant assault for the last three years; hundreds of terrorist attacks have decimated the tourist industry, which affects, in turn, the economy as a whole. Yet no hotels have closed. Some, at 25% occupancy, are turning a profit, while it has been "common knowledge" in the hotel industry, worldwide, that at least a 60% occupancy rate was required just to break even.

Restaurants that have been bombed, reopen within weeks, and are filled with customers who refuse to let terror change their lives. Israeli companies, which are "single source providers" to major American aerospace and processor corporations, have never missed a delivery, even though terrorists try repeatedly to sabotage their efforts. Israel has more companies trading on the NASDAQ than any other country except for the United States. And, it can be argued that Israeli high tech companies fared much better during the collapse of the "" market, by adapting quickly to the situation (finding new markets) instead of closing their doors. Even with nearly 10% unemployment, brought about by the intifada, violent crime is almost unheard of.

We believe military training has contributed much to the character of this resilient nation, in good times, and bad.


The Authors


Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh have authored an insightful book revealing the leadership principles of the U.S. Marine Corps. Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way is a lively and practical 'manual' for business managers and executives to lead their department or enterprise to victory.  Visit Semper Fi Consulting for more articles and information on their highly acclaimed keynotes and seminars!

Many more articles in Mission Ready in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2004 by Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh. All rights reserved.

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