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September 19, 2003 - Image 27

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-09-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Egged's Challenge

How do you run a bus company whose customers and employees are being killed?

JESSICA STEINBERG
Fast Company Magazine

Jerusalem

L

for Baratz is a driver for
Egged, the sprawling Israeli
bus company, and although
he's been on the job only
three years, the 26-year-old is an
Egged veteran in the most graphic,
indelible way.
In April 2002, Baratz was at the
wheel of bus No. 23, his regular
route through Jerusalem. He was
waiting out a red light on a Friday
afternoon on Jaffa Road, in front of
the bustling Mahane Yehuda outdoor
market. Across the intersection,
Egged bus No. 32A was coming the
other way.
As Baratz looked through his wind-
shield, the No. 32A bus exploded.
The blast was so powerful that the
big bus leaped up off the road. The
boom of the explosion rolled over
Baratz and his passengers. There was
a moment or two of total silence.
Then the screams started.
By the time Baratz got to the other
bus, Israeli emergency personnel were
already there, attending to the
injured and dead. They took Baratz
aside, then sent him to be checked at
the hospital, where he talked to a
counselor before being sent home.
Less than 48 hours later, Baratz was
back behind the wheel of the No. 23,
running his regular route, right
through the intersection where the
bombing took place. "After a bomb-
ing, we act as if nothing happened,"
says Baratz.
"Our mentality is that we don't like
to look inside ourselves and think
about it. We're not like that."

Harsh Reality'

During the last three years, since the
start of the second Palestinian intifada
(uprising), Egged has been a company
under attack almost as directly as the
nation of Israel itself. Since March
2001, suicide bombers have blown
themselves up inside, or alongside,

The All version of this story can be read
in the September issue of Fast Company
or at vvww.fastcompany.com

A Jewish passenger looks from his seat in a bus at an armored border police jeep placed at one of the entrances to the Mahane
Yehuda market, a site of frequent attacks, in Jerusalem.

more than 20 Egged buses.
The goal of the attacks has been to
turn one of the most ordinary, reas-
suring, reliable objects in the land-
scape — a city bus — into an object
of uncertainty and terror, to lace a
ribbon of fear through any trip or
errand where an Egged bus is visible.
The company has responded in a
typically pragmatic Israeli way. "Buses
are the easiest target with the highest
number of possible victims," says Arik
Feldman, the company chairman.
"But we live with it. That's our harsh
reality. And if a bus blows up, it does-
n't stop us from running public trans-
portation. It gives us more courage to
continue so no one can prevent us
from living here."
There is no business-school case
study on how to lead a company that
has become a target of war. As much
as any particular security measure or

management plan, what has kept
Egged's executives and managers
going during the intifada is the atti-
tude Feldman expresses. It's not sim-
ply persistence or determination. It's a
refusal to be a victim, even of circum-
stances you don't_ control.
Founded in 1933, Egged is 15 years
older than the State of Israel itself.
Every day, it carries 1 million Israeli
and Arab-Israeli residents. The bomb-
ings have reduced ridership 10 percent
in the last three years, but they haven't
forced Egged off the road. Its corpo-
rate response to being a target of terror
— week after week, month after
month for three years — is essentially
the same as Baratz's response to being
one red light from disaster: Grab the
wheel and keep driving.
The company has not surrendered a
single route in the face of the terror-
ists, and Egged says not a single one

of its drivers has resigned as a result of
the bombings. Instead, drivers and
managers have learned to adapt to the
realities of the situation.

Morning Prayers

Reuven Rotchild, 46, has been an
Egged driver for 18 years. Before he
gets on his bus, Rotchild pauses most
days to say the traditional Jewish
morning prayers. He isn't particularly
observant, but he started saying the
prayers for peace of mind, that "some-
one should watch over us."
The ritual is not uncommon among
Egged drivers these days, he says. "On
every trip, you feel like you could be
the next target," says Rotchild.
He has never seen a suicide bomber,
but he never stops looking. He
appraises every passenger at each stop,

EGGED'S CHALLENGE on page 28

9/19

2003

27

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