The Road From General to Director General

The former generation of officer-managers achieved their posts by way of legend and censure. The current generation works under transparent conditions that expose their flaws.

Avigdor Kahalani, recently on the Likud list, former Third Party minister, before that a Labor MK, and once brigadier general, was appointed Sunday to head the Defense Ministry's Social Welfare Department, which is not to be confused with the Defense Department of the Social Affairs Ministry. He was granted this compensation by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, after his path to the chairmanship of the Board of Directors of the Israel Aircraft Industries was blocked based on claims that he lacked the appropriate skills.

This raises a question that resurfaces every time a senior officer discharged from the IDF, or other security forces, seeks a similarly ranked appointment in the civilian market. The stream of candidates for such posts began as a trickle in the 1950s, when lieutenant generals and major generals retired at the age of 40, plus or minus. They were generously absorbed into the Mapai government on one of three main tracks: politics, economy or diplomacy. Lieutenant general, director general, secretary general, consul general - the exact title was not important as long as it ended the same way.

The trickle became a flood after the Six Day War, when generals surfed the waves of glory. It ended all too often in a murky puddle of shame. The lauded general became a financial failure, a negative image of his former glory. He even drew antagonism, a scenario played out by the character of the retired general in Meir Amit's book, "Ken, Adoni Hamefaked."

Amit headed the Operations Branch of the IDF and, in fact, managed the battle in Operation Kadesh. He headed IDF intelligence and the Mosad, was CEO of Koor Industries and was a minister. Amit himself claimed that, "I compare military command to management, stress the similarities and the differences, and have come to the conclusion that a manager and an officer are two sides of the same coin." Officers actually see only one side of the coin and one direction of professional advancement: A manager does not become an officer.

Kahalani was the second victim of the Justice Ministry's new policy that requires government companies to demand proof that senior officers are appropriately skilled. (Politician Kahalani was required to prove that he possessed supreme skills to head up the most important post in one of the most important companies.) The first victim, about a year ago, was Police Major General Yaakov Raz, who wanted to hop from the police traffic department to the management of Israel's railway system. Mofaz breathed a sigh of relief this summer when his fears that Naval officer Major General Yedidia Yaari would be disqualified from the position of CEO at the Rafael Armament Development Authority proved to be unfounded.

The former generation of officer-managers achieved their posts by way of legend and censure. The current generation works under transparent conditions that expose their flaws. Those well-versed in certain cases, who are allowed a glimpse into the neglect and filth that accompanies handling of those cases by the IDF's most-senior offices, will not buy the deputy chief of staff's promises that we have someone to trust.

The IDF, which fortifies itself against external criticism, and refuses to introduce an efficient system for internal criticism, does not only lag behind financial corporations, desperate to survive. The Shin Bet security services set its own example when it established a critical process that allows its lowest ranking individuals to challenge its most senior operatives. The Shin Bet proved that maintaining security secrets is not an excuse for insularity.

There are a few exceptions, who manage to impress us with their ability to translate leadership skills in the army to success in the business arena. Student Gabi Ashkenazi received glowing reports this week from his semester-long Advanced Management Program at Harvard University. His three months of study at Harvard set a new record for learning opportunities granted by the State of Israel for senior members of the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Mossad. Such opportunities are usually granted when an officer's discharge is nearly at hand, and the nation stands to gain little benefit.

While some officers courageously pass through such extension study programs with flying colors, others embarrass those who sent them. Not Ashkenazi. He was described by an impartial observer as the "king of the classroom," and a source of knowledge, experience and advice to the other American, Indian, Japanese and Chinese students, who are all leaders in their field. Ashkenazi was a natural wonder, as rare as a calf with two heads: a strong manager that the IDF failed to spoil.