Expect the Unexpected

Arbeit Macht Frei = Work Sets You Free

People often say, “Expect the Unexpected”, meaning that, no matter how well prepared you may be for something, you can never be 100% sure that everything is going to go according to plan. It has happened to me on a number of occasions but never in the same way as it did recently — and certainly not with the same result.

Perhaps the worst thing that can happen when you are giving an address or presentation is for you to be interrupted by a member of the audience. It takes you by surprise, throws you off balance and breaks your communication with everyone else in the auditorium.

So, picture the scene: I am delivering a keynote speech to the owners, directors, board members, country representatives and the CEO of Grand Automotive, which is 95% owned by Taavura Holdings Ltd, an Israeli conglomerate with more than 6,500 employees and €1 billion annual revenues. I have the full attention of everyone in the room and I am growing in confidence that this is going to be a very successful address.

Suddenly, the words “Excuse me!” ring out from the front row.

I am taken aback. What’s happening? Did I say something wrong? It takes me a few moments to regain my composure but the man on the front row isn’t finished.

“Thank God Israel is not far from Cyprus. I can fly you in to address my team who is not here today. It won’t cost me much,” are his exact words.

I give him and the audience a smile and, somewhat relieved on the one hand and embarrassed on the other, I continue from where I had left off, regain my flow and eventually end my speech to great applause.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. Indeed, it is the start of a brand new one. The overexcited man on the front row was Zeev Livnat, one of the three owners (with his brothers Zvika and Shay) of Taavura Holdings Ltd and, as soon as my speech was over, he approached me with enthusiasm to share the remarkable story of his father, who founded the company. I will now share it with you.

Zeev Livnat congratulating Michael R. Virardi just after Michael’s keynote has ended.

The Great Escape

Avraham Livnat — nicknamed Bondi — is a legend in Israel and a holocaust survivor. An engineer by trade, he was living in Budapest when the Nazis invaded in 1944 and soon found himself in a concentration camp. Tasked with dismantling bombs dropped by the Allied Forces but which had failed to detonate, he was sent unaccompanied (the Germans didn’t want to risk losing any of their soldiers in case of an explosion) into the fields of Hungary to carry out what we would today describe as ‘controlled explosions’. Bondi obeyed his captors’ orders until Allied planes started dropping leaflets saying that any prisoners of war should try to escape as the Nazis were exterminating Jews in the camps. He quickly planned his next move, driving his truck to where a huge unexploded bomb lay. Retiring to a safe distance, he used a long fuse to detonate the bomb, which blew up the truck into the River Danube and then swam 40km, with German soldiers shooting at him for much of the way.

Bondi with his escape truck.

After lying low in a Hungarian’s house for a few days, he walked another 40km back to Budapest where he was issued with false documents that enabled him to escape the terrible fate of so many other Hungarian Jews and make his way to Israel.

Had anything gone wrong 75 years ago, there would be no Taavura Holdings Ltd today and no keynote address by Michael R. Virardi for Bondi’s son to interrupt so unexpectedly.

I was humbled and inspired by the story and later that evening, during the gala dinner, Zeev Livnat told me more about his father and shared some of Bondi’s wise words, which resonated with me and will be incorporated into many of the addresses that I will be giving in 2019. Let me give you a preview of just three of his inspired sayings:

Bondi advised all three of his sons and their extended family not to leave difficult situations unresolved. The best action is effective and immediate.

Bondi always believed in quality in everything: quality material, quality people and quality relationships. He knew that quality in the small details (a button) will ensure similar quality in the essentials (the suit).

God was certainly in a good mood when he created Bondi, who, until the age of 90, would stand at the company gates and shake the hand of every arriving employee. According to his closest associates, he remembered everyone’s name and would call it out as each one approached. Caring for one’s fellow men and showing it is a key element of all religious faiths.

Bondi with his three sons and beloved wife.

From Past to Present

Bondi died 18 months ago at the age of 93. For his 90th birthday, his family reunited him in Israel with the Hungarian man who hid him and helped him make his great escape. I may not have met Bondi but I am grateful to have met his sons, heard his amazing story and been inspired by words spoken by him decades ago that remain relevant today. Isn’t this the definition of wisdom?

Bondi just a few years before his death.



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