Kibbutz Tzoba, in the heart of the Jerusalem Mountains. A two-story building on the eastern end of the Kibbutz, within five minutes walking distance of the natural spring. Formerly used for agriculture and poultry, the building was renovated by Tafnit with a transparent façade offering a stunningn view toward the terraces and orchards. Once inside you’ll find a large, illuminated and warm space – people in their work spaces, collaborating or holding a lively discussion in the conference room.
Here is where the project managers and supervisors return from the construction sites and meetings with the various clients, authorities and planning committees. This is the base camp. This is our company’s home, “Beit” Tafnit.
Its founder is Dan Wind (1935-2006), an Esteemed Citizen of Jerusalem, among its most senior engineers and builders of his time. There is almost no corner of Jerusalem in which Dan Wind was not involved in its development: the Hebrew University campuses at Givat Ram and Mount Scopus, the Jerusalem Mall area, the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens (Biblical Zoo) and Beit Halochem (Soldiers’ House), the Cinematheque and the Hinnom Valley area, the Municipal Center, the Givat Shaul Industrial Zone, Kiryat HaLeom (Government Center), the Yad Vashem campus, the light rail project and many more.
Tafnit was established by Dan Wind in 1995 – together with Shimon Kornfeld, Eli Gordon, Shulamit Shaar, Moshe Oz and Michael Alon – as a successor company to companies previously under his ownership. Controlling interest in the company is held today by Shimon Kornfeld, who also serves as Chairman and CEO, in partnership with Maor Nachum, Lewis Brown, Peter Cooper and Nisan Sharbaf.
A Good Place in the Middle
On one end there are small engineering management firms based on a small core of people, while on the other end – huge companies that employ hundreds of workers. Tafnit is comfortably situated right in the middle. The company employs about 50 workers with a family atmosphere – any worker can directly call the CEO at any time and consult with him.
“I arrived here right after completing my studies”, says Yossi Guy, a project manager in the company, “and immediately understood that there is a very wide range of freedom here, but it also comes with a great deal of responsibility. We are expected to be dedicated to the job. This works for me, personally. In other words, when you return home and need to send out an urgent letter or to prepare an urgent report, than I sit down at 10, open the computer and do it. My wife is already aware of it. She understands that I am not only married to her.”
“This is not a workplace with a paycheck on the first of the month and then it’s ‘so long, see you later’. It doesn’t work that way. It can’t work that way – my boss is here and assists me enormously in overcoming the difficulties associated with workload and pressure. A good word is an important part of this entire story. Also, this company is a repository of an immense body of knowledge, far beyond computers, documents and files. There are people here, and if you need something from them, just ask. You can simply ‘toss up’ a subject and can learn from someone who has already done it and is familiar with it – you simply get the right response.”
Give Me an Example
“Take for example, piles in construction. These are things that I did not learn in my studies, since I am a mechanical engineer. So here they don’t say – forget about it, let the civil engineer deal with it – but instead they actually taught me. Here there are people I can consult with and learn from them the important points, those the contractors try to test on you, those that you need to pay attention to. There is a wonderful sharing of knowledge and experience here.”
To be a Project Manager
“It begins with an interview at the initial stage of development and design”, says Shimon Kornfeld, “continuing through the selection of designers and contractors, through construction and actual handover of the keys. The challenge is to bring everything into balance from the standpoint of design, regulations, budget, schedule, construction quality – everything. Loyalty to the project owners is essential. That’s not to say that there is no criticism – we are not yes-men, but we do have complete dedication. Order, organization, command-and-control are essential but together with them you need sufficient creativity and ‘thinking out-of-the-box” to allow for things to be done differently.”
“Our mission is to start projects and to put them on the right path, but after things are working, to not forget that things can go wrong at any moment, that this is a Sisyphean task that is no less difficult than the first push. It is less glamorous, but it demands self-discipline and stamina, since construction projects are long and anything that can go wrong will go wrong if we don’t take care in advance to avoid the pitfalls. Our interest is to take a complex project and even today, after more than 30 years in the profession, the complexity is always surprising – you learn new issues all the time. But complexity is not only in the realm of content to which we are exposed at a high-tech plant, laboratory, hospital or museum. Complexity is also in the internal-organizational politics of the client, in the social significance of the project, in the crises that are created during it, in the relationships among partners in the project. As an example, I will take two projects that I was involved in during the last 10 years. One is the Hospital Tower at Hadassah Ein Kerem, which was constructed during the economic crises in the US and later (temporarily) suspended during bankrupcy proceedings here in Israel. The other is the Jewish Pavilion at Auschwitz, built by Yad Vashem with funding from the State of Israel, on land and property that belongs to the Government of Poland, at the Auschwitz concentration camp and planned and built by a team of Israeli and international consultants and contractors. We learn to confront these complex situations, to find creative solutions, notably from an engineering standpoint, but also from political, social, commercial and legal aspects, to bridge cultural and interpersonal gaps and to neutralize potential points of conflict, and to bring it all together and implement a project to a very high level of quality. A great deal of knowledge, experience and professionalism is needed, but in the end, it is extremely personal and this is what makes this profession into a very challenging, but highly satisfying profession.”
“To be a project manager is to be interdisciplinary”, continues Maor Nahum, a partner and project manager in the company. “You need to be familiar with the fields of law and justice, finance, design, engineering, and city planning processes. In the past, the building was the primary focus, so that traditionally engineers took the lead. Today, the building is a “box” with it’s content as the main focus. It could be a museum, it could be a research laboratory or an emergency room at a hospital.”
“A successful project manager needs a comprehensive outlook and understanding. Yet he needs the ability and the desire to understand and solve the small details” says Lewis Brown, a partner and project manager in the company. “All project management has the well-known triangle of timetable, budget and quality. Each leg of the triangle affects the others. If there is no flexibility with the schedule, then we need flexibillity with the budget or (hopefully not) the quality of the project. We take this triangular relationship very seriously. This is our responsibility.”
“Our message”, continues Nahum, “is that we are not like the others. We are not afraid to dive deeply into the maze of details, into the most complex of conflicts. On the contrary: we love being in this complex mess and don’t mind getting dirty.”
Museums, hospitals, complex public buildings, historic buildings, master, regional or zoning plans. “We are always looking for challenges”, says Kornfeld. “We are not particularly interested in another residential tower with hundreds of apartments. But we also do such projects and bring practical advantages to them as well.”
A Family Like This
“This is the only company I’ve ever worked with since I came to Israel over 32 years ago. So why am I still here after 32 years?” says Peter Cooper, a partner and project manager at the company. “Because we work together as a team. Because there is no competition to push someone out. Just the opposite. We’re always trying to help one another and have a real feeling of family. There are people here who were at my wedding, who have seen how my children have grown. We also have a policy to help children during the summer, to employ any child who is interested in office work, for at least a week, so that they can earn a little pocket money. We are closely knit.”
Moshe Oz, now 73 years old, one of the oldest employees in the company, long past retirement age, he continues to come to the office three times a week.
How is it for you to work here?
“Look, once you call this work, it’s a little irritating. This is home.”