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Some BMB employees trickled into the office that day expecting the phones to ring, but they did not stay long, Ghannam said. "It was no use to be there. Nothing could be done. The office sits right across the street from an overpass bridge that could be a target, and it's a five-minute drive from an area known to support Hezbollah," he said.
Everyone rushed home and hoped for the best. Ghannam, racing through the streets in his Mercedes convertible, held his breath and looked to the skies every time he approached a bridge.
For the rest of the week, the Lebanese were essentially trapped in their homes, watching and waiting, hoping and praying that the bombs would stop. It was simply too dangerous to travel. BMB closed for a couple of days after the first attack, in part because many people thought the war would only last that long.
"At the beginning I thought it would be one bombardment and that's all," said Samia, recalling the events from a country club near his mountainside home. "When I saw it would continue, I bought food for two months, gas for at least a month."
Soon, he said, it became evident the strikes were targeted at bridges and Hezbollah-controlled areas, mainly in the southern part of Lebanon and South Beirut, and those in "safe zones" in the north tried to resume their lives.
But the war left an impact everywhere. The airport was shut down, and driving was an exercise in futility. Banks closed, then opened for just a few hours a day. ATMs, which normally spit out U.S. dollars as well as Lebanese pounds, limited withdrawals to $200 per week in the local currency only. Finally, there were reports that up to 200,000 people were leaving the country and close to a million people, one-quarter of the population, were fleeing their homes in southern Lebanon to seek shelter in the north.
The bombing lasted 34 days, ending when a U.N.-sponsored ceasefire went into effect Aug. 14. In the end, more than 1,300 people were killed and several thousand were injured. The barrage destroyed more than 200 bridges, several airport runways and other infrastructure.
For the vast majority of Lebanon's large Christian population, the kidnapping and subsequent bombing caught them entirely by surprise. "It was a shock; it was bigger than our imagination," Samia said. "We didn't want this war. We didn't get rich from it. It's not our war. We want to live, to do business, commerce. This is what we want."
But war was a part of their lives again. The solution provider's managers met to strategize and prepare multiple scenarios as the war raged on. First, Samia offered all 40 employees in Beirut jobs in BMB offices in Algeria or Egypt if they wanted to leave. That soothed concerns about job security. Second, he transferred money from Lebanon to BMB's office in Egypt to run the company from there in the event that telecommunications was knocked out. "Our competitors were beginning to tell [potential clients], 'Ahh, the poor guys at BMB, they will not be able to sustain their business in Egypt,' " Samia said.
The executives then took stock of BMB's assets, where people were—including some who were traveling out of the country—and developed a plan to best utilize them. They surmised that document management and disaster-recovery solutions would become critical to customers, so BMB solidified teams in those areas.
In some respects, BMB is a microcosm of Lebanon. Like the country—comprised of people representing up to 18 different religions all living and working together in an area the size of Long Island, N.Y.—the solution provider has employees of many different backgrounds and religions, all striving for a common goal.
"We are a picture of the country. We have different political persuasions, but it ends there. We live together. We walk together. We are together," Samia said.
Chehab said they don't discuss politics with customers during projects, which they take on regardless of someone's political or religious affiliation. She took me on a tour around Beirut, where we visited several customer sites around the city. Some of our stops included a hospital in a Hezbollah neighborhood, the money-laundering investigation commission of the Central Bank, and a small electrical utility, which she pointed to as an example of the commitment BMB continues to make to its customers.
The Alay Electrical Utility, a 40-person company that serves 10,000 residential and commercial customers, was founded in 1924. During Lebanon's Civil War in 1983 all of Alay's customer records were destroyed in a bombing. It took 10 years before the utility company could resume business.
BMB, whose document management group is focused around products from Laserfiche, had been pitching a document imaging solution to Alay for several months without any luck. The war changed that. Chehab paid another visit to the utility's IT development manager, Fadi Zaatari, one morning after a particularly ferocious night of bombing. She hadn't slept much and wasn't even sure if the roads were safe. But she felt she owed them a visit.