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February 21, 2019

JKIA Terminal 1- Because nothing is impossible

IMPRESSIVE: The new terminal 1A of JKIA that will be used by Kenya Airways and its Sky Team partner airlines.
IMPRESSIVE: The new terminal 1A of JKIA that will be used by Kenya Airways and its Sky Team partner airlines.

As I walked through JKIA’s brand new Terminal 1 last week on Tuesday, I couldn’t help the sense of awe and the tingle of excitement I felt as I realized that against all odds, this team of passionate, sometimes shy, but very dedicated and professional people – most of them Kenyans – had done the unthinkable. They had created a gem from the ashes of the fire that gutted JKIA’s international arrivals unit on August 7, 2013.

It brought to mind a very impressive story (true story) of the work of a contractor called Clinton Myers and the earthquake that knocked out the Santa Monica freeway in 1994. The story that ran in the Los Angeles Times on April 6 ,1994 in part said:

“Less than three months after the Northridge earthquake knocked down two sections of the world's busiest thoroughfare, Gov. Pete Wilson announced Tuesday that the Santa Monica Freeway will reopen next week, ending frustrating delays and bottlenecks for thousands of commuters.

Spurred by the promise of an extra $200,000 a day for every day work was completed ahead of schedule, the contractor, C. C. Myers Inc., will finish the project 74 days before a June 24 deadline and rack up a $14.5-million bonus for the company”.

As the story goes, Myers was watching the chaos caused by the earthquake just like everyone was. Then as most media houses do, various experts were interviewed and they predicted that the job to repair the damage and get the freeway back up would take years. Clinton Myers figured he could do sooner and starting working on doing the one thing no one else was doing – providing hope along with a working plan that said he could have it done sooner than anyone anticipated.

Looking at the work done at JKIA’s Terminal 1, I do hope that those of us who do get to use the airport we will tap into what we see as a foundation to learn, to dare, to dream but also to believe that nothing is impossible. If you don’t try, if you don’t dare then you’re no better than the “experts” who told the people of Santa Monica in 1994 that their freeway wouldn’t be fixed for years.

Those naysayers were the very people who subsequently had to watch as the freeway was completed, ahead of schedule and with a huge cash bonus for the contractor and the crew to boot.

I hope rather than look for problems we will also write the story of how the job of Terminal 1 (JKIA) got done. In the case of the Santa Monica freeway, we are told that C C Myers rode his crews hard, praising, goading and yelling in equal measure.

When he had trouble getting steel delivered from Texas, he hired a train - at a cost of $119,000 - to haul it. When concrete didn't come fast enough, he called the head of the company at home and demanded more.

Four hundred men and women worked around the clock. Payroll hit $1 million a week. When workers complained about the grueling pace, Myers offered bonuses, donated money to their kids' Little League teams and handed out $30,000 worth of restaurant gift certificates. Whatever it took.

It worked. Myers finished the job in 66 days, 74 days ahead of schedule. Vice President Al Gore attended the ribbon-cutting. He handed Myers a hammer adorned with a red, white and blue ribbon and set in a gold frame. "Thanks for rebuilding the bridge and for helping to rebuild America's trust in government," read the inscription above Gore's signature.

I don’t have a golden hammer to give to the crew at JKIA who worked on putting up those white tents and checking in travellers in those morbid conditions. I have nothing to say to people who reported for work daily to a place that looked ghastly. I also don’t know how you say “well done” without sounding lame.

Given that I was among those who truly believed JKIA was doomed to look like a miserable wreck for the foreseeable future, I’m humbled, inspired and I consider myself schooled, by everyone who worked and continues to work to make JKIA sparkle. Impossible is nothing. Every now and then, we need a shot in the arm that helps us get past whatever mental hurdle we are dealing with that stops us from getting on what we may consider to be an impossible task. I got a good dose of “can do” on Tuesday at JKIA’s Terminal 1.

Oh, incidentally, when Clinton Myers, president of the construction company that completed the Santa Monica freeway job ahead of time, was asked what he was going to do with the money, he said, "I'm gonna buy me a bigger airplane."  He bought a Hawker 700 jet to replace his Cessna Citation II.

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