Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

Life in Israel

Israeli commercial life and society

In addition to my work as a business coach, one of my interests is blogging about life in Israel. This is a country full of contrasts – over eight million citizens living in an area the size of Wales. You can see snow and the lowest place on the globe in the same day. Although surrounded by geopolitical extremes, Israel has achieved a decade of high economic growth. My work brings me in contact with an array of new companies, exciting technologies and dynamic characters. Sitting back with a relaxing cup of strong tea (with milk), you realise just how much there is to appreciate in the Holyland. Large or small operations, private sector or non profit, my clients provide experiences from which others can learn and benefit.


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Do you have a goal for your business?

In recent weeks, I have come across an interesting pattern with some of my clients. They do not seem to have a set goal, a financial target. When challenged, they even show resistance to the idea. As a business coach and mentor, I have been intrigued to find out why.

First, let me take a step back. The Facebook page of Goalcast often throws up some inspiring videos. A classic example is the boy who stuttered, grew up, left England for Los Angeles without a penny, and is now a billionaire singer by the name of Ed Sheeran.

However, the caption that captured my imagination is “I said yes, when I wanted to say no“. The video clip refers to story of a lady who has been physically abused.  What intrigued me is how I see her catch phrase inscribed – so to speak – on the faces of many of the people I meet. As I listen to them speak, whether in the comfort of their own businesses or challenged in the presence of my Jerusalem office, I see them holding back.

These are people with all kinds of backgrounds: educated or otherwise, experienced or less so, financially literate or not. What links them is a fear to set tough yet attainable monetary goals. And the key one here is a revenue target.

For example, assume you want sales to grow by 10% in the next year. In order to achieve that you have to identify potential new customers. This requires resources – time, manpower, materials. Creating that effort requires dedication, teamwork, extra coordination. And so the chain of events unfolds, as you commit yourself to the target. You begin to “own” it.

And hidden in the back of the minds of many a person is that nagging phrase “what if I do not succeed”? (One client twisted it and asked what would happen if they over-achieved?)

As I explain, there are at least three outcomes:

A) The organisation stagnates. At least you tried something.

B) You reach say 6% instead of the full 10%. That is still progress to be proud of.

C) Nothing much is sustained, but new and bigger opportunities emerge.

Given that set of potential opportunities, there should be no problem for a CEO to agree to the challenge. So why the push back? Reasons vary. What I am finding is that there can be a mismatch between intended vision and true commitment. Thus, the CEO never really intends to follow through, because they “just do not want to be there”.

To prove the point, I can relate to one young client, whom I met this morning. I told them about this posting that I was preparing. He had been asking me to set him stiff targets, because it fits directly with what he wants to do. “Yes”. He is up for it!

Business is burning brightly in Jerusalem

President Trump’s statement over Jerusalem seems to have caused those European and Arab countries, who are seen as friendly towards Israel, to shiver in their diplomatic pants. And the near-jerk reaction has been to take out their frustrations on the politicians in the Holy Land.

All Trump said was that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. No change there. He went out of his way to say that he is not fixing the final borders. Why so many countries have a problem with that goes towards the heart of the Arab-Israel conflict. Why they have reacted coldly to Israel, when this is at the first level an internal American issue, is also beyond me.

However, I am more interested in how this will impact on commercial links between trading partners? For example, I was supposed to moderate this morning a networking session, hosting a delegation from New York. The overseas participants were officially warned by the State Department not to leave their 5 star hotel.

Somehow, I think that all countries concerned are far too interlinked to go round boycotting each other. Just look at recent economic news emerging from Israel.


It is barely two weeks ago that Amazon announced that it is to open a large warehouse in Israel. This is on top of other investments in Israel, such as the purchase of Annapurna Labs in 2015 for US$360 million. Yesterday, the Hebrew newspaper “Yediot” described details of Amazon’s collaboration with the Swedish company Assa Abloy, the key supplier of products for the Amazon Key project. In order to meet Amazon’s specifications, Assa Abloy established an r&d project with Multilock in Israel, which has resulted in a sophisticated smart lock for the home.

Israeli gas exports to Europe

Yesterday in Jerusalem, the Israeli government approved the laying of a subterranean gas line. It will stretch along 2,100 km and cost around US$7 billion, with financing led by the European Bank. The aim is to take the natural gas from Israeli’s newly discovered fields into Cyprus, Greece and eventually Italy. From there, it can reach the rest of mainland Europe.

European cars in Israel

Just looking around the streets of Israel, you can see how people are gradually shifting towards cars of greater complexity and value. To date this year, 165 Porsches have been sold, along with 21 Aston Martins and 9 Ferraris. Not much compared to other countries, but a massive revolution for the desert nation. Joining in from 2018, Bentleys – German owned and British made – will be seen on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Clearly Trump’s words are not going trading between Israel and the rest of the world. If any recent political angst has resulted in a commercial shift, I did observe a comment this week that European banks have reduced their exposure to the British market by 20% since the Brexit vote. Can Israel also be blamed for that?

Israel’s medical system: The Palestinian interface

During the month of December, the UN is expected to pass 15 resolutions condemning Israel. This is five less than in 2016, when the UNGA did find the time to tick off four other countries. Just how fair is this castigation of the modern Jewish state?

To answer the question in depth would take a book, of several volumes. So let us concentrate for three minutes on the medical sector.

In the past, I have written extensively about the Wolfson Hospital in south Tel Aviv, which hosts the Save A Child’s Heart scheme. Offering high level medical services for thousands of infants around the globe, roughly 50% have come from the Palestinian territories. For the record, the aid includes training for local doctors and hosting families of the children on site.

In the north of the country, Israel has treated a similar number of refugees from Syria since 2013. It is an operation that has no equivalent for all the world effort that has been distributed to tackle this humanitarian disaster. And it is even more remarkable considering how the two countries have no diplomatic relations.

And then there is little-known and near heroic story of Dalia Bassa. She is the health care coordination officer of the Civil Administration in the West Bank and Gaza (COGAT) , and is one of the few officials of either side to win the praises of just about everyone. Now 66 years old, Dalia has been working in this field for 47 years.

It is estimated that she is responsible for coordinating the medical attention received by around 5,000 Palestinians every year in Israeli hospitals. These are mainly life-threatening situations. Just as significant, COGAT makes strenuous efforts to ensure that Palestinian doctors are also trained. Hundreds of training sessions take place annually.

To make the point, the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Ahronot” was allowed to accompany Bassa last week on a visit to a 150-bed private hospital just outside Ramallah. 14 floors high, Istishari was opened in 2016 and has treated such notables as President Abbas. A further 850 beds are planned.

During the trip, Bassa sought to help a doctor extend his visa. She also looked for ways to extend cooperation. After all, the hospital lists several doctors who have been trained in Israeli hospitals, such as Hadassah in Jerusalem. Its PGD unit is so advanced that a few Israelis have found their way there to test the state of difficult pregnancies.

And meanwhile, this week, you can expect further condemnation of Israel at the UN. Makes sense, don’t it?

UK-Israel trade continues to march on – here’s how

The malicious philanderings of Foreign Office mandarins and the odious way in which parts of the British press handled the resignation of Priti Patel only partially managed to hide the fact the UK-Israel trade relations keep surging ahead.

The core of these growing commercial ties lies in the fact that “more than 300 Israeli companies operate in Britain, with 28 firms listed on the London Stock Exchange worth almost £11 billion.” In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to open the trading of the London Stock Exchange earlier this month.

This week’s 35 strong delegation of British business people to Israel is just a further extension of how strongly the two countries are linked to each other. It is estimated that they met 41 entrepreneurs in just 72 hours. Not surprisingly, the UK-Israel Tech Hub is one of those vital elements driving innovation in the British Isles in the past few years.

Also this week, news was revealed of two significant contracts between Israeli companies and the UK. You could say that in spite of those diplomats in the Foreign Office, Britain is to purchase the Sky Sabre System from the Holy Land. The £78 million is designed to protect the strategic Falkland Islands against missile attacks.

And in a different area of commerce, Windward is a Tel Aviv based start up, whose original investors included former CIA director David Petraeus and Dan Senor, coauthor with Saul Singer of “Startup Nation. The company tracks all movements on the high seas of ships. It has signed an agreement with Lloyds of London to create an algorithm predicting levels of danger and suspicious maritime activity. In effect, most of Britian’s sea trade – in fact the vast majority of the world’s maritime trade – will be assessed commercially by a set of Israeli software engineers.

In decades gone past, there was a discussion as to whether Israel was more dependent on the UK in the bilateral relations. Today, the commercial friendship is evidently based on parity. The hateful and spiteful arguments of a few journalists, politicians and BDS supporters have failed to dent this progress.

AT&T choose Israel, again

AT&T have been operating in Israel for over ten years. “The center functions like a startup incubator generating solutions for AT&T”. It is typical of many of the other leading multinational high-tech companies like Apple, which have established a bullish presence in the Holy Land.

There are over 350 overseas conglomerates in Israel. One estimate states that they are responsible for over 52% of all r&d in the country. And still they keep on coming. Just looking at the closing headlines of Thursday’s financial paper “Globes”: –

  • Daimler have opened a r&d centre in Tel Aviv.
  • Samsung have launched a cybersecurity division for car industry.
  • The purchase of Argus by Continental is discussed.

Evidently, the start up nation continues to live the dream. And that has to be one of the reasons why the Israeli economy grew by 4.1% in the third quarter of 2017.

Reaching back to AT&T, I read a short interview with Melissa Arnoldi, one of the company’s senior VPs, who has a determining role in technology development. She has just finished a site visit and was asked “why Israel”. To translate from the Hebrew text:

I have never seen such an r&d culture as in Israel. I am not just referring to the incredible skills and not just the determination. What is particularly impressive is the attitude of ‘nothing is impossible’. Here in Israel, you face up to a challenge, take a chance, create a solution and resolve the issue. Israel is our model for innovation.

The golden delicious Apple of Israeli hightech

Jonny Srouji is one of those characters that proves how high-tech is open to all. An Israeli, Christian, via Intel and IBM, he has made his way up the ladder to become Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies. In an interview last week, he gave a fascinating summary, detailing why and how Israel is so important to Apple’s future plans.

For example, Srouji is very proud of Apple’s A-11 Bionic chip. It’s CPU and graphics are the core of the wow part of the iPhone8. And that is not all. Israeli tech is powering the Apple Watch, and the storage component in every Apple device. As Srouji said:

The (Apple) team in Israel is a key part of the overall engineering team in the U.S. and other areas of the world – wherever we have our R&D. The things they do are key to any device we ship, to all devices.

The interview notes that Apple has been associated with Israel since 2011, currently employing around 900 techies. Much of this growth has been fostered via acquisitions such as Annobit Technologies. Srouji implied that more are being considered.

It is important to state that Apple is only following where companies like Intel had led the way. And in the current climate of female empowerment, the chip manufacturer has just announced that it intends to recruit hundreds more women software engineers for its plant in Kiryat Gat, southern Israel. According to information in the Hebrew press, barely 30% of positions in high-tech are filled by women. And when it comes to management, that ratio drops to 19%.

Who will be next? Dieter Zetsche, chairman of automaker Daimler A.G., opened the company’s r&d centre in Tel Aviv this week. This will be the company’s base to design user interfaces for its vehicles and biometric authentication for navigation. They are the fifth global automotive manufacturer to take such a step.

Is Israel a model state?

According to Emily Thornberry, the British Labour Party’s Foreign Secretary-in-waiting, Israel is not a model state for its neighbours to emulate. And her core argument is based on her judgment of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

Thornberry is a lawyer, possessing a strong background in human rights. So, what she says does not just sound politically correct. Clearly, she knows what she is talking about.

But I could not believe her logic was that simple. First, it makes those countries surrounding Israel less of pariah states. Strange that. Check out for yourselves on Google what Thornberry herself has said about Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to name but two. Nothing very complimentary. On the other hand, she never complains about the abuse of human rights by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.

Second, if Israel is not her model state, then who is? I assume from the interview with her that is not referring to any members of the Arab League. I assume she is not referring neither to China nor to Russia. Obviously, she detests the policies of America under Trump. And she is so critical of her own government, that she has effectively ruled out the UK.

In other words, she does not have a model country in mind. Her statement is purely designed to denigrate the state of Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East. What we are left with is a politically correct stance that is acutely ridden with poison. Next she will be asking us to believe that her leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a Zionist, when the man cannot even utter the word “Israel” in a civil manner.

I am reminded that last year at Cambridge University, a motion was debated suggesting that Israel is a rogue state. The pro Israel supporters encouraged the audience to vote ‘yes’ on the grounds that Israel is so different – ie so much better – than its neighbours that it is obviously rogue. For example, according to Freedom House, Israel is the only country int the Middle East that is ranked as “free”.

I will leave you with a taste of Israel and how its Arab citizens view their country. I hope this will allow you to assess for yourselves if it is a model for democracy. (My thanks to bloggers Ellis Simpson and IsraellyCool).

The one big generic mistake when starting a business

Next week, I am onboarding in Jerusalem a new client, as their business mentor and coach. My role as ever will be to identify core problem areas that they have missed and then to help them to learn new skills. As ever, I will base my initial work around the questions:

What is the question that you do not wish a business mentor to ask you,……and why?

This particular company was only recently set up. Initial sales are coming in. However, there are a string of inconsistencies. These include no cash flow planning, lack of clear strategy, poor communication with contractors and much more.

Ironically, this subject relates to a talk I am preparing – 10 mistakes a CEO makes when starting out. I will not only refer to the above issues, I will also consider procrastination, the ability to choose the correct staff, and time management. These and other challenges impact directly on accurate decision-making, which is so critical in those early stages when you cannot afford mistakes.

However, if there is one core mistake that I see repeated by so many CEOs from the outset it is that they try to do things by themselves. For reasons of pride or maybe they are too embarrassed to ask or possibly becasue they do not know any better, they seek to act (and rule) on their own. If they would just open their eyes, that should never be the case.

The fact is that any commercial organisation is dependent on a bank, accountant, suppliers and more. Further, fewe of us are experts in all of these fields. And when you factor in additional demands of each individual set up, this creates pressure on the CEO. If they cannot manage, what is the solution?

A business mentor (or consultant) guides you through those initial stages, challenging you to ask the right questions and to seek out alternatives. They provide a strong and valuable shoulder to lean on.

I admit that this sounds self-promoting, but just consider my new prospect. Just as a result of our phone conversations, they have already begun to set up new controls and take a different approach to a core service provider. These moves will significantly improve the running of operations.

There is nothing wrong in asking for help in business, even if you are a CEO, and especially when you at the beginning of your commercial dream. Actually, it is oh-so the right thing to do.

Reviewing Israel’s hightech economy, November 2017

Having been away from my desk for much of the past two weeks, it has been an interesting experience taking a peak out at how the Israeli economy has been performing. The bottom line is that despite the enforced rudderless approach of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the numbers are still looking healthy. How and why?

Primarily, tax collections continue to be way ahead of expected levels. This is enabling the government to hand back around 15 billion shekels through reduced corporation and individual taxation, without impacting on the deficit. Foreign currency reserves continue to improve, while the levels of car imports – an indicative sign of consumer confidence – remain high. The customary issues of non-involvement of the ultra-orthodox Haredim in the workforce and also sectorial restrictive practices remain as unwanted abnormalities, but still the economy grows.

It is the high-tech sector that is leading the growth. Multinational car manufacturers such as Toyota and Seat are continuing to source their latest techs in the Holy Land. Start-ups are raising much larger sums that ever before. And Corephotonics is even suing Apple for alleged infringement over its lens tech.

The story of the week for me belongs to Compass. It has raised US$100m, effectively doubling its valuation to  to around US$1.8 billion. Founded in 20,13 by Dr. Uri Alon and Robert Rifkin, the company now employs around 3,000 people in Israel and in the USA. In a nutshell, Compass provides a tech platform to enhance the buying and selling of real estate, a product that has been around for thousands of years.

The message here is clear. The Prime Minister has not created an impression on the economy, but entrepreneurs are not waiting for him to emerge from the welter of police investigations. In parallel, the Finance Minister seems inhibited by the weightings of coalition policy, but there is no reliance on significant change. For me, local innovation is overriding the meanderings of the typical Israeli politician in Jerusalem.

Palestinian economy; and the good news is…….

The World Bank’s latest report on the Palestinian economy points describes 2% growth rate in Gaza, trying to support an unemployment rate of over 40%. Clearly this is unsustainable. What can be done?

The recent moves of reconciliation between Hamas and  the Palestinian Authority (PA) offer some hope. According to Doron Peskin from Concordmena, The agreement should lead to an extra US$165 m of support from the UAE. This will be in addition to the current annual payments of:

  • US$140 m from Iran
  • US$120m from the PA, primarily for salaries and electricity
  • US$100m from Qatar
  • US$50m from Turkey

Tax revenues are rarely revealed but Hamas leaders clearly find a way to finance their own lavish life styles, assumedly from willing local contributions.

Clearly all of these amounts are fickle. For example, the UAE contribution is apparently dependent on former Gaza bully and aspiring successor to President Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, being handed some level of power in the territory. So, what other revenue sources can emerge?

One possibility is the extraction of the estimated 32 billion cubic meters of national gas just off its coast line. There are rumours that an agreement has been signed with a Greek developer and a contractor called CCC. However, concrete details remain sketchy.

A second source of relief could come from “impact investing“. For example:

A project to produce tablets for schoolchildren and their parents, a company that reduces the need for pesticides, an IT development centre in a crisis-ridden location and a bond to fight type 2 diabetes….They are all cited by investors and entrepreneurs as examples of impact investments in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Yet again, the question remains if political stability will allow enough such entrepreneurs to come forth? There are already reports of the PA arresting Hamas representatives.

Another angle could be a hoped for relaxation of central control of the Palestinian economy. One small indication of change is entrance of a second mobile provider in Gaza. The hope is that prices will drop, service will improve, and thus improved corporate taxation will allow the exchequer to benefit.

The reality is that Gaza needs open borders with its neighbours. This is unlikely to happen so long as Hamas considers Israel to be a pariah state and wages war against it. This policy was most clearly indicated last week, when the Israeli army destroyed a tunnel from Gaza. Those Palestinian soldiers killed had crossed the border, underground. (It should also be noted that it takes considerable investment and raw materials to construct such tunnels.)

The unfortunate bottom line is that the Palestinian leaderships can always blame Israel for their woes. With a willing international community and a supportive set of UN institutions, this stance absolves them from any form of responsibility. Hoorah!

And meanwhile most people in Gaza will continue to be dependent on handouts.

Coaching and leadership – the workplace and at home

In a brilliant article in the Harvard Business Review “turning potential into success“, the three authors succinctly detail why so many large companies fail to nurture a culture of leadership development.

The paper details eight levels of competence that an organisation may look for in a potential leader, the importance of each variable depending on the type of business in question. Crucially, each variable is then measured against four additional factors: curiosity, determination, engagement and insight.

With this information, the paper discusses how to turn potential leaders into the true drivers of their companies. As they note from one survey, only 13% of executives have confidence in their own rising leaders.

I suppose the reasons for this are many. They can include:

  • lack of training
  • lack of ability in the top levels to perceive the talent just underneath them
  • a desire to maintain power – to keep control of the existing hierarchy

A fourth factor is what I call ‘the benevolent dictator’ syndrome. That is when a ruler – a.k.a. a top executive – is dominant. He or she believes that only they can do things properly, and that includes most tasks. Assignments have to be carried out their way, as it is for the best, at least according to their logic. They cannot let go. They have to be involved in all aspects.

This is a process I see so often during my mentoring and coaching in Jerusalem, Israel. Yes, sometimes the same top CEOs do possess genuine and multiple skills for running a corporate. However, their overall outlook stifles, if not crushes, innovation. An employee will cease to question, as their motivation has been destroyed.

And the ironic result? Quite often more work and confusion is created. The dictator fails to appreciate all the angles of the project, and there is nobody to update them.

What so many of us fail to appreciate is that we often become that proverbial dictator back in our own homes. For me though there is a subtle difference. Up to 6.00pm, clock out time, the pain can be measured in the lack of growth in the corporate’s bottom line. In your own house, the fall out can be heartbreaking.

When you need to let go of a valued client

Frequently, one of my first requests as a business mentor is to help my client ‘sort out’ one of their own customers. And the reality is that this is a customer that they do not need. Thus my issue becomes one of explaining why they need to let go of something that is supposedly the proverbial jewel in the crown.

In a classic case study a few years ago, I was asked by my client in Jerusalem to meet with his customer. The aim was to convince them to keep working with my client and to pay a higher price. And as the discussion progress, it was clearly evident that the customer had no loyalty to my client. For him, it was a cheap ride.

The core of the problem was that my client has made the classic mistake. He had been so determined to take on the customer that he had ignored some basic rules of running a business. And as he himself knew only too well, you cannot get away with that play too often.

However, there is the opposite scenario. What happens when your customer starts out as a ‘fat fish’, but implodes? Typically, this arises in a long-standing situation. Personnel on both sides may change. The deliverables alter, even if this has not been officially documented. Externalities, such as regulatory issues, creep in. Maybe the remuneration becomes fixed for too long.

In other words, the joy of that once special relationship has evaporated, and without both sides comprehending how or when. Such a situation is known as the ‘golden cage’ scenario. It looks like a great deal for one or the other side – maybe both – but actually you are trapped.

This is a story that many of my clients face. One area where it comes up is in support services for digital media. Payment is determined by a fixed number of monthly hours. However, these are rarely sufficient. The work is carried out and the revenue seems healthy. At the same time, my client wakes up to the fact that they have less resources for more lucrative contracts. Ouch!

It is at this point, where a business mentor steps in and forces the service provider to answer a painful question. Is the effort truly worthwhile? And the determining factor may not just be financial reward. Other elements, such as brand creation, interest, training of juniors, and more may come into play. Yet, whatever the issue, hard decisions do need to be made.

And sometimes you just have to let go, for the peace of mind of both sides.

(Dedicated to my mother, who passed away this week).

When the business mentor practices what he preaches

Yes, there are differences between a business mentor, business coach and a business consultant. And yesterday I was offered a wonderful opportunity to illustrate them.

I was asked to deliver a presentation near Tel Aviv to the 9th Annual gathering of the Israel Small and Medium Sized Business Association. It was a surprisingly wide variety of 700 people. For me, one of the highlights was the panel featuring Jamilia Hier, a Druze lady whose soaps are now sold in dozens of countries around the world.

Jamilia started from next-to-nothing, in a society that does not necessarily enhance the status of women. As she explained to a captivated audience, 95% of her staff are female. And she employs Druze, Christians, Jews and Muslims, and nobody checks to see who is who.

My own talk featured six key reasons why people should seriously think about engaging a business mentor, as a person who sees what is not said or is overlooked. This outlook is neatly surmised in the following two questions:

“What is the question that you do not wish a business mentor to ask you,……and why”?

Yes, a mentor is a person who sets out to challenge; to drive beyond the accepted boundaries. He looks for an entrepreneurial spirit.

In contrast a business coach, can be compared to a sporting analogy. He is looking to improve core skills. And the consultant has a more hands-on role, often becoming involved in the decision making process.

Preparing the presentation proved an interesting challenge. Most of my work is with those who were born in English speaking countries, usually in the Jerusalem region. This time, I was confronted by a more natural Israeli audience, where a Jerusalemnite was the rare exception.

So, I had to mentor myself by considering: –

  • What was going to be the wow factor?
  • What is the hook to the main point?
  • What would make them laugh?
  • How could I deliver something new?
  • What would be the closing punch line, and how to deliver it?

It was a fascinating process. In each instance, the differences were not huge, but subtle and important enough to force me to change my patter. And I had to practice, repeatedly, my delivery, exactly as I encourage my clients to do so.

If there is one tip I can leave you with, it is as follows. The talks that appeared to be more successful – and I hope that includes mine – included a personal element. The presenters hid the boring commercial message behind a story that contained human insight.

Guess what? In those cases, I believe that fewer people in the audience were “just checking their mobile phones…..yet again”.

The CEO, the business mentor, and time management

The cliché logic runs as follows. “I am the CEO. Therefore, I am important. Therefore, I know everything. And thus I am busy all the time and have to be busy all the time.”

This phrase seems to be particularly true in Jerusalem, where I have many clients. And as their business mentor and coach, I constantly strive to fight the false links in their thinking and actions. However, this begs the questions: What is the optimum amount of time that a CEO should be pouring into his / her business and in what manner?

I want to use three anecdotes that I have picked up just recently that together make a very powerful generic point for us all.

First, let me recall an interview featuring both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Watch it here, as Buffet reveals a half-empty diary. And he makes the point that he can buy almost anything he wants. However, he cannot buy time!

Next and unusually for me, I find myself quoting the actor Ashton Kutcher. No longer just a star of sit-com, he has made several successful investments in the world of high-tech. This is his secret as to why he has time for most things:

When I wake up…I spend the first hour of my work not looking at email, and actually just writing out what it is that I want to accomplish in a given day. And then before I go through my emails, I’ll do all my outgoing, outbound stuff, which is what I want everyone else to do for me. And then I’ll go and get reactive to whatever’s going on.

Finally, I was totally struck by an article in the Harvard Business Review, which surmarised the research of 1,000 successful CEOs from six different countries.

On average, about one-quarter of CEOs’ days are spent alone, including sending emails. Another 10% is spent on personal matters, and 8% is spent traveling. The remainder (56%) is spent with at least one other person, which mostly involves meetings, most of which are planned ahead of time. About one-third of the time CEOs spend with others is one-on-one; two-thirds is with more than one other person. (This data includes a CEO’s entire workday, not just time in the office.)

For me, the takeaway message is that just because you are a CEO does not mean you have to be 120% busy, 130% of the time. Thinking and strategizing are just as paramount. These create leadership and management skills that are to be valued, even more than an ability to be a road runner.

Hate negotiating? Try this tactic

So, me, business mentor and coach in the Jerusalem area, had to enter some quick, hard core, negotiations the other day. I could see it coming up. I had prepared my tactics in advance.

When it comes to negotiating, many people just cringe back with the very thought. It touches on all their vulnerable emotions. I used to be in that category. Nowadays, I play the game very differently.

The background was ostensibly straight forward. My wife and I needed the help of a third party in order to carry out some necessary work on the household. The unofficial guidelines used to say that the fee was  – let us call it – 10%. We had done our homework, and we knew that the market allowed for as low as 2.5%.

After the general chit-chat, the moment of truth drew upon both sides, ourselves, junior salesperson (JS) and senior salesperson (SS). Nothing was going to happen, until we had signed a paper saying 10%, or otherwise.

My wife opened the bidding. Softly and encouraging, she argued that the market rates demanded a figure lower than 10%. She was politely rebuffed by SJ. She pleaded again, and again firmly but politely she was told that a lower fee would not be possible.

My wife than upped the emotional talk. She announced that she was prepared to sign, but felt she was being made a fool of. To that, SS jumped in. He assured us that we had the backing of his whole team and this was of considerable value to the project. To be blunt, this is an extended version of the gambit called “blame the higher authority”.  In other words, I do not make up the rules, and therefore YOU have to agree to them.

It was only at that stage, once both of our opponents had played their best cards, did I step in. I initially played to their ego, saying that I was sure they had heard all the excuses in the past, to which they agreed.  I let them know that I am a business consultant, and I can argue their side just as eloquently as they can. I also reminded them that they too are familiar with market conditions.

Bottom line, as I said to them, stop fobbing us off with irrelevant comments, that superficially appear so compelling.

In effect, we were hoping to save ourselves a lot of money by applying three rules:

  • Formulating an effective tactic in advance.
  • Letting them assume they are winning
  • Not blinking when you do not have to.

In the end, both parties compromised in the middle.  In other words, we won.

Discovering the strength of Israel’s economy

Historically, this is the quiet season for Israel’s economy, as the country is in the midst of a three-week season of festivals, eating and time off work. Trying to fix a meeting during this period is near impossible. And yet, the spread of positive economic news from the Holy Land continues to be wide and encouraging.

What follows are five tasters, representing the various key strengths of the Israeli economy.

At a macro level, cash flow is far better than planned.

The tax collection surplus (in September 2017) pushed the budget deficit for the past 12 months down to just 1.9% of GDP. Expenditure by the government’s civilian ministries has risen by 8.6% since the start of the year, compared with a planned rise of 8.9% and defense expenditure rose by 6.4%.

Much of the additional revenue has come about as a result of taxation of large profits or high-tech exits.

And whilst regular readers will know of my criticisms of the Israeli government for failing to tackle structural issues, on one subject I must applaud.

There are currently around 270,000 skilled people employed in the high-tech sector, say around 8.3% of salaried employees in a country of just over 8 million people. The Innovation Authority has just published a working paper to double that number within a decade. This will help to service amongst others the 307 r&d centres of overseas conglomerates, and thus encourage others to join them.

Moving on, Forescout intends to raise US$100 million on NASDAQ, presenting a company valuation of around US$1.5 billion. This is yet another example of Israel’s strength in the financial and cyber security commercial space. It is interesting to note that J.P. Morgan are to underwrite the offering, considering that the bank’s chairman recently visited the country, openly seeking new opportunities.

On a totally different level, I noticed that Global Village, the new VC fund of Zuckerberg, Bezos, Magic Johnson, et al, will also look to pick out Israeli start ups. The aim of the fund is to provide a link between key entrepreneurs across the globe. Israel will now be an official  part of that eco-system.

And finally, my reading drew me to the attention of MySize, traded on both NASDAQ and the Tel Aviv stock exchanges. The company was originally founded by Dr. Erez Morag. When he was at Nike, he worked with some of the world’s leading sportspersons, including Roger Federer (tennis) and the Brazilian footballer, Ronaldo, ensuring that the equipment was fine-tuned to the last gram, literally. Morag’s company offers the consumer an opportunity to measure themselves or other elements to ensure that shopping is a much more accurate and thus more successful task.

Individually, these anecdotal highlights are fascinating at best. As a collective, they present the true vibrancy of the economy in Israel. Those who miss it or boycott it or turn their back on it, do so at their peril.

If Israel is for the many, why is its government only looking after the few?

Yesterday, I witnessed a wonderful sight in Israel. A leading team of civil servants from Washington toured a public institution in central Jerusalem. They were impressed by the skill-set of the employees, the passion of the core management, and the deep level of coexistence both from the side of the receivers and those who delivered the sophisticated services.

The Americans concurred. They had rarely seen such professionalism and all round devotion in their site visits in dozens of other countries. And for me, this microcosm of a story represents what is true about so many other parts of life in the Holy Land. Below the radar of the international media and despite all the shouting in the Mediterranean heat, people really try to get on, whatever their background.

However, more and more, I feel the one key exception to this is the government itself.

Just look at these three incidents:

First, this week all the ministers turned up for a vote, which would allow them to install political friends more readily in key public sector jobs. At the same time, one of the saddest annual ceremonies was taking place, a memorial service for those who fell in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Apparently, the government was not represented at the event, a major break in protocol and an insult to those bereaved families.

Second, for months there has been an effort to promote a parliamentary bill that would restrict how Israeli companies sell financial binary options. It is public knowledge for over a year that many of the companies are fronting a scam. So, the question is why was an already watered down piece of proposed legislation, designed to regulate the industry, opposed in August 2017 by Netanyahu’s Likud, the main component in the coalition government?

As an online newspaper reported: “… family prominently involved in SpotOption are leaders of the Georgian faction of the Likud Central Committee”. (To dummy that down – that means votes and money). A few weeks later, to what I assume was the embarrassment of Jerusalem, the FBI arrested an Israeli CEO, who leads an options company. And this week, Canada banned the industry, as Israel continues to drag its feet (and thus people lose their savings).

Third, there has been the most disgraceful handling of state support for hundreds of thousands of people with physical impediments. It has been known for ages that these people receive less money than the minimum wage, and that is despite the fact that many require expensive medicines and equipment. Proposals to change the system were effectively parried by the Prime Minister. For months, there have been spontaneous demonstrations by the handicapped, blocking key road junctions. The police were powerless and the government’s efforts were reflected in its inertia.

Last week, after the head of the Trade Unions’ movement intervened, an agreement was reached following 24 hours of talks. What had it all taken so long? Why did these people need to be treated so humiliatingly by those who sit in power?

It would be easy for me at this stage to consider how these three instances reflect a method of governance by the few for their own select few. It would be even easier to compare that thought with what I had seen during the visit of the American officials. Here, we saw professionals actively looking embrace a culture of inclusiveness.

However, there is worse. And it needs to be said.

The police are currently involved with at least five files that concern directly or indirectly the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu:

  • His wife is about to be charged with abusing the public purse –  inflating private expenses and then receiving reimbursement from the Treasury.
  • His own lawyer (and relative) and other associates are linked with an investigation where they may have received kickbacks for securing the purchase from Germany of a submarine, which the military may not even have required.
  • His former Chief of Staff, Ari Harrow, is being charged with bribery and fraud.
  • He is being investigated for receiving gifts in exchange for political favours.
  • He is being investigated for manipulating the press.

Jews around the globe are about to commence the festival of Succot, the Tabernacles. A core theme is that families and friends come together in booths (Succot), leaving aside for a week the mundane matters of the world.

For too long, the Israeli government – and especially its core leaders – has left aside vast swathes of society. Their raison d’étre appears to be: let us govern in a manner so that we and our friends can stay in power. And thus it is the few well-connected members of society who benefit, as the others have to make do with the crumbs thrown at them.

I do not know who is or is not guilty of what in those five investigations. I do understand the common theme between the first three issues. And thus it is easy for me to find the moral link between the two sets of stories. Sadly, I find this totally repugnant.

Running a business: Why hide your strength?

I spot it in people’s eyes at their first meeting with me as their business coach and mentor. The look says: Give me that quite fix, right now, so all my problems will just vanish.

I came to think about this, when I was reading about repentance. Tomorrow, Jews all over the world celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. For 25 hours, you fast, pray, and maybe sleep a lot.

In Hebrew, the correct term is ‘teshuva’, which can be translated as return. It is a mechanism to return to a manner of moral purity, where T = 0 (if you want). And as Rabbi Ari Kahn points out, citing a religious text, this is performed by using our inner power to rediscover the meaning of the Torah, the Jewish law.

In a talk that I am preparing for a conference in Israel, I will be discussing how I can spot something incredibly obvious in a client’s organisation, although they are blind to the issue. I may not understand their processes or technology, but I can see a fault glaring out at everyone. Why me? Because that is my skill set. However, the question is why can they not see what is happening?

The answer lies in applying (or not) that inner strength’ which I referred to previously. In our daily lives, we are so busy running around the immediate that we do not allow ourselves time to take on those tough subjects, which are often critical. We do not challenge ourselves to manage in depth what needs to done, especially when an “über-type” fix is not apparently available to us. Here are two examples:

I was recently asked to analyse some financial reports for a young company. A couple of hours later, I had a very good understanding of a problem that the client had been grudgingly prepared to admit existed, but had done precious to rectify for a long time. They had put off the matter, until it really began to stop them from making core decisions.

From a different perspective, I met up this morning with a fellow and younger runner. He is concerned about how the sport negatively impacts on his body, but had not done very much about it. I explained what steps I had taken about similar health issues. He really wanted a fix, but again had not looked too far.

I explained how I have been training and how I have bought specific equipment. The result is that I have run just what he wants to run, for all the difference in years.

Finding an “inner strength” to take on difficult, maybe scary, tasks is not easy. Some set aside time and concentrate. For me, it is often a process that takes place over time. However, all of us have that ability to change ourselves and to change our lives, and thus to change our businesses.

About a year ago, I saw a posting on Facebook about a father who ran a long race, while pushing his 10 year old handicapped son in a pram. Just before the finish line, the child forced his parent to stop. The young kid struggled out of his pram and walked or hobbled or stumbled the last 50 meters by himself. Heart breaking, but somehow he dug the will out of himself to do so,

And so can we.

The Israeli economy starts its new year, in September

The Jewish calendar ends up placing its new year around about the second or third week of September. In Israel, a country of 8.7 million people of whom 75% are Jewish, this is always a time for reflection on changes in its economy.

According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics in Jerusalem:

  • The average income per household stands at 18,671 nis ($5,300) a month before taxes, one of the leaders in the region.
  • Most Israelis own their homes, with 67.6% living in an apartment they own and 39.9% paying mortgage.
  • 88% of Israelis said they were very satisfied or satisfied with their lives. Some 1.1 million (21%) feel stressed always or often. 34% said they have a hard time covering their monthly expenses.

Moving from the individual to the national level, there seems to have been a downturn in the growth figures in the second quarter of 2017. However, given the low rate of unemployment (under 5%) and the encouraging performance of exports. growth for 2017 should still come in at around a healthy 3%.

So where are the weaknesses?

First of all, much of the growth is led by a continued sharp expansion in personal consumption. There was a 6.5% in the last quarter alone. In laymen’s terms this means that the economy is being powered by the consumer and not by the creation of new wealth (through production).

Next, vested interests still dominate key sectors of the economy. I have written in the past about how the powerful unions at the docks ensure that the costs of imports are forced upwards. This week an exposure on the cost of kosher authorisation determined that this was a 2.4 billion nis annual ‘market’ (US$0.7 billion). This includes the supervision of slaughter houses, restaurants, imports and much more.

The key players here are the various rabbinical houses in the public sector or those affiliated with political parties. There is a strong whiff of ‘jobs for the boys’. A relatively new orthodox organisation called Tsohar is trying to challenge these closed practices. If it were to succeed, this could allow food prices to drop by anything up to 10%.

And finally there are the 120 members of the Kenesset, the Israeli Parliament. If you are not a minister, you are allocated a budget of 94,000 nis annually to do what you want, so long as it helps connect you with potential voters. However, there is no law that says you have to detail where that money goes. And if you are one of the few, like Miki Zohar, who overspent, there are no emphatic sanctions.

Thus, individual parliamentarians spend tens of thousands of shekels on Facebook advertising, sms announcements, surveys, entertainment and much more. A near carte blanche, where there is little transparency. It is like clerks in a company having ready access to the petty cash box.

And as we all know, except for those who do not want to admit it, when the petty cash box becomes open territory, the rest of the establishment becomes the victim in all kinds of other ways. A pathetic slippery slope. Sad for the other 8.7 million people.

Bidding all my readers a SHANA TOVA and a happy new year.

A most noble “Afternoon tea in Jerusalem”

A SPECIAL guest in Israel last week was Roderick Lord Balfour, who is the fifth Earl of Balfour. He was here for the From Balfour to Brexit conference, which was held at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem (in honour of the late Sir Naim Dangoor.)

At a dinner on the first night of the conference, Balfour, who has a delicious sense of humor, said that he’d been overwhelmed by the number of selfies for which he had been asked to pose, and then told of his first visit to Israel in the mid-1990s. A friend was driving him around, and he told his friend that he had an appointment and gave him the address. The friend did not immediately put two and two together, and when the car drew up outside the President’s Residence, the friend asked him if he was sure he had the right address. Balfour replied that indeed he did and that he was having afternoon tea with the president, who happened to be Ezer Weizman, the nephew of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, who had influenced Balfour’s ancestor Arthur James Balfour.

The younger scions of the Balfour and Weizman dynasties were having a great time talking on many subjects, when their conversation was interrupted by a phone call. The president excused himself, saying: “I would like to talk to you all afternoon, but there’s this new Prime Minister Netanyahu, who’s not behaving very well, and I’ve to call to tell him he must do something, because he’s not running the country well.” The revelation was met with howls of laughter.

(As reported by Greer Fay Cashman in the Jerusalem Post: