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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Is Israel so bad, asks Jack Ma

Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, has described Israel as “incredible“, a very neat follow up to a recent post, where the question was posed “what makes Israel so different?”.

I raise the issue because this week the Holy Land is yet again forced to defend itself against its verbal protagonists. The Israeli act is one of the leading contenders in the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be screened this week to hundreds of millions of people globally. Those haters of the Jewish State from the BDS campaign are reportedly targeting the event, demanding a boycott of Israeli culture.

I do not intend to spend yet more time, explaining why BDS is so segregationist. Certainly, its proponents spend little time on the evils of North Korea or elsewhere. What is of more interest is how Israel is having such a positive role in the world’s commercial and cultural life. Just look at this series of events, all news items over the past few days.

  1. Giro d’Italia. For the first time, part of this magnificent race was held outside Europe, hosted for three days this month in Israel. 175 riders competed from 22 teams. The exposure of hundreds of journalists, as well as the TV scheduling into millions of homes in cycing enthusiasts was a phenomenal achievement.
  2. Whisky Live, Tel Aviv. For the fourth time, Tel Aviv played host to numerous distilleries from Scotland. Israel is proving to be a small but growing part of their export industry, as imports have risen over 300% in the last five years.
  3. Also coming to Israel is a Beetle, Ringo Starr. He has just added a second date to his June schedule in Tel Aviv.
  4. Arriving in Israel this week are the delegates to Israel’s premier Agritech exhibition. Israel is a country with over 750 start ups in the agri-food sector. No wonder that there will be representatives from over 100 countries, which means several are based in places which do not recognise Israel officially.
  5. Frutarom is an Israeli company that has sought to grow through acquisitions. Now the boot is on the other foot, as International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. jumped into a rush of dealmaking in the food-flavoring industry, agreeing to buy Israel’s Frutarom Industries Ltd.for $7.1 billion including debt.
  6. And for the last item, I run off to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. The authorities have agreed to issue visas to Israeli tourists, a complete slap in the face for BDS.

I have not had time to mention the three embassies that are about to move to Jerusalem.  And so the list goes on.

By the way, if for one moment you thought that all of these changes only applied to one sector of the population, I caution you. Just see who are the prime buyers in the new luxury car market in Israel!

3 amazingly useful postings for small businesses

I often have the feeling that when I sit down with a client for a session of business mentoring or coaching, they seem to expect that I am going to click my fingers and their worries will disappear into cupboard – just like in a Mary Poppins film. Add in the magical spiritual air of Jerusalem, where my office is located, and surely it has to be as simple as that?

They may sound a little arrogant, but that is how life can appear from my side of the table. Naturally, the truth is very different. However, what I do like is to post occasionally on twitter eminently helpful blogs from alternative sources that can inspire the CEOs of the small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs), who form an integral part of my working day.

What follows are three typical examples of what I mean:

Let us start with Facebook. First, the scope of this medium often escapes leaders of SMEs. They do not have time for the game. As I am used to hearing, cash flow and problem solving come first. What they are missing was succinctly explained to me yesterday by an Israeli expert in just one case study. By carefully defining the target market and launching a new video, he has provided over a dozen quality leads for a single Jerusalem restaurant in less than a month.

The changing rules of social media in 2018 were set out in a blog by Adam Hutchinson a couple of weeks ago. “Share all” on face book or a few extra stats no longer cut it. Paid ads, although the “P” word can sound painful to those on a tight budget, are the clever and brave way to go.

My second pick comes from Spencer Waldron, one of Israel’s marketing gurus. He has just written a worringly obvious blog entitled “6 storytelling mistakes to avoid“. As I commented back to him, what concerns me is the fact that while none of the points are spectacularly new, business leader after business leader repeat these faux pas. After all how many of us set off for a conference, expecting to be delivered a sleeping pill?

Here lies a clear takeaway for a business owner. Whether in a one-on-one session or addressing a larger audience, have something interesting and personable to say. Ensure that you stand out!

Finally, there is that well-worn adage that we must expect to fail in order to succeed. It is astounding how many people think that the opposite of success is failure, when that linkage only applies in a narrow context. Nick Foles, who led the Eagles to victory in the Superbowl, took the subject of failure one notch higher in a post match interview.

When you look at a struggle in life, that is just an opportunity for your character to grow…..If something is going on in your life, embrace it.

Just about every owner of a small organisation knows that leading and managing present a wealth of daily challenges. It is tough. However, as Noles has demonstrated, that is your very chance to do your best and to triumph.

Israel’s economy doing well, and here’s why

Exports jumped 6% in 2017. Inflation hovers at around 1%. Unemployment remains low at under 5%. GDP growth pushes 3% or more. These are great overall indicators for the Israeli economy.

It is not too difficult to find stories of good news about what is happening in Israel vis-a-vis commerce and industry. For example, last week Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Chairman of the Board of Mitsubishi Corporation, Ken Kobayashi at Davos. According to the press release afterwards:

Israel is a major player on Mitsubishi’s map and added that they are now starting to consider investments in cyber and other areas. He noted that he intends to send a delegation to Israel soon in order to evaluate possibilities for investment and cooperation.

Looking at investments, 2017 was an excellent year. The US$5.2 billion figure represents a 9% upturn on 2016. Interestingly, Israeli venture capital was at its highest level since 2013.

Specific sectors are recording some spectacular growth.  “420 Israel-based cybersecurity companies raised $815 million in 2017, up 28% from 2016.” In the medical arena, 13 of the most significant breakthroughs of 2017 were based in Israel, as reported by Tom Gross.

However, what I find most encouraging is the continuing development of the Jerusalem economy and how it strives to become more pluralistic. Labs/02, a startup incubator operated by Jerusalem-based equity crowdfunding company OurCrowd Management Ltd., plans to invest in around 100 early stage startups.

More significantly for me is how more and more Arabs are gradually integrating into the greater economic basin of the capital city. According to Bloomberg, this is one of the prime reasons why there was relative calm in the Jerusalem following President Trump’s recent declaration on the Middle East. While everything may not be perfect as yet, salary gaps are narrowing.

It is this acceptance and transparency that is at the heart of the success of the concept of the start-up nation. Unfortunately, and in contrast, American diplomats were violently chased away yesterday from a meeting held at the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.

Once Israel’s neighbours learn mutual acceptance and embrace it in full, then peoples of all backgrounds will be the direct beneficiaries.

The art of setting up a new business: Making the impossible possible

Over the next few weeks, I have been asked to give several talks in the Jerusalem area on the theme of setting up a new business. And as I have put together the presentations, one strong central theme comes through. Can you make the impossible possible?

Psychologists teach us that starting anything new is not easy. However much you plan ahead – market strategy, cash flow, team recruitment, et al – a new enterprise is full of unknowns. One single unforeseen event, such as an unexpected change in government policy or a new local competitor, and all that prior effort could be seen as irrelevant. Time to give up?

Well, not necessarily. This is when we are all required to recall the theory of “the second wind”. Yes it really does exist. Coined by William James and described in fascinating terms by Maria Popova, we can learn how to transcend our perceived limits.

Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake… We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.

There is a sporting equivalent. Matthew Syed, writing this week in the Times of London, discussed how we can become so much stronger, almost ironically, at the moment when adversity is striking us (literally?) in the face. Arguably like a new commercial enterprise, Syed states that:

When you walk into an arena, you are naked. If you have weaknesses, they are likely to be exposed. If your resolve is lacking steel, it is likely to fray just when you need it most.

Syed goes on to cite specific cases of sporting heroes who initially dived, such as Andy Murray who was humiliated by Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2012. And Michael Jordan made a video of his defeats, so that he could succeed even faster.

As a business coach and mentor, I am often called in by those, whose ventures are struggling in their initial stages. I find that very often, they know what needs to be done to alter course towards achievement, but they lack that extra layer of confidence. I would suspect that some call this resilience. And that is where an outside voice can show them that they have what it takes.

However, they have to learn to dig oh so deep to find it. That is the point when they stop allowing the seemingly impossible to get in their way and when the business begins to thrive.

Setting yourself a goal for the new year

The first week of 2018 has been a challenging one for my clients. Several of those who have braved to venture into my office in Jerusalem have been forced to come up with some specific targets for the coming twelve months….and then create an action plan to reach the goal. Not so simple as it sounds.

While this is a fairly common strategy for us business mentors and coaches, I was prompted into enforcing this line approach by two very different items that came my way recently. First, Dr. Robert Brooks wrote a fascinating piece, arguing that it is never too late to set ourselves challenges. Although he did not say so, I could add this is something we should be able to apply as managers and business owners.

And then I was privileged to watch an mazing documentary entitled “Impossible Dreamers”. It revealed how pensioners in the USA, right into their 90s, wake up every morning to run, walk, or swim competitively. They seek to break records every time they hit their sporting arena.

Back in my office, I have offered these inspiring stories to my clients. Set a target. If the target is too timid, I encourage them to raise it significantly. No excuses permitted.

What is interesting to observe is the frequent push back that I receive. It is a sense of panic, almost as if they have been “instructed” or conditioned never to go beyond what others had once defined as acceptable. Yes, you could have once cast me in that category as well.

A typical objection is the ‘what if’ statement. What if I reach that extra level of sales, then this, that and the other bad thing will happen. Of course they might be right, but I explain to them that those problems can be solved downstream, not today. Either you stay where you are with low sales and thus poor profits but relative safety – the proverbial comfort zone, or you can move upwards. CHOOSE!

To be practical, let me suggest the following four steps. First, identify what income you really want to take out of your business. Second, calculate those sales that are required to drive that income. Third, create the resource model – staff, hours, advertising, etc – that will deliver your target. If the business model is sound, investing in additional equipment or whatever should not be a problem.

Finally….do not be put off by the challenges involved. Only you are the one who can define the meaning of the word “possible”. May 2018 be a year of success, health and happiness for you and those around you.