Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

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.

Yesterday, I reported on Jerusalem’s miraculous economic turn around. As for Israel’s national economy, well:

  • Over 50% of the country is a desert, and yet it is a high-tech powerhouse.
  • The country was born in a geopolitical mess and has remained there ever since.
  • The electorate is burned by an over zealous political system, now facing its third general election within 12 months.

Now get this:

As reported by Bloomberg, the Tel Aviv stock market rose to a record high this week.

The TA-35 … extended its increase in the past 12 months to 15%. The benchmark is mostly composed of financial, health care and real estate companies, and Israel’s is the only equity market in the Middle East classified as developed by major index compilers.
……. A combination of low interests rate and optimism over economic growth is helping stocks, analysts said.

Eyal Dabby is the head of equity research at Bank Leumi Le-Israel in Tel Aviv.

GDP is expected to grow above 3%, and inflation is very low. Unemployment is also at the lowest level. It is a strong economy with fair pricing and very low interest rates. The combination of all these parameters is supportive for the equity market…..It is difficult to predict what will be the exact market performance in 2020, but if nothing special happens, especially in the U.S., to which the Israeli market is highly correlated, the equity market could continue to deliver between 8%-10% gains on average.

These statements come on the back of a very strong year for the high-tech sector in Israel.

The total value of Israeli exits in 2019 reached $21.7 billion in 138 deals including the $6.9 billion acquisition of Mellanox by Nvidia, which is still subject to closing. This figure is up sharply from $12.6 billion in 2018. The total value of exits of up to $5 billion in 2019 was the highest ever, with $14.84 billion in 2019, compared with $12.63 billion in 2018.

Now imagine if there had been a stable and effective government in power for the past 18 months. Would that have improved things even further?

Freezing cold in late January in Jerusalem. The threat of snow is in the air. And nearly 50 of the world’s biggest leaders have descended on the city in order to honour the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

As traffic snarls up to ensure clear passage for the celebs, all around them a major economic transformation is in process. The Jerusalem economy is emerging from its slumbers, previously branded as a city for religious tourists – Jewish or otherwise – and civil servants. Jerusalem is moving towards Palo Alto, so to speak.

Mobileye may be a one-off story, the proverbial commercial unicorn rising out of the holy city, but it does represent the start of something new. It was purchased for over US$15 billion dollars by Intel. It had planned a 30 floor high HQ in Jerusalem.  It has since decided “to amend the NIS 950 million ($274 million) plan for a more modest group of five buildings, each nine stories high…”

About five kilometers away are the offices of Our Crowd. Their rapid rise to success as arguably the most successful global investment crowd funding platform has ironically paralleled the rise to fame of Mobileye. Next month, they will hold their annual event in Jerusalem.

Their press release today points out that: –

OurCrowd reports that 32 of the startups presenting at the past four summits had an exit or IPO within 12 months. The 2019 OurCrowd Summit featured 7 startups that later exited, including:

Beyond Meat: Biggest IPO in a decade, May 2019
Magisto: Acquired by Vimeo for $100 million, April 2019
Wave: acquired in June 2019 by H&R Block
Prior years’ Summit featured many startups that later exited, including:

Jump Bikes 2018, acquired by Uber two months later
Briefcam 2018, acquired by Canon six months later
Invertex 2017, acquired by Nike three months later
Mobileye 2017, acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion two months later
Crosswise 2016, acquired by Oracle three months later
Replay 2016, acquired by Intel two months later

Oded Barel of the Jerusalem Development Authority has also listed some of the investment highlights of 2019, featuring local corporates on the go. For example:

  • 🦄 Lightricks raised $135M and became a unicorn. If that wasn’t enough, it also won both Apple’s and Google’s best app of 2019 awards.
  • 👁️ Orcam’s MyEye has been selected as one of Time Magazine’s best innovations.
  • 🏡 Hometalk raised $15M to expand their DIY content platform.
    🧠 CNVRG raised $8M to expand to NYC and help enterprises adopt machine-learning.
  • 🚗 C2A raised $6.5M to develop its end-to-end cybersecurity platform for cars.
  • 🏥 Pepticom raised $5M to accelerate drug-discovery using AI.
  • 🍣 Bitemojo won the UNWTO global competition for gastronomy tourism startups.
  • 👋 Mellanox, Via, Taboola and Vayyar have all announced they are opening R&D activity in Jerusalem. Welcome, fellas.

Gathering together stats from various reports, there are around 41,000 business enterprises in Jerusalem. Nearly 4,000 new ones opened up in 2018, although a further 3,000 closed down. Interestingly, both this rate of growth and the relatively low turnover is better than the national average. One reason for this is clearly the strong presence of NPOs like MATI, which promotes Biz Dev amongst some of the weaker parts of the local community.

What next? Ask the 50 world leaders visiting us this week. They may have been here to discuss the Holocaust. I can assure that business and trade were also close to the top of the private agendas.

Israel’s third general election within 12 months will take place on March 2nd. Everyone knows that political uncertainty is rarely good for a sophisticated economy. So how has the country managed to ride this wave of political intrigue?

It would seem that the Israeli economy grew at a rate of 3.3% in 2019, pretty good compared to other countries. And as for trade, at a time when China and the USA are threatening global instability: –

Figures for Israel’s trade and capital flow show an increase in the surplus, which supports further strengthening of the shekel against foreign currencies. Israel had a $9.8 billion trade surplus in 2019, compared with a $4 billion surplus in 2018. The balance of payments current account had a $14.8 billion surplus in 2019, compared with a $9.5 billion surplus in 2018.

Incoming tourism increased yet again in 2019, this time by 10%. Start ups raised a record US$350 million in December 2019 alone. And global companies like Tesla continue to set up offices in the Holy Land.

So where is the proverbial “but”?

Let’s look at those start ups. “5,313 new startups were founded in Israel between 2011 and 2018, but 2,387, or 45%, closed or froze their operations by 2018. In total, 4,363 startup companies were active in Israel in 2018, a 6% drop from 2017”. Hmmm.

Now let’s consider the budget deficit, which the government has sworn blindly for over a year is under control. The gap has already mushroomed to nearly 4.0% of GDP, way above all targets. New taxation is almost a given, when a government if eventually formed in the early summer.

And this budgetary hole is rarely a good sign, just when unemployment rates are beginning to turn upwards, admittedly from a low figure of less than 4%. In other words, the glory of numbers showing a strong economy is really not that genuine.

Roughly 18 months ago, the then governor of the Bank of Israel, Carmit Flug, took the hint and decided not to seek re-election. She had advocated that the fiscal policy of the Minister of Finance was irresponsible. She bitterly opposed the moves to reduce taxes. However, she was to lose the battle.

Is it any wonder that the head of Israel’s Tax Authority is currently looking for ways to raise taxes? First up on the list is the imposition of VAT on fruit and vegetables, a direct hit on the poorer sections of society. However, this decision will not be made until after March 2nd, thus protecting the government’s core base voting community.

Hmmm.

Israel is known as a ‘start up nation’, the high-tech powerhouse of the Middle East. It has 20 unicorns, only beaten by China, USA and the UK.

A new research report detailed just how far Israel has come in three decades in encouraging overseas investors to trust what was once a bankrupt and insular economy – whose best export was the Jaffa orange.

The key number is 362 – 362 multinationals are active in the Holy Land. “Intel is the most active corporation in Israel (2014–2019): Intel Capital has participated in 52 investment deals; Intel corp. acquired 5 companies totaling $17.5B.” Google and Microsoft have purchased ten and eight businesses respectively.

And the growth rate continues. “51 Multinational Corporations opened new R&D activity in Israel between 2017 and 2019.” The three top technology clusters in MNCs in Israel are: Machine Vision, IoT and Cyber Security.

What is this worth to the Israeli economy?

  • Hightech employs about 15% of the workforce. The largest number of employees is in a manufacturing facility (Intel Fab in Kiryat-Gat) and not an R&D center. Interestingly, no other High-Tech facility in Israel comes close to this scale, other than the Intel R&D center.
  • Israeli based MNCs are about to pay nearly $8.85 billion in 2019.
  • This amount is equivalent to approximately 2.6% of Israel’s estimated GDP for 2019 (in fixed prices, assuming 3.1% GDP growth this year), and 18% of the total income from direct tax, which is expected to be $48 billion this year.
  • The median tax payment per MNC is expected to be $7.125m in 2019.

The report from the IVC et al makes for fascinating reading. You can see what your country can learn from this innovative approach to building an economy from scratch.

The customer is always right. Rule numero uno that we are all taught as kids. So ,why, when we are grown ups and trying to make a quick buck, do we immediately and conveniently forget this convention?

Have a look at these case studies: I have just finished some travelling. Loads of Airbnb’s and other places.

Location number one: Centre of the city. Small but compact. Adequate. Fair enough. However:

  • I had to haul my suitcases an extra 10 minutes to get the key.
  • The internet was so bad that I had to go to a café. Responses to the complaint were slow.
  • The towels were as thin as the toilet paper.

Well, I they got their money, but no recommendation.

Location number two, described as “luxurious”.

  • The internet did not work at first, because….. the receiver was hidden, unplugged, in a cupboard.
  • 3 bedrooms, each with a cupboard, and none with hanging space for clothes
  • Large, but with only 2 chairs, one of which broke. Yeah, the beds were large and comfortable.

And yes, at a third place, the owner, Mr Brendan Blott, personally met us and graciously showed us around. It was a pleasure to stay there. Most important, there was some fresh milk available for a cup of coffee.

The previous week, I had been in Hong Kong. Ask anyone for help there and they answer you……. with a smile. It is a 5-lettered word that costs us nothing. For all the troubles of the teritory, I want to go back there. Similarly, I will hopefully have another opportunity to avail myself of the services of Mr. Blott.

So, the question is why do so many of us brush off customers? They are not always right, but they deserve our respect and help. Time for you to rethink?

 

Today is 25th December 2019. It is Christmas. In Israel, this special Christian holiday has become politicised over the years. President Abbas is always seen attending a service in Bethlehem. The PR team at the City Hall in Jerusalem ensure that all the press knows how many free Xmas trees have been handed out.

To summarise one wag on Facebook today, Jesus could not have been a Palestinian, because the term was only coined 200 years after he died.

Israeli spokespersons have pointed out for a few years now that And please note that the largest section of those numbers are affiliated with the churches of East Europe.

The British-born journalist, Matthew Kalman, has cited numbers from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

There are 177,000 Christians living in Israel at Christmas 2019, 2% of the population. Their number grew by 1.5% in 2018, compared to 2% the previous year. Among the 855 Israeli Christian couples that married in 2017, the average age of the groom was 30.1 years old, while the average age of the bride was 26.0. The average number of children aged under 17 in Christian families is 1.87, compared to 2.37 for Jewish families and 2.77 for Muslim families.

As for me, I am spending the season in Australia. I have been wished Happy Hanukah by Christians, and I have wished so many others Happy Christmas. So, as they say here down-under, I wish all my readers “happy holidays”.

Israel is to hold its third general election within 12 months in March 2020. Does this political impasse have an significant impact on the economy?

Remember: Israel has always had a coalition government. Yet somehow, parties have found a way to come together. This time, there is a secondary elephant in the room – the investigations into corruption surrounding the Prime Minister and now his indictment on three separate accounts. Benjamin Netanyahu has made no secret that his best line of defense lies in clinging to power.

Thus, the political impasse did not start on the day of the first general election this Spring. It began in the run up to that vote, commencing in the Autumn of 2018. And it is likely to continue through to the early summer of 2020, as the vested parties will seek to outmaneuver each other in the expected coalition talks.

In other words, we are talking of an almost two year period, when the economy (and other policy issues) have received no central direction!

Does this really matter? After all, the economy is holding up.

Against all that cheer, there is a very worrying undercurrent. As one journalist calculated:

The price tag for the next election is NIS 3.8 billion and the cumulative cost for all three national ballots is an estimated NIS 10 billion – enough to raise old-age stipends for one million pensioners in need.

Meaningless assumptions? One leading national charity has stated that:

Government policy tools directed at the issue are generally limited and insufficient to diminish the problem substantially, to which has been added stagnation in government and political instability because of the two elections a short time apart in 2019, leading to the loss of an entire year in the ability to deal with prevention and reduction of poverty and rescue from it.

It is known that:

  1. The national deficit is growing, as the government has no mandate to lower spending nor to raise taxes.
  2. New opportunities to attract overseas investors are going begging, as they require government approval.
  3. I was told by one pensioner that his drugs and tablets are in short supply, and he has heard of other cases.
  4. Specific stipends, such as for soldiers without parents, have run out of money.
  5. Start ups, relying on government funding, have been laying off workers, as there has been ‘no legal process’ to grant the transfer of funds.
  6. And………….

In other words, at the micro level, the immaturity of Israel’s politicians is beginning to hurt. But who cares?

The political uncertainty only impacts on the electorate but not those who consider themselves wise enough to make the laws.

 

For over two years, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, often called Bibi, has been investigated first by the police, who then passed on their recommendations on to the Attorney-General. Both teams were led by Bibi appointees. Both believe that Bibi has to answer charges in court on three separate accounts, involving bribery and breach of trust.

Bibi denies it all. And he realises that his best line of defense requires him to hang on to power. In a country where governments are always dependent on fragile coalitions, this has resulted in two inconclusive general elections within six months. Further, as the political stalemate continues, another walk to the polls looks likely in March 2020.

Where does that leave the economy? Ostensibly, not too bad. For example, “Moody’s senior credit officer Evan Wohlmann believes that Israel’s economic growth has outpaced most other advanced industrial countries over the past decade.” The credit rating remains at A1.

In parallel, FDI is strong. Unemployment is low at just under 4%. UK’s Pret A Manger restaurant chain is looking to enter the Holy Land. So, all-in-all, not a bad report, you might think.

Look again, much deeper.

GDP growth for Q319 may have clocked 4.1%, but this was based on one item. There was a freak one-off huge rise in car imports. Even worse is the fact that the greatest growth generator of the Israeli economy is also the main obstacle of economic growth—the endless traffic jams that decimate millions of work hours for the Israeli workforce.

How the Bank of Israel will react to these unreliable figures is to be determined. Israel’s top monetary experts must be worried by the fact that this year’s budget was cobbled together at the last moment. There is a clear gap in public spending programme. Further, there is no way that a budget for 2020 has been prepared, and there is no clear thinking how it could even be passed in the near future. That is a bright red warning light for the international financial markets.

Even that stunning unemployment stat is clouded with uncertainty.

Despite the record low in unemployment, the state of the labor market in Israel is not clear cut. The number of available jobs in Israel has been declining in recent months, a figure likely to indicate a slowdown in the expansion of economic activity.

What next? Bibi has always proclaimed his innocence and is determined to stay where he is. He still controls his political party, the Likud, just. So long as that plank of support is in place, the country remains paralysed.

As either Minister of Finance or Prime Minister, firend and foe will agree that Bibi can be credited for much much of the success of Israel’s healthy economic performance since 2001.

As we close off 2019, the economy will continue to plod along due to its own core strengths – the high tech sector, innovation, export sales to new markets, etc. However, that drive cannot remain in high gear for ever. When that slowdown eventuates, regardless of their political persuasion and ethnic background, the electorate will begin to ‘feel it’, which could determine how people will vote next time. Ironic?

 

 

 

I was listening to a wickedly funny yet pertinent and amazing post yesterday from Geoff Burch.  To cut to the chase, he asks why there are so many cold callers annoying people in their homes with set scripts that are usually irrelevant, if not insulting.

Hold that thought, and link it to a blog written by executive business coach and mentor, Tim Jackson. He ponders why most of us are so prone to distractions. As he bluntly puts it, it is our own responsibility to identify those issues and remove them, pronto.

I have lost track of how many people over the years have asked me if they should open an office or continue working from home. After all, it can cost a lot of money to fit out additional premises and pay the rent. Well, no argument there.

Maybe there is a deeper, hidden concern. If you take up on extra facilities, your are going to have to be more responsible for your work. You will be forced to go out and find extra clients in order to pay off the extra (“and wasteful”?) expenses. Hmmm!

Personally, it took me ages to come to a decision that I needed an office. I was getting by. I had learnt to deal with the distractions – most of them – in the home environment. I could meet people in quiet – or semi quiet – at coffee shops.

I then dilly-dallied, as I struggled to find the right area of Jerusalem to set up shop. Far too slowly, I realised that the all neighbourhoods had lousy parking and lousy traffic problems. Comparison was not easy. So, I chose the industrial park closest to where I lived.

And today?

Since moving, and also after getting used to the change, my productivity has increased by 10s of percentage points. It is difficult to pin point precisely why or how. However, I know of other freelancers who have had similar results.

The point is as follows. Before moving, the trader is so rooted in how much extra the change will cost them that they minimize the potential benefits. And yes, those costs are important to understand. Far more vital is the uplift. We forget that we are seeking to become more professional, and that is how others will see us. And that should result in lots of lovely extra revenue, way above the additional expenses.

So what was your original question?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how and when to change your business model. However, as good Israelis, many of my clients are impatient. They ask me how they can grow their enterprise, and do so quickly.

So, my skills as a business coach and mentor are thus challenged, big time.

Samuel Medly posted a fascinating piece on five corporate trends to watch out for in 2019. The first item refers to “Quantum Innovation”.

Quantum innovation is the name given to the kind of innovation characterized by bold and creative thinking designed to take an enterprise into a lucrative new paradigm – even if that means going beyond the bounds of the existing business model……

Companies should work towards a goal 10x greater than what they believe they can achieve, working from first principles and uncertain profiles, while emphasising speed and experimentation.

Even applying that to thought to my own set up is fascinating and fun. So why shouldn’t you follow suit also?

So I would like to combine Medley’s offering with the words of Dr. Robert Brooks, who posed the question: “What is the number one habit of self-made millionaires?” Spoiler alert – the answer revolves around the ability to ‘forge relationships’.

But how do you do that?

And this is where Brooks details ten core characteristics that are essential for success. Along with hard work and good ethics, these include gratitude, openness to feedback and an ability to encourage attitude. In other words, a good leader needs to be resilient.

Where does that leave you, the owner of your business? Clearly, quick and innovative thinking is required to move ahead. And addition, you need to take on board some personal abilities, which will help you to navigate through the changes. The two concepts are very much linked.

 

 

 

A post on LinkedIn from Geoff Burch referred to an a car repair job. Seemingly because he is a TV personality, the service was not insured. To summarise Burch’s thoughts, so much for customer care. After all, “happy customers make money”. (HCMM)

It reminded me of the time 30 years ago, when I had to go to the head Peugeot dealership in Jerusalem. They were incredibly rude. I complained to head office in France. The guys in Jerusalem were forced to apologise, but asked why I had not tried to resolve the issue locally in the first place. Er, um…. Meanwhile, I have not bought Peugeot again. Remember HCMM.

Have times changed? Last week, I ordered a new mobile phone via a website. I compared prices, delivery schedules etc between shops and decided on the retail chain called GoMobile.

Shortly afterwards, a rep of GoMobile called me up. “We just want to verify some details”. Oh yes, I think to myself. You know that it’s a trap, because he did not verify the model. Bottom line: The kit did not come with an original Samsung charger, but another make. If I am prepared to part with a small fortune, I can receive that and an extra year’s guarantee.

What the…? Why can’t they just put it in the package in the first place? Why the deception, from my perspective? To be fair, as was pointed out to me, this issue was clearly written on the website. But who takes in all the info, dotted all over the screen?

The rep was insistent and would not take no for an answer. So rather than trying to interrupt him, I let the guy waffle away. Finally, I was able to say no. I then told him that I would honour my order, but I think GoMobile is shooting itself in the foot. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Because next time, I will not consider GoMobile as my first choice.” Suddenly, the rep was speechless. HCMM.

And if you think that is bad enough, try using Netvision as your e-mail server. That inbox receives about 30 spam entries a day from ladies suggesting various ‘services’. They all have the same content. However, Netvision will block this rubbish, if I just pay them around US$5 per month.

I have to ask myself: Why can’t Netvision just provide this service in an effort to provide excellent standards? Why are their customers subjected to this nonsense?

My three stories relate to incidents with Israeli services. However, I am sure that the world over is full of such incidents, daily.

When discussed as per above, it seems so obvious what suppliers should be doing. So why is it that so many fail? More importantly, what can you do to improve your service to your customers, right now?

Israel held its second general election almost a month ago, and there is no sign of a government in formation.

Incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu has a reputation of being a winner, usually. It seemed he had won back in April, only for one of his expected coalition partners (Yisrael Beiteinu) effectively to ditch him. Back to the electorate in September and he has actually ended up with a slightly worse set of cards to play with.

Today, he is a wounded race horse. The biggest evidence for this are those individuals, such as Gidon Sa’ar and Nir Barkat, in his own Likud party, who are beginning to announce that they are prepared to replace Netanyahu – of course, only if and when he resigns.

The same is true overseas. Assumedly one of his biggest fans, President Trump, has failed to do anything about recent Iranian aggression towards Saudi Arabia. Then last week, the Americans withdrew military protection from their Kurdish allies in northern Syria. Both items have sent shudders throughout the Israeli security services. (I remind you that one of Netanyahu’s key election posters included a photo of himself and his chum Trump, smiling together).

For good measure, Netanyahu’s supposedly close relations with President Putin are also being tested this weak. So far, Netanyahu’s words are having little impact.

Everyone knows that Netanyahu is facing legal accusations on at least three separate issues, involving bribery and the perverting of the course of justice. Many argue that the proverbial elephant in the room for both elections was Netanyahu’s desire to remain as Prime Minister for as long as possible. The law for removing a PM, if and when he has been formally charged, is unclear. It seems that technically he can stay where he is.

And what does this impasse mean for the average Israeli?

  1. The Bank of Israel has already issued a strong warning regarding the budget deficit, which has been out of control for nearly a year. Painful cuts are urged.
  2. The Bank of Israel has also reduced its estimates for economic growth in 2020 by a full half of one per cent to 3.0%.
  3. Reforms and incentives are held up. I have a client that wishes to apply for a government grant, which will help their company invest in new machinery. This will create employment and thus fulfill new export orders. The grant programme ran out a few months ago, and can only be extended when the Kenesset (Parliament) begins to work again. Meanwhile……
  4. Everyone accepts that the budget for the Ministry of Defense is large, relatively and absolutely. Including American support, it stands at 72.9 billion shekels (almost US$21 billion). Of this, 7.9 billion shekels (11%) is handed out in pensions. By way of comparison, the Ministry of Education is appropriated 6 billion shekels and the Ministry of Welfare 9.5 billion shekels annually. Disproportionate?
  5. As for the Ministry of Health, if you do not live in the key population centres, hospital services are simply poor. Pardon the pun, but I am sick and tired of seeing pictures of patients waiting in beds in hospital corridors. Unacceptable!

Aside from Netanyahu, there are at least three other politicians from the outgoing government awaiting for the Ministry of Justice to decide if they should be prosecuted. One of them includes the Minister of Health, Ya’akov Litzman, The Israeli political system is unwell, and most patients are demanding a new doctor be placed in charge.

Two Israeli Unicorns and both leading viral content distribution companies, Taboola.com Ltd. and Outbrain Inc., have agreed to combine forces.

Taboola was founded in 2007, has 1,400 employees and has raised over US$160 in a decade. Outbrain: founded 2006, 800 workers, and has raised US$150. Having spent years snipping at each other, they are now seeking to combine forces to take on Google. All change.

But most companies are not that global. Whatever the financial headlines, business is dominated by SMEs – individuals or small groups of people struggling daily to hit their targets in their own local neighbourhoods.

I recently was called in to three such operations in the Jerusalem area.

The first one was a relatively simple affair. The owner wanted to sell. I was asked if he was making the correct decision. Given the state of his business, his private situation and the offers received, the answer was a clear yes.

The good news was that here was a person that was prepared to put aside all his established thought processes, look beyond the jungle of clashing thoughts, and realise what needed to be done. Mega kudos points.

In the second scenario, I appreciated that the founder needed help, but that they could not be told out right what to do. So, I created a time line as to what would or would not happen, depending on their actions, carefully choosing a specific date months in advance.

I cannot say that the process was smooth. The initial meetings were accompanied by much resistance and the old-fashioned weapon of choice, ‘procrastination’. However, three months into the battle and we have a clear path forward and a completely new face to the marketing strategy. Quite literally, it is as if the CEO has discsovered a new language, judging by the way they are talking.

In case study number three, the story is more complex. Shortage of space forces me to narrow down the bare facts. This is a person, who is so caring that they will do anything for anyone. And this is the constant excuse why they cannot help themselves, because others need their attention.

The business model, such as it is, is truly weak, Nothing will change that pattern until they are able to comprehend that the damage they incur on themselves will eventually impact on those that they love.

We are taught that change is often seen as a threat. As a business coach and mentor, almost every week I try to show CEOs how in fact change can be such a fun, if not invigorating, challenge. Otherwise, we end up like approximately 80% of the Fortune 500 companies from  about 50 years ago – they are no longer around.

 

 

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It is that time in the calendar, when Jews celebrate the New Year. In Israel, the population now totals just over 9 million people. At a macro level, the economy is plodding along very nicely at over 3 per cent annually, and that despite buffoons for politicians in Parliament and enemies in Iran and in Gaza that seek a violent destruction to the capital of Jerusalem.

Israel has developed a reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship in the past two or so decades. Chat technology, cherry tomatoes, electric and driverless cars, understanding the sonar language of whales and much more. Hightech, fintech, cleantech, AI , foodtech, and the list drags on.

But what if……..

Somewhere around 2012, imagine a few nearly-thirty year old types gathered around a bar, sipping a wee dram of whisky. And then suppose one says how it is a shame that Israel does not have its own distillery. And then another poses the question: ‘well, what if we set one up?”

And thus was born the concept of The Milk and Honey Distillery, now located in a most uninspiring area of south Tel Aviv. No luscious green mountains nor lochs, but the noise of major road works and urban redevelopment.

The founders and original investors brought in Dr Jim Swann, the go-to expert for setting up distilleries in humid climates. (Unfortunately, he passed away, before he could taste the success of his efforts.) They rescued a pot still, abandoned in central Europe. They launched a micro funding campaign. They opened a visitors centre, which has hosted over 18,000 guests and sold much gin in the gap years.

Whisky from the first cask was sold after three years of maturation. (For the record, 36 months in a cask in Israel is the equivalent to a much longer time than in Scotland).  This week, the Founders’ Edition was released at a stunning gala event in Tel Aviv. I did enjoy a small drop of a 62 percent sherry cask, just 20 months after being distilled.

The distillery is now experimenting by placing casks not just in mountainous areas, similarly to Scotland. They are utilising the costal plain and also the Dead Sea region, the lowest point in the world. Export orders to around a dozen countries have already been fulfilled.

It has been a pleasure to be one of the founding investors in the micro funding project. And I do look forward to opening my bottle this week. The distillery itself will be exhibiting around Europe over the next month.

And as for the Jewish New Year…..Well, it is a tradition to welcome it by dipping apple into honey. Need I say more!  Lechayim and Slainte!!

 

 

 

 

 

Israeli has survived two election campaigns in 2019 and still there is no end in sight and the formation of a stable government. Meanwhile, the economy seems to be surviving, almost in spite of everything.

True, unemployment has risen slightly. As ever, there has been a mild threat regarding the level of Israel’s international credit rating. And the governor of the Bank of Israel declared yesterday that:

The next government will face a significant challenge in the budget deficit and low productivity in the Israeli economy.

Exactly how much needs to be cut is up for debate. Estimates over the summer centred around 14 – 15 billion shekels – over US$3.5 billion.

So let’s just try to give that sum a little bit of perspective.

In Israel’s first government, just 16 ministers were appointed. By March 2019, that number had almost doubled to 31. Not everyone has a portfolio, but that is the price of having a secure coalition government.

Hmmm. We are told that the annual cost of a government minister’s bureau is about 5 million shekels. Assume just five of those ministers are redundant, than that is a saving of around 25 million shekels per annum. Add on the overheads and you are probably looking at an “investment” of taxpayers’ money at around 130 million shekels.

More perspective? Earlier this year, Zvi Eckstein, a former deputy governor of the Bank of Israel, and labor economics researcher, Sergei Sumkin, published a report. They concluded that: –

Israel’s bureaucratic red tape is costing the state NIS 14 billion ($3.9 b) a year; 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP).

That 14 billion seems to be a very familiar number, no?

I recall a meeting from many years ago, when I was working in the Ministry of Health as a junior economist. We were tasked to come up with ideas for how to cut the budget. The discussion was long and varied. Nobody was interested in my thoughts about reducing the number of civil servants…..let alone the ministerial aides.

Israel’s economy seems intent on defying logic. The country has been and remains in political flux for over  a year. And yet the economy grew by 3.6% in the first half of 2019, a better performance than 2018 and way ahead of many competitors in the OECD.

There is no doubt that much of that success is garnered in and around the high-tech sector, roughly 15% of employment in the country. And it should also be pointed out that the gap between the those who have and those who have not is one of the widest in the West. That said, almost every week brings a new set of shining headlines:

  • The relatively new area of Foodtech already boasts around 250 companies in the Holy Land and has raised nearly US$150m in this year alone.
  • American vehicle trading and services giant, Cox Automotive, is the latest to form a partnership with a Tel Aviv-based smart mobility innovation centre.
  • Facebook announced the acquisition of yet another Israeli start up, Servicefriend, that creates bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence.

All very neat. What prompted me to focus on these tidbits of news was the latest survey from IVC. It is a 60 page survey, covering nearly 50 years. Here are some of the highlights.

  1. M&As in the past decade have totaled almost 1,900, close to double the previous period.
  2. Around 3,000 overseas corporations have activities in Israel, with over half coming from America. (I am not sure how BDS proponents deal with that issue.)
  3. Of the top ten foreign corporations, Microsoft has 161 sets of activity, Intel – 116 and Samsung – 63. (Again, this looks to be a massive BDS failure.)
  4. Since 1990, over 350 r&d centres have been opened by foreign companies; Phillips, SAP, Sony, Alibaba, et al.

By way of summary, during the first quarter of 2019, over US$14 billion was paid in 66 exits, the best performance in five years.

You have to wonder how the macro economy would have performed if there had been a functioning central government in Jerusalem for the past 12 months.

 

 

Since its establishment and due to the country’s PR system, Israeli governments have always been coalitions. The previous general election in Israel this April did almost produce a result, that could enable the PM to cobble together a team.

Unfortunately for the PM, Bibi Netanyahu was caught off-guard by a slick move from a former close ally, Avigdor Lieberman. Thus, rather than returning the mandate to the president – and thus risking the hurrying up of the criminal procedures mounting against him – Netanyahu called another general election.

There are about 6.4 million people allowed to vote. 31 parties are standing, of which about 15 have a realistic chance of sending representatives to the Kenesset. The participation rate was 67.8% last time. Another 1.8% were disallowed and a further 370,000 votes ended up with parties who never made it across the line.

Netanyahu wants to set up a right wing government, supported by ultra-orthodox religious partners, some of whom want to create a state based on religion. In the outgoing government, five ministers are facing various criminal procedures, including the Prime Minister himself. Most could see themselves back in power tomorrow night.

Clearly, this does not inspire confidence. Nor do the words of Yair Netanyahu, Bibi’s son and an active team member of his re-election campaign. He accused a different former PM of murdering Holocaust survivors, a statement that Bibi did not condemn.

I could write about how operations against Hamas and Hizbollah seem to be declared openly in the press, almost as an electoral statement. I have repeatedly voiced my concerns of the mismanagement (or the non-supervision) of the economy. The price of housing, a flagship policy from two years ago, has started to climb – 2.5% in the first half of 2019. All round, something seems amiss.

What symbolises for me the rule of Netanyahu is his appearance at an election rally in Ashdod about a week ago. Unusually, the event was publicised in advance and then broadcast live on Facebook. During his speech, missiles were fired from Gaza. Bibi was rushed off the stage to safety. The crowd had to fend for themselves.

Opposition politicians claimed that they would not have left the area. I am not so sure. What is of interest to me is why Bibi made sure that the world knew where he was speaking and when. It seems that he was so anxious for others to hear him talk about his successes and promises that he ignored the safety of the lives of his faithful audience!

Bibi ignored their safety. In the same way, he regularly insults the Arab community. And before the last election, he launched a vicious verbal attack on a female TV personality who had criticised him. The list goes on.

Who will win? Few are rash enough to predict. However, I do not feel that Israel deserves or needs another four years of Bibi Netanyahu’s very personal and individual form of Zionism, even if it does suit his own specific needs.

A few days ago, Benny Begin, son of Menachem Begin, a hero form the days when the state was set up and latter founder of the Likud, Bibi’s party, categorically called on the electorate not to vote for Bibi. I too cannot see a good positive reason to vote for that man.

 

 

I have had my complaints about how the Israeli economy has been managed over the past year. And there are still several unfavourable signs. However, it is now time to stand up and to salute a success, an achievement which other countries could be jealous about.

You see it is not just that Israeli exports have risen 3% in the first half of 2019. The two key points are that:

  1. “High-tech services exports made up some 60% of the sector’s revenue and 30% of Israel’s total goods and services’ exports.” The significance going forward is that these orders tend to be recurring. And that is good news.
  2. Israel’s exports to Europe,  an enormous but very shaky economy, rose 12%. And despite everything, exports to the USA rose 3%.

Cautionary note: Israel’s exports are dominated by 10 large companies such as Intel. The latter had held up production in 2018. And there was a particularly large one-off contract to the UK in the chemical sector.

In any event, given the global worries over downturns, this is a very impressive performance. And this is one of the key reasons why Fitch, a credit rating agency, still grades Israel at A+

 

 

UNRWA was set up in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees. Today, it has an annual budget of around one billion dollars. And, special programmes or campaigns can see similar additional amounts raised from donor countries, via their taxpayers.

UNRWA is a nebulous body. It uses the UN initials, but does not seem to come under UN auspices or jurisdiction. Last year, President Trump suspended American funding and Washington was the largest donor. In recent months, four other countries have followed suit. Even New Zealand, no friend of the Israeli government, is withholding support.

UNRWA’s history has been unusual. It is nearly 15 years ago, when one commentator observed that:

Despite over 50 years of experience and employing around 25,000 local Palestinians, UNRWA simply does not do its job effectively. A recent World Bank report on the Palestinian territories noted that “55% of those who receive emergency assistance are not needy… 32% of the needy do not receive emergency assistance.” If UNRWA’s money does not help solve Palestinian poverty, then who are the true beneficiaries of its lavish funds?……..

Most Palestinians in Jordan have resolved their economic issues without UNRWA. The 1997 report from the Norwegian Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies compared the situation of the 13% of Palestinian Arabs in the Hashemite Kingdom who were being catered to by UNRWA to the remaining 87%. It concluded that the Palestinian Arabs cared for by UNRWA continued to live in destitution, while the others maintained a similar economic level to their fellow non-Palestinian Jordanian citizens.

The Norwegian Refugee Council has invested much resources into the Palestinian issue. That said, it has just published a report, which concludes: –

Today, 25 August 2019, marks the two-year anniversary of the start of the largest ever stream of refugees out of Myanmar….. Since 25 August 2017, around 740,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. More than 630,000 are living in Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp.

I am prepared to bet that these wretched people do not receive even 50% per capita of what the Palestinians do. And what does reach them is carefully accounted for.

Meanwhile, the UN is allowing a Palestinian oligarchy to support itself, at the expense of unknown taxpayers and to the detriment of other needy causes. What conclusions would you draw?

Postscript: I just checked the UNRWA website. I could not find budget figures for post 2017.

Stop screwing yourself over” is an excellent Ted Talk by Mel Robbins. One of her key points is that when we are asked how we are doing, we often reply “fine”, and with the flattest of intonations. In effect, we are lying to ourselves.

Self employed, just starting out in a company, or C-Class executive, we all look for something meaningful to do at work and with our lives. Earlier this week, I read an item from somebody who today is a practicing Jew. His article traces his past from Woodstock and the heavy culture of the late 1960s to his life in Jerusalem today.

Finding out the true definition of ‘fine’ was a slow and sometimes very painful story. He learnt that what he had valued as a golden lifestyle was simply worthless. He needed to change all ways up.

Trying to answer the question “what is it that we actually do?” often appears so simple, yet it is rarely so straightforward to answer. When discussing this topic with CEOs, I tend to rephrase the conundrum:

“What is it that you are selling”?

The answer is not a service nor a product nor a piece of entertainment. As Ray Kroc of McDonalds was soon to realise, he was offering a family experience. He did this by pricing out chips and sugared drinks to his clientele.

Yesterday, I spent some time pitching to a new potential client. They are seeking help to raise funds for a new social project. They described their achievements to date in glowing terms.

Then came my turn to play business coach and mentor. They could not even begin to respond when I questioned what would make the financial contributor “fine” if they are to be associated with such an effort.

So, be honest. How are you doing today……..and why? More importantly, what do you need to change in order to answer with a smile in your voice.

 

 

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