Chief Executive Michael Charles Rockefeller talks to us about entrepreneurship in Israel, view on Brexit, successful business principles, and overcoming shyness to build his businesses.
“Hard times make great men and Israel has faced hard times since day one” -Israeli-American entrepreneur, Michael Charles Rockefeller, left us with these poignant words just before we left his London office last week. Yet another bright example of Israeli entrepreneurial spirit, Rockefeller has led his firm to successes far beyond his initial targets.
Rockefeller is known not only for his business projects and ventures, but also for his international philanthropic projects, among them being the Hellenic-Israeli Union, a multinational organisation designed to increase and strengthen the cultural, economic, political, and diplomatic ties between the two allies, Israel and Greece. The original brainchild of Rockefeller and Daniel Couts, the Hellenic-Israeli Union was later adopted and further developed by a new team of professionals.
“In the globalised economy in which we live, forging strong and immovable alliances with regards to commerce, diplomacy, and bilateral cooperation between nations and countries that share mutual interest, is vital for both parties’ financial development and regional stability,” says Rockefeller.
Rockefeller was born in Miami, Florida to a USN officer and his wife. At the age of two, his family relocated to Tel Aviv, Israel, where he spent the biggest part of his early childhood. Even though his family admired his business talent and corporate understanding from an exceptionally early age, Rockefeller admits to being a rather shy child. “I could draft a well-designed and articulate business plan by the age of 12; the only problem was that I was too shy to present it, or to even believe in it.”
During a party hosted at the Rockefeller family home in Miami, Florida, a young Michael walked downstairs to meet the guests when a hand on his shoulder stopped him. “Ladies and gentlemen, please gather around,” Michael’s grandfather said to the crowd. “We’d like to present you with an investment opportunity you simply cannot miss. Michael, the stage is yours.” He gently pushed Michael to the centre of the foyer where he had to face his fear of public speaking head on.
“It was so unexpected and I wasn’t used to being the centre of attention. I have to say, my life changed from that moment onwards,” says Rockefeller. “I was now faced with having to speak to over one hundred people, and to sell them an investment idea. Bear in mind I was only thirteen at the time.” Making an impact on everyone in attendance, and convincing them of his potential in the business world, the young Rockefeller not only presented the investment idea, but did so successfully, leading to its sale.
Rockefeller describes taking a leap of faith as the first and foremost everlasting principle for success in the business world. “Many believed I was rather exceptional at what I was doing granted my age, but I would have done nothing at all if I didn’t choose to take a leap of faith at the right moment. In this case, the leap of faith for me was to put my skills to the test and make sure those investors saw that deal the way I saw it, and I have my grandfather to thank for that.”
Rockefeller also talks about his second leap of faith several years later. After completion of Economy and Political Science studies at Columbia University, Rockefeller decided to test the waters in the world’s financial establishment by founding and running his very first company.
In London in 2015, Rockefeller met Daniel Couts who was soon to become the Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer of their firm. “It probably took me around ten minutes before I realised that Daniel and I would get on very well–not only as friends but also as business partners,” says Rockefeller. “Most times, when it comes to business, you need to trust your instincts.” Along with Couts, Rockefeller then went on to found, pursue and promote other major philanthropic projects such as The Grand Restoration of Salamis, The Monegasque Association, and the Latvian Union.
With the plethora of his knowledge, expertise, and passion in geopolitics and political affairs, we were keen to get this young entrepreneur’s viewpoint on issues such as Brexit, the Middle-Eastern affairs, and Israeli entrepreneurship.
During our conversation, Rockefeller, who currently resides in London, explained that Brexit is not only a financial or political issue, but a philosophical one. As someone who has worked tirelessly throughout his adult life to bring countries together, he believes that the financial impact of Britain leaving the EU is something that does not benefit any of the parties involved. “We could ask, is it a good choice? In Britain, those in favour of exiting the European Union present the matter as a declaration of national sovereignty. I still remember a comment of then Secretary of Justice Michael Gove, ‘If we vote to stay, we are not settling for the status quo — we are voting to be a hostage, locked in the boot of a car driven by others to a place and at a pace that we have no control over.’”
“The EU is developing and changing,” he continues. “Many are afraid of a United States of Europe concept. Some might like this new direction and others may not. British people have bluntly made their wish to exit this new European Union abundantly clear. This was a democratically-made decision and should be respected no matter the economic and political consequences.”
When asked about the current situation in the Middle East, Rockefeller expressed fears that the drums of war are sounding clearer and louder with each passing day. “It’s not just ideologues within the Trump administration that are clamouring for military action against Iran,” he says. “Irani provocations and aggression in the area cannot leave administration experts or even liberal opposition undeterred to this growing threat. The state of Israel is going to be elevated to new heights of geopolitical importance as America’s closest friend throughout these difficult days. We are all praying for a peaceful resolution.”
On the state of entrepreneurship in Israel, Rockefeller points out that Israeli superiority in modern entrepreneurship and innovative problem resolution is unquestionable. Science technology in Israel is one of the country’s most developed sectors. Israel spent more than 4% of its GDP on civil research and development in the last 5 years–the highest ratio in the world.
“They say, difficult times make great men,” says Rockefeller. “And Israeli people have faced difficult times since day one.”