As a businessman, it’s taken me quite a few years to fully understand how Israeli business works. I moved here from the States, and I came to Israel with the drive to succeed. It may have been my experience and drive that has led to my success, but it’s been a steep learning curve along the way.
I am used to business relationships being business relationships.
Israeli business relationships are different. I’ve found that in Israel, they need to be treated more like friendships. You want to be friends with clients, and meetings are far more relaxed than they are in the States.
It’s often a casual dress code with short sleeve shirts, open collars and dresses or blouses. Suits and ties are not comfortable and feel stuffy, so this is a welcomed change. I recommend going to your first meeting in a suit so that you’re not underdressed, or you can always ask what type of clothing to wear.
You can’t go wrong with being overdressed the first meeting and just matching everyone else’s style during the next meeting.
Business schedules are different, with Sunday to Thursday being the norm. Friday many people have off, and if they don’t take off, they will only operate on Friday morning. Hours of business are a rather standard 8:30am to 5pm.
Shaking hands is the typical way to greet a business associate, but if that associate is of the opposite sex, handshakes are often off limits. Business cards are still in usage, and most follow standard business card templates. Exchanges happen at the end of the meeting, and cards are generally printed in English.
Passover and Rush Hashanah are two times when gifts are commonly sent to customers. I was caught off guard with this one, but it’s a nice custom. You’ll also find that the closing of a deal is a time to celebrate, so expect to buy flowers or a celebratory drink with you when signing.
Intelligence and creativity play well into Israel’s business world, and the reason for this is the country’s thriving start-up culture. Experts in a field are highly respected, and you’ll often come across clients and customers that are young and energetic. These individuals often work for or own startups, and they are going to be changing the business landscape in Israel.
Working with these entrepreneurs and younger talents often pushes me to do better in my field, working to meet the needs of the next big business to come out of Israel’s startup nation.
Religion does play a big role in some colleagues’ lives, so it’s ever important to be aware of these sensitivities. There may be times when colleagues are not available due to the Sabbath or for other religious reasons.
Learn to deal with and respect these cultural sensitivities.
If you plan on hosting a meeting, you’ll also want to be sure to bring beverages and snacks for everyone. There’s a great diversity in Israel, and individual opinions are strong. It’s a fun transition, but you need to be open to change and to learn from every business-related event.