Nir Barkat: Reinventing Himself for Jerusalem

Lloyd Shefsky knows a lot about business between Israel and the United States.  So it comes as no surprise that he has used examples of Israeli entrepreneurs in his new business book, Invent Reinvent Thrive, just published by McGraw-Hill.  In it, Lloyd shares stories of companies and people who have reinvented and those who have not, analyzing and comparing those examples with their lessons laid out while offering advice on how to adopt and implement them to achieve success in today’s competitive and challenging global environment.

Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, is offered up as one of the most intriguing examples of this success formula.  “Nir’s move from military leader to owner / manager of an antivirus software firm, to a value-added investor, and ultimately to the mayor of Jerusalem may seem like a series of cross-chasm leaps.  However, to Nir Barkat, each move, each reinvention, seemed to be mere refinements and adaptations of his skills to a new endeavor,” Shefsky says.

One of the founders of BRM, Nir was also a founding investor of one of Israel’s greatest tech business successes, Check Point. After achieving incredible success in business and as an investor, he decided he was the person who could fix his hometown’s economic slide and become more inviting to businesses. At the time, Jerusalem was experiencing serious business exoduses and, therefore, Nir threw his hat into the political ring.

Barkat was defeated in his first mayoral bid in 2003, but through “reinvention”, was elected the next time in 2008, and recently began his second term of office following reelection last year.  Shefsky attributes Nir’s success to lessons learned from the military and business—leadership, risk management, mentoring, salesmanship, and charm—and he ultimately developed the skill set to be a very effective public servant.  At first, Barkat failed to understand how different his challenges in the public sector were from those in the army, at BRM, or as an investor.  “He realized, after the fact, that success in politics needed a different approach and somewhat different skills than were needed for success in business.”

Shefsky, himself, is no stranger to the application of reinvention.  A renowned attorney, Lloyd left the Chicago law firm he founded 18 years ago, although he is still “Of Counsel”.  He spends most of his time consulting with large family businesses and entrepreneurs, many of them Israeli, and he teaches at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University.  His first book, Entrepreneurs are Made Not Born, was a critical success.  Now 73, he spends 6 months a year in Florida and the other half in Chicago.

The volunteer president of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce- Chicago in the late 70s – early 80s, Lloyd was a leader in founding the national association of America-Israel Chambers in the 90s.  While still on his chamber’s board, he is not as active today with the organization, noting that the way to help Israel today is totally different than it was then due to the influence and use of the Internet.  He is pleased to see so much great business coming out of Israel, and not just tech companies.

Shefsky still helps Israel, and is very active with the Recanati School of Business at Tel Aviv University where he recently was keynote speaker at their 20th anniversary celebration. On this trip, he met several very exciting companies, some of which were being run by Kellogg alums in Israel who “really get it and understand the market”, something that wasn’t always the case.

Lloyd shares a story in his new book of when he first did business in Israel in the 1970s.  “Inventors were sent or came to me frequently.  Each brought his ‘black box’ idea and asked me to find a business in the United States that could run with his dream.  I would go home, check with businesses I thought were suitable.  They would tell me they weren’t interested in a black box but would be interested if the technology were applied instead to create, say, an ‘orange ball’.  When I’d report that to the inventors, many stubbornly said, ‘I’m sorry.  I think the black box is the right answer; I don’t want to make orange balls.’ This was, in effect, developing a solution and then searching for the right problem. It was hardly a productive approach.”

Although he has been involved with Israel for almost 40 years, Shefsky is reluctant to prognosticate for the next 5 to 10.  However, he does have three principal concerns:

  • Top Israelis may choose to leave the country because of concern for safety and quality of life.  The last time this happened, in the 80s, the country was saved by the influx of the Russian olim, but Lloyd doesn’t see any new source of brainpower like this coming to Israel.
  • Continuing divide and larger gap between the haves and have nots.
  • Education is lagging, and those who taught in Israel from the European / Russian background are not being replaced.

The example of Nir Barkat as a successful Israeli businessman now a government leader does offer hope for the country. We talked about JVP’s Erel Margalit, now a Member of Knesset, as following this path, and noted other Israeli business leaders who are lending their leadership to social and education causes—Yadin Kaufmann at Tmura, Leon Recanati to TAU, and Zohar Zisapel toTechnion.

We owe our thanks to Lloyd Shefsky for his lifetime commitment to the cause of Israel’s economic development, and wish him success on the publication of his new book.  Kol HaKavod!

About the Author
Tom Glaser was president of the Southeast Region of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) from its founding in 1992 until his retirement in October 2013 after almost 22 years of services to the organization. Glaser is a graduate of the University of Michigan. He and his wife Connie, an author and lecturer, live on Skidaway Island near Savannah, Georgia and their 2nd home in the Blue Ridge mountains.
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