Ritalix CEO Shuky Sheffler, NICE Technologies CEO Zeevi Bregman, SAP Labs Israel MD Mickey Steiner and Amdocs Israel CEO Shai Levy opened their doors to one group of 50 participants each, to explain the work that they do, and to answer questions about how Israel is a global powerhouse of technology and how its success is admired worldwide.
The group at SAP Labs was also joined by Raanana Mayor Nahum Hofree, who welcomed the visitors to his city.
"This was an amazing opportunity to have access to the leaders of some of Israel's most respected names in high-tech and show our participants a huge source of Israeli pride," said Gidi Mark, international CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel.
"Taglit-Birthright Israel is all about developing in our participants a similar sense of pride in Israel and a connection with the country, not just through a shared history and culture, but by showing that Israel is a dynamic, exciting and relevant place in their lives. Meeting these captains of Israeli industry is a powerful way of achieving this."
Each CEO separately cited three main interconnected reasons for Israel's phenomenal success in high-tech: A "can-do" culture of innovation, the influence of the IDF and a set of geopolitical and economic factors unique to Israel.
All of them explained to their attentive audiences that Israel is a small marketplace with scarce natural resources, plus obstacles to doing business with its nearest neighbors, so global thinking and technological know-how were essential for Israeli business and the Israeli economy to thrive.
"The Israeli market is not sufficient to be successful," Shuky Sheffler explained. "So, in Israel, if you are not successful globally, you're not going to be a success."
IDF important in developing innovation
At SAP Labs, Mickey Steiner described why innovation is a necessity. "Israel has a lack of natural resources and a need for defense, which are the roots of our high-tech industry." He said that the IDF is an important element in developing innovation, a "can-do" attitude and a dynamic culture of adaptability to new conditions.
Similarly, Zeevi Bregman and Shai Levy supported this view, adding that the army is a special learning environment that breeds good decision-making and leadership skills.
Furthermore, while young people in their late teens and early twenties elsewhere in the world are moving directly from school to university, all young Israeli adults must first experience the army life, which teaches them a set of skills that gives them a head-start against their international counterparts once they embark on their careers.
Additionally, the CEOs noted that the Israel Defense Forces brings together in its units people from all sectors of the population, making Israeli society unusually flat in terms of hierarchy. According to the CEOs this creates conditions in which access to networks of influential people are very direct, and encourages an openness to sharing and pursuing ideas which may be obstructed in more hierarchical organizations and societies.
Each of the CEOs explained how their company's services and products, developed here in Israel, have provided essential benefits in daily life worldwide. Sheffler told his audience how Ritalix's technology systems have been employed by some of the most powerful retail companies in the world to streamline and improve every consumer's shopping experience, and help make these companies leaders in their industry sectors.
Bregman told his visitors how NICE's technology enables some of the world's busiest airports, city municipalities, police and fire departments to operate securely, and how premier global enterprises and financial institutions protect themselves and their customers from fraud.
Steiner explained how SAP Labs serves leading companies in 25 industry sectors and 120 countries worldwide in order to allow them to operate efficiently and cost-effectively while meeting the demands of a growing international customer-base.
Levy demonstrated how Amdocs has become the incubator for innovation and ideas in partnership with the global giant AT&T, with whom it opened "The Foundry", a joint innovation centre based in Israel, the first of its kind for AT&T outside of the US.
Typical of Israeli companies, Levy said that Amdocs was chosen "because they know we can take ideas and bring them to market. They know we will make it happen."
Personal career storiesThe CEOs faced some probing questions from their Taglit-Birthright Israel visitors, ranging from those about their companies themselves, to sustainability and corporate social responsibility, from prospects for olim to how Israeli companies handle the delicate matter of doing business with organizations that might be nervous about working with Israel.
In response to the last question, Sheffler answered optimistically: "Yes, there are some politics but it is more to our advantage. People respect the talent and innovation here in Israel."
This sentiment was reinforced by Steiner, who added a personal perspective to proceedings. He explained why he returned to Israel after spending ten successful years in the United States. "This is my home and where I belong," he said. "It's a place where you can really make an impact."
His perspective was echoed by personal career stories from employees. At SAP Labs, the Taglit-Birthright Israel group was introduced to Paola Laufer, a Mexican-born technical writer who has been with the company for three years, having made aliyah 17 years ago.
Paola explained how her love for Israel was nurtured by her Zionistic family back in Mexico and her time spent on a kibbutz in the Negev prior to her studies. Having built a life and a family in Israel, she praised the welcome and the family atmosphere she received and how she enjoys being "part of a country" rather than part of a small Jewish community in another country.
These meetings acted as a inspiring prelude to the Taglit-Birthright Mega Event in Raanana on the same evening, attended by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who addressed the thousands of Taglit-Birthright participants celebrating their trip together at the Amphipark in Raanana.
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