Archive for June 2011

Israel’s economy – half term report, June 2011

June 26, 2011

Israel’s economy continues to bubble along.

Happy times it would seem.

It is the job of the governor of any central bank to point out the potential dangers around the corner. Israel’s Stanley Fischer is in the middle of an apparently successful campaign to dampen the housing bubble. And at the end of last week, in an interview with the Financial Times, Fischer questioned the Finance Minister’s propensity to spend.

Fair enough. Just as worrying is the potential fall out from the Greek financial crisis and, in parallel, from the so-called Arab Spring. If Europe is sucked down by Greece, Portugal et al, Israel’s economy will suffer. For example, the UK alone is one of Israel’s strongest trading partners.

Similarly, once the troubles in Libya, Syria and elsewhere have finally evaporated, the results will necessarily bring stability to the region. We can already see how Egypt will almost certainly raise the price of its gas exports to Israel very sharply. The weakness of the Damascus regime has seen one border incident with Israel, provoked by Iranian revolutionary guards, and we have probably not seen the worst of the violent disorders.

In the words of Niall Ferguson, a leading economic historian:

Beware the economic consequences of the Arab Spring. ….(Once the) euphoria phase” of revolutions is over, economic disaster such as higher prices, greater uncertainty and capital flight always follows. …And the magnitude of capital flight from Egypt right now is roughly 10 times the aid promised to Egypt by the United States and Europe combined.

There is a third issue, ignored by the foreign media, but felt daily by the Israeli public. I am talking about the silent stranglehold of key monopolies.

About two weeks ago, the price of cottage cheese, a staple item for many families, rose yet again. A simple facebook campaign backed by a howling media smelling blood resulted in a backdown. Dominant local manufacturers, protected by tariffs, which were imposed by politicians linked to interest groups, had been free to do what they had wanted for far too long. Amazingly, there has rarely been much variation in price between the “competing” firms.

But it does not stop there. The fruit and veg market is also protected by tariffs. Mobile phone charges are expensive compared to abroad. Petrol and cars are similarly overpriced. It is a rip off, according to one newspaper.

You could ask why nobody has shouted earlier that parts of the economy are simply old-fashioned monoliths, designed for the benefit of a few. For me, a more worrying issue has been the role of the civil service. Why was this huge mass of people not able to teach the politicians how the public had to and still suffers?

So while the stats look rosy, is Israel’s full economy still a story of what could be?

If you are a mentor, what is the client paying for?

June 25, 2011

“Why should I pay you just to sit down and listen to me”?

It is the question that all mentors face from time-to-time. And I coped it at the end of last week.

At least I did not have to deal with: “How can you guarantee me success?” This is just another version of “why should I waste my money on you?”.

Alon Gal is one of Israel’s most well-known mentors. Like him or not, he is effective. His television show has resulted in many marriages saved and floundering businesses being turned around.

In a recent newspaper, even he admitted that he cannot work his “magic” every time. He gave some examples of cases, where he had not succeeded, and that included his own marriage.

What has brought all this together is a very cool article, written by Rob Weatherill, titled “What does the patient pay for?” While specifically aimed at the analyst – patient scenario, it is easy to draw comparisons with mentoring.

Would it be true to say that the patient is paying for the genuine professional help that the analyst gives, for the reliable support that the patient experiences in living and being able to continue to live amidst considerable suffering? Yes, this is definitely true, and it often not appreciated just how valuable this long term support really is,……. But this support is ambiguous, because the analyst is not especially helpful in the ordinary sense, and he is only supportive again in quite an unobvious way.  

 Weatherill concludes that the patient is paying for “presence” of the analyst. He feels that even in a silent manner, this presence can be evocative.

I have to agree. Last week, I sat in on a staff meeting between a CEO and a senior employee. I was given a free hand to ask questions. The CEO had set up the company himself and is knowledgable about what goes on, but even he learnt about hands-on issues that he had not reckoned with.

By the end, I took on the silent role. I let the two of them work through the issue together. 48 hours later, duties had been reallocated with smiles on faces. I am waiting to hear of higher output.

Take another client. They run a small theatrical company. I have encouraged them for weeks to start calling, making their own bookings. After a while, our meetings came to a halt. At the beginning of June, I phoned them up to check on the state of play.

The client was apologetic and thrilled in one. They had no time to catch up with me, because they have been rolling in bookings. And when I asked how they were planning for the next month, they explained how they had already factored in my question. I felt like a conscience, sitting on their shoulder, supervising.

Along with Gal, I have my own cases, which did not work out. However, I can be proud of those times, when everything goes right; sales rise, companies are opened, efficiency is driven thorugh an organisation, etc. And if I can do that by “silently” guiding the client to understand their own problems, I am a happy person.

Hitech miracles: IBM, Intel and Microsoft

June 24, 2011

Having the local heads of business development of Intel, IBM, and Microsoft in one room is a major event. And this week, I had the honour to moderate a panel with those people, organised by the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum

It is no coincidence that these high tech giants have a heavy r&d presence in Israel, the land of miracles. Over the years, Israel has been awarded a number of nicknames, including the “Silicon Valley of the Middle East” or “start-up nation”. Books and theses have been written in quantity to substantiate the point. Korea, Denmark and others all send delegations to Israel to find out how the Holy Land has created such an commercial miracle.

Well here are some pointers as to what’s going on.

First, the panel was hosted by Jerusalem College of Technology. A university dedicated to scientific excellence, the President, Professor Noah Dana-Picard, observed in his opening address how this one small institution alone has fostered 65 start-ups. For example, NDS is a prime supplier of tech for Sky TV. And a new application will allow solar power providers to use heat from direct light from the sun and reflected light from the ground. This creates an additional and significant 25% of output

As for the guest speakers, Michael Oran of IBM noted that barely 20% of his company’s sales today originate from standard hardware. IBM needs to come to countries like Israel, with the biggest lab outside the USA, in order to find and sponsor new commercial ideas. To date, his own global technology unit boasts revenues from over 100 Israeli start-ups.

Shai Tsur at Microsoft told a similar story. He specifically noted that PrimeSense provides the camera technology for XBox game, one of the fastest selling consumer applications in the world. And the next generation will also feature Israeli tech.

Menachem Shoval observed how Intel’s first plant outside the USA was set up in Haifa, Israel. For the past few years and continuing forwards, “Intel inside” means Israeli tech powering your computer.

One of JCT’s senior lecturers in business management, Hillel Bash, stressed how he encourages students “to look for ideas that will be changing”. So no surprise that he pointed out that there is already a strong Israeli presence in the fields of interactive video, cloud computing and nanotech.

But how? Israeli antagonists view the country as segregationist, which they argue should result in a boycott of the country’s products.

So let me return to the development of the solar panels. The team is made up of two scientists from France, another two formerly of America’s NASA programme, and a further two who arrived from Russia. 

Israel’s open society allows for, even encourages, such wonders. Combine this phenomenon with a population which looks for answers to solutions, and you begin to understand why Israel helps conglomerates to change the lives of millions around the world.

“Spy” on yourself – find out what you can truly achieve

June 19, 2011

Many people know the biblical story of Moses sending 12 spies to check out the Promised Land. As youngsters, we were taught that 10 of them reported that the land was unfit / dangerous, whereby the Children of Israel received a collective punishment. Cool story.

This week, Jews around the world read this part of the bible. I learnt two fascinating perspectives on life from local religious authorities.

First, ask yourself, why did Moses chose people, who although they were top tribesmen, were ill-equipped individually to carry out the task of spying? Surely, an interesting lesson here for managers of today.

Second, what was the real crime of the spies? After all, they spent more time praising the land than criticising it in their report. And why the collective punishment?

A second look at the texts reveals that what the “ten baddies” said was “no, we can’t”. The task is not possible. (In other words, they had been let down by those who have taken them out of Egypt and that the land is not for them). And 600,000 adults believed them.

The 21st Century is full of mentors and shrinks encouraging us to find the true voice of inner authority. But the fact is that too often we are content to avoid responsibility and tell ourselves that “we cannot” do womething, if only because we have been conditioned that way or that it is an easy option. Sensible, when we are discussing ourselves, yet very disappointing when viewed from the outside.

Well, it would seem that thought this thought process has been around for a lot longer than experts will care to admit. It was nearly 40 years on, when the Children of Israel finally entered Jericho – a different generation, habouring the same basic values. However, this new generation held a deeper belief and understanding of themselves and who was guiding them.

That was a generation that brought down walls of the their enemies. It is time for the rest of us to remove the obstacles from our dreams.

Why do we sell ourselves short in life?

June 17, 2011

Whenever I bump into – let’s call him Bob, a close acquaintance for years – we talk about his work. And when I ask him if he will move elsewhere, he always quips back with the response: “Who will employ me?”

Aside from his managerial experience, ability to handle employees, training skills, solid purchasing technique, computing capability and much more, I doubt that he is correct. On the other hand, I am not his mentor. And I can but hope that he will realise his strengths another way.

Yet Bob’s self put-me-downs are so evident in many of us. Take three case studies of people I have been dealing with over the past year. (Again, made-up names)

Tony has a great idea for a wellness enterprise. We have worked out a strategy. And he now accepts that it is time to market the concept. “Oh, I can’t do that”, he responds automatically. And it turns out that over a decade back, he had an unsucessful summer job selling appliances on the back of two hours of training.

And from that brief experience, he deduced and sunk into his defence mechanism that he cannot sell. Wrong, matey.

Frank is setting himself up in the service sector. He was faced with a similar dilemma to Tony – how to sell himself, even though he possesses a clear and attrractive market position. When I asked him what he could do to promote his company, I was told that this line of thinking was not his forte.

I bluntly told Frank what he could do with such comments, challenging him if he had been actively involved in sales. You guessed it – another negative answer.

“So, if you have never formulated a  sales campaign, how do you know that you are no good at it?” An embarrassed silence was followed by my client, spurting forth ideas for the next 30 minutes! the damn had been breached.

David disappointed himself, just as the others did. We agreed that it would be necessary for him to speak in front of small groups of potential clients.

  • Can you do that?
  • No.
  • Why not?
  • Don’t know.
  • When was the last time you spoke?
  • Not for years
  • So, who told you cannot speak in public?
  • Back to the world of silence

Each person is an individual, with their own background. Sometimes, because a task appears daunting, we give up too easily. We convince ourselves that we cannot. Sometimes, we have been poorly conditioned by well-meaning parents or teachers.

Whatever, this is all a convenient excuse to pass off responsibility for our actions (or non-actions). So many of us are just missing out on opportunities……. because of ourselves.

Often, the solution is allowing yourself to listen to wake up call from somebody you trust.

Wellness, time management and innovation

June 8, 2011

I attended a fascinating lecture this week on “wellness”. This sector has mushroomed in the past decade, seemingly valued at billions in whichever country you are resident.

And in a period, where the “pace of life” is constantly driven faster by new apps and smaller devices, “wellness” devotees correctly pose the question: “Are managers and business owners able to find time for everything they want to do”? What important tasks get ignored at work? And how many of us are guilty of cutting in to family time?

Solutions are not simple. One interesting approach was offered by my IIB colleague, Siu Ling Hui from Melbourne, Australia. Writing in the latest edition of her monthly posting, Ruminations, she questioned if “we are busy with the right stuff”.

And if not? Siu wonders if businesses invest too little time, money and resources in innovation and marketing, activities which create value today and in the future.

…..innovation isn’t just about inventing ground breaking world shattering products. It is equally about harnessing new technologies or new ways of doing things so as to be able to deliver your products or services more effectively to your customers than your competitors………..

 As for marketing,  Siu concludes that you must invest creatively or perish. For example,

Whilst many of the major (Australian) retailers are crying poor and bitching about the competitive threat of internet, there are many new small retail businesses which have harnessed the power of technology to create innovative business models.

Kogan (consumer electronics) and the Shoes of Prey are just two young innovative retailers who are thriving ……

Consider the book retailing industry. The REDGroup, owner of Borders and Angust & Robertson book store chains in Australia, went into administration in February 2011. Price competition from the internet and the protectionist policy that forced local retailers to buy from Australian publishers were blamed for the demise of the chains………Small independent book stores have been able to survive because they offer their customers something extra beyond just books: knowledgeable staff who genuinely engage with the customers. The “soul-less” large chains didn’t provide that to compensate for the higher prices.

Innovation is so often linked to hightech, that we forget how it is relevant for just about every commercial sector and beyond.

Two of my current customers could learn a simple lesson from Siu’s advice. One runs a gift store, which is open long hours. Local competition is fierce, but the owner is reluctant to risk taking on new items in case he will be copied by others. Another is looking for a career change, but will not bring themselves to decide on new opportunities.

In both cases, the client remains (for now) encased in the comfort zone of the past. Yet they are engaged in spending time doing what they do not enjoy. The result? Not a lot of wellness and an unhealthy bank account.

So what really happens in Jerusalem

June 7, 2011

If you look at maps from Roman times or the medieval ages, Jerusalem is often placed in the middle of the picture. Today, any stone thrown or any fear of trouble in the holy city almost automatically triggers editors to clear media space.

But what really goes on inside Jerusalem? Under 800,000 residents and less than 130,000 dunam, but with nearly 3 million tourists – what makes this relatively small city tick?

Back in June 1967, the Jerusalem was reunited. Since then, Jewish sites have been restored, the Christian community has grown, Muslims are excavating freely under the Dome of the Rock. OK – all very politically correct, but what else? What brings everybody together, despite the tensions?

The Mayor of Jerusalem issued a press release last week, which revealed how all this freedom is brought together. And I quote extensively:

In the past two years Jerusalem has experienced a cultural revolution. Budgets invested in culture were doubled and the number of cultural events and festivals in the city has tripled. Jerusalem returns to occupy the center of the stage and holds the central and leading cultural and sports events alongside major international events. Jerusalem has become a leader in cultural events in the country and the new cultural and sports complexes established by the city council will serve a large variety of events, starting from concerts held by international performers through hosting the Maccabiah and the leading film, art and theater schools in the country.

 There are many examples of this; a children’s film festival, laying out tourists tracks in the Muslim part of the city, a new international marathon, etc. Later this summer there will be opera and wine festivals. As for education:

In the past two years a number of new schools were opened in the eastern part of the city, adding 500 classrooms to the education system for Arab residents. In 2011 an unprecedented amount of NIS 300 million will be invested in design and construction of 285 classrooms in the eastern part of the city; 75 million NIS were already invested in construction.

 (This academic year), the Jerusalem municipality opened 6 new schools: one national-religious school in Gonenim neighborhood and 2 additional schools (1 national and 1 religious) in Chomat Shmuel neighborhood. The “Abdullah Bin El Hussein” all girls high school was opened in eastern Jerusalem as well as the regional “Ras El Amud” all girls high school.

And if you want some useful / useless facts about Jerusalem, remember that: 

  • More than 140,000 people went to see soccer games in the capital.
  • The word “Jerusalem” in Hebrew appears 20,100,000 times in Google.
  •  The word “Jerusalem” in English appears 67,100,000 times in Google.
  • The average winter temperature in Jerusalem is 12°C degrees and 29°C degrees in the summer.
  • The overall length of roads in Jerusalem is 1,253km.
  • The longest street in the city is Menachem Begin Blvd. stretching to a length of 15.7km.
  •  There are 173,055 meters of footpaths in Jerusalem.
  • There are 28km of highway in Jerusalem.
  • Jerusalem is located in the Mountains of Judea and therefore there are 34.9km of stairs aimed at shortening distances to pedestrians.
  • There are approximately 2000 archaeological sites in Jerusalem.
  • 10,000 runners took part in the Jerusalem marathon, running in 5 different categories.
  • Flowers were planted twice a year in 80 different squares throughout the city, adding color to the city.
  • More than 30 playgrounds were renovated during the past two years.
  • In 2010 2,547 new immigrants settled in Jerusalem. An 11% increase in comparison to the previous year.