Archive for May 2012

Life Sciences, Israel, Biotech – what’s the link?

May 30, 2012

Three headlines from Israel’s financial press in the past week: –

There are plenty more stories like that out there. Bottom line, the Israeli life science and biotech industry is thriving, consistently achieving medical and commercial breakthroughs.

It should be no surprise that the annual Biomed conference, which took place last week in Tel Aviv was quite awesome. By taking a rather arbitrary measure of noise and buzz, it was way up on the previous year. And the reasons speak for themselves.

  1. Israel prides itself with over 700 active companies in the field, 6th in the Euro league
  2. Israel ranks second globally in bio-pharma patents per caipta.
  3. Teva, Jerusalem, is the 15th largest pharma in the world and largest generic manufacturer.
  4. The country is a pioneer and leader in cell therapy.
  5. Aside from Burrill, Clal and Orbimed have major new investment funds in the pipeline.

 I am personally acquainted with a story of one senior overseas exec, who visited the Holy Land for the first time during Biomed. To paraphrase what he said: you can read all you want about Israel being a start up nation and being the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. However, when you actually see the activity unfold before your eyes, you know that you have to engage hands-on.

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Health, choices and mentoring

May 27, 2012

Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

Thus quotes Dr Robert Books on nurse Bronnie Ware. Although, it was only last week when I mentioned Brooks’s discussion on “regrets” and business, I feel that this sentence is extremely powerful and needs further comment.

In mentoring, I frequently come up against people, who seem to have been plodding along quite nicely. Then, almost suddenly, they come to a realisation that they are in a rut. However, on analysis, the truth is often very different. Matters have not been good for ages, but they have been able to deceive themselves until now.

And that is often the fact. We allow ourselves – out of convenience or even from fear – to delude ourselves that all is OK. After all, if we have our health, things cannot be that bad.

How many times have we seen people review their situations, only after suffering by an illness? And it may not be chronic. Some years back, I ripped a muscle in my lower leg following a freak accident. I could no longer charge off to meetings at will. I thought my life was at end end…………until I realised just how many of these appointments were not so important. It proved to be a painful but valuable learning experience.

Similarly, when I sit down with clients and work on their time management skills, I am often surprised by what I hear. I have to encourage and mentor people to utilise basic common sense, when planning a regular day.

For example, so many skip first appointments of the day, because they do not feel so good in the morning. What frequently happens is that they have worked late the previous day and / or not eaten properly. The body is effectively saying “no can do”.

Net result? Having tried to fit in extra work hours, the client loses out on “production time” the following day. Worse, potential revenue may be sacrificed.

So before you have any further regrets, make sure that your schedule is not so heavy that you are mistreating your body. When you understand that limitation, you will realise the scope of your freedom to act.

Why Jerusalem is attracting heavy biomed attention

May 25, 2012

Burrill & Company is arguably the largest biotech investment fund in the world. The recent announcement of a new Israel-centric fund, which is to be based in Jerusalem, has caught the attention of many.

It is not just that the fund will be capitalised at over US$200 million. As one exec from a major American biotech company said this week on visiting Israel for the first time: “I just had no idea what existed out here.”.

Burrill has raised over US$1.4 billion in the past 14 years. Its teams reviews over 100 business plans in an average month, of which barely 1% make it through to investment stage. Today, the emphasis is on the 3P concept in medicine; personalised, predictive and preventative.

Yet for all that, why Jerusalem?

The answer was “revealed” last night at a meeting of the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum (JBNF). Graciously hosted by the Jerusalem municipality in the council chamber, participants heard from two keynote speakers; Mayor Nir Barkat and Jeffrey Miller, who is a special advisor to the Burrill fund.

Barkat was ably backed by other council members (Naomi Tsur and Yitzik Pindrus) and the biz dev teams of Chen Levin and Avi Salman from the Jerusalem Development Authority. As they explained, Jerusalem has barely 800,000 residents. Its main industry has often been tourism, already 44% in 2012 despite the European recession. This holy City most represents the geopolitical problems of the country.

And yet, it is the home of Teva, one of the largest manufacturer of generic drugs in the world. It boasts five leading academic campuses. There are over 130 known biotech companies in the region. Walk into the tiny labs of Hadassah and you can almost literally see IP being created before your eyes.

And that’s what Burrill himself has long recognised. As Miller was ably to tell his audience,  setting up the fund was a natural fit for Burrill. Simply look at Intel with its massive r&d plant in north Jerusalem and one can see what talent the city contains. While the politicians and the world media are focused on front page headlines, local citizens of all backgrounds are looking to change the world as I write.

It is almost 2,000 years since cartographers regularly placed Jerusalem at the centre of their maps. Maybe they were predicting something that the Burrills of our era have learnt to recognise. Who will be next to join them?

Israel, OECD and the world of happiness in 2012

May 23, 2012

Spot the contradiction:

  • Of the 36 countries assessed in the OECD’s Better Life Index, Israel only came 25th.
  • Compared to the average OECD individual(6.7), Israelis are happy people with a score of 7.4 out of 10. Denmark came top with 7.8.
  • The OECD forecasts 3.2% GDP growth for Israel in 2012 and 3.6% growth in 2013, one of the best performers in the organisation.

So what’s the point? This week, I met up with two European delegations. Most participants are visiting for the first time, asking what makes this country of 8 million people tick? It is nearly 50% desert and surrounded by a geopolitical mess. The stats above could indicate that everything is about to implode and yet…………….

And yet, people walk around with a smile on their face. The economy is doing wellish. Despite the threat of a deep European recession, I spent today looking at the expansion plans of two companies.  Life ain’t too bad.

Bottom line: The OECD has churned out another set of interesting stats. They should be studied for what needs to be improved. However overall, the report does not seem to match up the reality when it comes to ‘the land of miracles”.

Avoiding regrets in business

May 21, 2012

As stated before in this column, I am a great fan of the writings of Dr Robert Brooks. In his latest monthly offering, he comments about regrets in life. Specifically, Brooks refers to the “phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom.”

If only we had done such and such is the common refrain. However, Brooks takes this theme one stage further.

Most of us still have time to take actions to address our current regrets in a realistic fashion. Regrets are part of the human experience, but if we are burdened by too many of them, there is a lessening of joy and satisfaction. It is for this reason that it is beneficial to embrace and apply the wisdom shared by dying patients about our own lives.

I often see this scenario played out when I sit down with my business clients. A typical conversation takes the following format (and I simplify somewhat).

  • (Me) What do you want to do?
  • (Client) I don’t know.
  • You sure?
  • Well, I could try XXXX
  • OK, how?
  • Well, by doing blah blah………(and then there is a sigh)
  • What’s wrong?
  • Well, it does not allow me to do……….
  • To do what?

And it is at this stage that the client blurts out a full explanation of what they want to do in life. Absolutely amazing every time. Frequently, the words are the basis for a business plan. Somewhere in the back of their minds, the client has been storing up enormous details about how to go about implementing what they really enjoy.

So what stops them moving ahead? Fear? Their partner in life? Lack of support? You name it.

My point is that so many of us end up stuck where we do not want to be. For example, I recently helped somebody map out a strategy for their business. Fine, clear and practical, agreed. And then I noticed “the sigh”. You see, as he finally admitted, he actually wanted to be in a different profession altogether.

It is over 30 years since the Monty Python team wrote the Lumberjack sketch, abandoning a desk job for roaming the countryside. It was considered a brilliant joke then. Maybe it is finally time to take their ideas seriously

We work in jobs, salaried or self-employed, when many of us wish to be elsewhere. Are you prepared to change?

Jerusalem Syndrome 2012

May 18, 2012

There is a Mosque, Church and Synagogue all under the same roof. It sounds like the opening line of a politically incorrect joke. In fact, it is a description of the building, where the tomb of the biblical prophet, Samuel, is located.

The site, known locally as Nebi Samuel, can be found just outside north Jerusalem. Nearby are a few homes belonging to people of the three faiths. The tourist kiosk is run by a moslem under supervised by a well-known rabbi from Bnei Barak. The Israeli army used to have a small base on the premises – the highest point in the Jerusalem area – but it was removed some time back.

Down the road in Givon, so to speak, archeologists believe that the “Ark” was rested by the Children of Israel, as they approached from Jericho. More recently, the building of the tomb,  has witnessed battles in 1948 and 1967. When I visted there last month, a large busload of pilgrims pulled up.

Welcome to Jerusalem 2012.

For thousands of years, Jerusalem has attracted them all. It was the crusaders who first made Nebi Samuel a holy place. Simon Sebag’s Montefiore, a biography of Jerusalem, eloquently describes how Roman princesses, wandering Jews, and more recently refugees from Sudan, all have seen Jerusalem as a haven, a place they must be.

Look up the Jerusalem Syndrome on the internet, and there are those who try to explain it as a medical phenomenon. Something mystical seems to enter the soul and draws people forth. There are even a few rabbis, who insist that their followers must ask for permission before leaving the holy city.

As for me, Jerusalem Syndrome is also the name of a cultural festival taking place this week in the heart of the city. Music, raconteurs, farmers’ fair, arts and crafts – it was a great atmosphere wandering around the back streets late last night. Carefree and open to all.

This coming Sunday, Israel officially commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 war. Be it in Nebi Samuel or in the heart of the city centre, the city will be packed with all-comers. That is a something to be proud of and to celebrate. This is a syndrome that can be a role model for others to copy around the world.

Who cares about stock control? 2 case studies from Israel

May 13, 2012

Putting on my hat as business mentor, I casually asked my Jerusalem client today how many units of stock he possessed. A one-person operation, in business for less than a year, I did not expect a large number.

Sure enough, without being too precise, I received an answer commensurate to one month’s sales. Good start.

What is the value of that stock? I tested the response and found it unreliable. And how much of this is dead stock? Again, no depth to the stat.

The point is that within a few months of starting out, the client had failed to realise that they had already “burnt” a certain level of capital. This was not going to be converted into money in their pocket. Likewise, the client had yet to appreciate (until today) that the gap between the desired revenues and the hole in the bank account could be explained by the units in the stores….a.k.a “stock”.

Ouch! Suddenly, the importance of planning stock took on a new and higher meaning. The net damage at this stage is only a few thousand shekels  – one American dollar is worth nearly 4 shekels – but this is still a fortune for my client. The good news is that they can start to correct their mistakes relatively early on in the game.

Now compare that scenario to “Kika, Israel“. The Austrian home goods multinational opened its doors in the Holyland less than a year ago to a massive PR blitz. Thousands flocked in during the first few days of trading. But late last week, the Israel franchisee ceased operations.

How come? Those running the company, both at parent and local level, are coated in retail experience. Yes, they paid high salaries to those at the top and invested megabucks in marketing. 

However, they were not able to pay suppliers. To me that is a euphemism for not controlling stock flow up to and including the point of sale. In other words, for all the hullabaloo, nobody strong enough was watching the basics, which was what my client was learning today.

It will be interesting to see who is in their jobs in a month’s time and continuing to trade – one little businessman or the bigwigs at Kika Israel?