When Israelis think of business people from the USA, they often conjure up images of fast talking ambitious go-getters from New York or Los Angeles.
Indeed, during this reporter’s 36 years in Israel, it has been hard to find Israelis with any exposure whatsoever to a successful, soft spoken American mid west businessman, let alone an entrepreneur who has turned over billions of dollars.
Ofer Petersberg, economics correspondent for the most widely read Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, was one of the first Israeli reporters to meet Warren Buffet when he was flown to Omaha last May, shortly after the deal was made for Buffet to buy the controlling 80% interest in the ISSCHAR conglomerate in the Galilee region which had been pioneered by Stef Wertheimer in 1952.
ISSCHAR, based in the Tefen Industrial Park in northern Israel, a few miles from the border with Lebanon, exports technological products to no less than sixty nations, not all of whom are on the best of terms with Israel. However, business is business.
Petersberg remarked that when the other four Israeli reporters knew that they were flying to the USA on a private plane to witness a major business deal, the details of which were kept secret from them, they imagined that they would be landing in some kind of Rockefeller Center or Wall Street, “So imagine the surprise that we had in store for us when we looked out the windows of the plane and saw the cornfields of Nebraska”.
What Petersberg did see was a an investment of billions of dollars, yet something which he described as ” simple, clear and business like”: – How a businessman who had never stepped foot in Israel would give the Israeli economy an unexpected vote of confidence by evaluating the profitability and the potential of a leading Israeli enterprise, which would lead him to invest $4 billion and an 80% controlling shares of the company.
Petersberg and the other Israeli reporters wanted to understand why Warren Buffet would invest in Israel, and they were impressed by the fact that Buffet gave them time and paid attention even more time than he paid to the US reporters.
During his short visit, Buffet spent a few hours with the media, reviewing his principles with the Israeli reporters: That the firm that he was buying was making a profit, that there was no government interference, and that the firm would have staying power.
All that fit the reputation of Buffet’s future business partner – Stef Wertheimer, whose industrial park complex has been the shining light of business success in Israel, simply because Wertheimer has defied the modus operandi of almost every business in Israel, since almost every business in Israel is somehow tied to the umbilical cord of the Israeli government, or dependent on some kind of Israeli government contract, subsidy or market assistance.
Instead, Wertheimer’s mantra has always been that he wants the government to leave him alone while he is making his international business arrangements.
What Buffet was surprised to learn upon his arrival was that “The Buffet Method” has been made into a household word by a young Israeli investment analyst, Udi Aloni, who has compiled and translated everything that he could get a hold of from Warren Buffet’s lectures and writings into Hebrew.
For almost ten years, Aloni, at 34, has been giving lectures based on “The Buffet Method” for aspiring business students in Israel’s leading academic institutions.
Indeed, Aloni has summarized “The Buffet’s method” to 35 principles, almost all of which have to do with the fundamental human psychology of how to develop modest, capable instincts as a way to assure success in business.
Some of the principles of “The Buffet Method” that Aloni has compiled seem basic and logical:
* Invest only in something that you understand • Hire administrators who are credible, bright and energetic. • 12. Only work with people whom you like to work with. • Circle the investments that you understand. • Hold on to companies that produce cash assets • A company’s success does not depend on someone’s Intelligence.
Aloni, who also writes for the Israeli newspaper HaAretz’s business section, covered Buffet’s visit and met him this week for the first time in person.
During Buffet’s presentation at Isschar, he gave clear reasons for his investment in Issschar and in Israel, noting the brain potential that exists throughout Israel, which Buffet described as “a nation with such a reserve of brains the presents a logical reason for anyone to invest”.
Buffet told the media who accompanied him in Tefen that “One of the inherent solutions of the conflict is to encourage Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews to work together productively, so that they would see how much they would have to lose if all this would go under” Stef Wertheimer added that his vision was to “create the infrastructure of peace by creating jobs”. In the literature given out at Tefen, Wertheimer outlined his vision of a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” that would stimulate industrial productivity in the aftermath of the Middle East Conflict.
This reporter asked Buffet as to how to convey the reality of the Galilee to the media after the conflict that had ensued during this past summer, when Tefen was also under bombardment. Buffet responded that he had a “clear message for the media – to see and report first hand a story that no one knows, of the development of the Galilee, of Arabs and Jews working side by side in a billion dollar industry” and in Buffet’s words, “a message for Jews” – to see this aspect of Israel, which Buffet called the “unknown story – even to the Jews of America.
Ofer Petersberg asked Buffet if he had reconsidered his investment during the war in the Galilee this summer. “I did not think for one minute of withdrawing or reconsidering or delaying my s investment… I knew that I was investing in a country where not all the folks around her like e you, and that conflict is part of the reality of Israel” Buffet then exclaimed: “We will be here forever and Israel will be here forever”.
In all of his appearances during his short visit to Israel, Buffet indicated that this would not be his last investment in Israel and that he waited for people from Israel to contact him, indicating that he would like to repeat his investment, based on Israel’s phenomenal economic growth
After all, the Israeli economy has grown at a pace far more rapid than hardly anywhere else, where the GNP in 1990 was 25 billion dollars, The GNP in the year 2000 was $102 billion. The GNP in the year 2005 was $150. – a 600% GNP increase in 15 years,
Buffet described some of the investments that he has made in the recent past – 9% of Gillette – 8% of Coca Cola, to indicate to Israeli business people the kind of blue chip investment that he is pursuing.
When a reporter asked Buffet about the “boycott of Israel” in some international industrial circles,. Buffet’s remark was that “this would be like biting your nose to spite your face”.
At one point in Buffet’s presentation, he indicated hat he combined his own business like sense of human relations in the market place with the struggles of Jewish existence. Indeed, in his final remarks in Jerusalem, at one of the few times that Buffet displayed any emotion whatsoever, Buffet said that he had learned much from the experience of a Jewish woman in Omaha who had survived the Nazi horrors. She had explained to Buffet that “making true friendships is the way that you will find out who will hide you when they come to get you”, and he said that this is one reason why Israel needs true friends.
During Buffet’s reception in Jerusalem, this reporter observed two Jewish business people from Omaha, Ron and Irv Blumkin, whose furniture supply outfit, Nebraska Furniture Mart, was sold by their grandmother Rose to Buffet back in 1983 for a 80%.share, the same share that Buffet offered Wertheimer. A gentleman in the hall who hailed from Omaha came over to reminisce about their furniture supply store. The man was without any tag, so it was something of a curiosity that an Omahan native happened to be at the King David Hotel that night. Well, that man was Richard Jones, the relatively new US ambassador to Israel, a proud native of Omaha.
While Irv Blumkin had been in Israel once before, this was Ron’s first visit. Ron accompanied Buffet in the helicopter that traversed he country, and he remarked that “seeing the proximity of Israel’s neighbors” caused him to see the “miracle of Israel’s survival” from what he could see from the helicopter, because, to paraphrase Ron’s words, it did not dawn on him that hostile neighbors are so close. Ron commented that Nebraska is indeed surrounded on all sides by Iowa, South Dakota, Coloradao and Kansas, and that this did not in any way compare to an Israel that was much smaller than Nebraska – and surrounded by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, each of whom has been at war with Israel at one time or another since the inception of the Jewish state in 1948.