Arriving in America flush with ambition rather than cash, these Sabras climbed quickly up the ladder of success
When a new star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in honor of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” creator and media mogul Haim Saban last year, it was another feather in the cap of Israeli citizens who have built successful enterprises in the United States.
The list of Israelis heading American companies is impressively long. ISRAEL21c chose 10 to highlight here, all of whom spent their formative years in Israel (excluding, for example, Israeli-born Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz, who moved to the United States at age six).
We’ll start with Saban and continue in random order.
- Haim Saban
Haim Saban was born in 1944 in Egypt. His family immigrated to Israel in 1957 and his father sold pencils to pay the rent on a one-room Tel Aviv flat with a leaky roof. A problem student, Saban did his time in the Israel Defense Forces and then played bass guitar in a band before setting out to find fame and fortune first in France and then in Los Angeles.
“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” the show he remade from an obscure Japanese series and labored for eight years to sell, debuted on American TV in 1993 and became one of the longest-running children’s action series as well as the basis for three movies. In May, Saban sold the Power Rangers franchise rights to Hasbro in a $522 million deal.
In 1995, Saban Entertainment and Fox Kids merged to form the Fox Family Channel, acquired by Disney in 2001 for $5.2 billion (Saban’s take was reportedly $1.7 billion).
He went on to found Saban Capital Group and Saban Ventures, which makes worldwide investments in real estate, venture capital and public markets; and its affiliates Saban Brands and Saban Films. Saban Ventures recently opened a Tel Aviv office. He also chairs Univision, the largest Spanish-language media company in the United States.
- Adam Neumann
Born in 1979 in Beersheva and raised primarily on a kibbutz near Gaza, Adam Neumann served as an Israeli naval officer for five years before relocating to New York where his sister, Adi, had started a modeling career.
Adapting the communal principles of his kibbutz background to rethink the corporate office, Neumann cofounded WeWork in 2010. The fast-growing, high-profile company provides community, workspace and services to 268,000 members in 77 cities in 23 countries — 287 physical locations as of now, including eight in Israel.
WeWork has given momentum to the “sharing economy” movement sweeping the world. According to Forbes, the company is valued at $21 billion.
- Orit Gadiesh
Orit Gadiesh is chairman of Boston-based Bain & Company, one of the world’s top business consulting firms. Forbes has listed her among the world’s 100 most powerful women four times.
Born in Haifa in 1951, Gadiesh completed her military service and a degree in psychology from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She earned an MBA at the Harvard Business School in 1977 – the first Israeli to do so — and received a prize as the most outstanding marketing student, despite having started with little knowledge of English.
She joined Bain immediately and 17 years later became the first woman to head a major consulting firm.
Gadiesh has said that her experience in the IDF taught her to “respect people without being intimated by them.”
- Arie S. Belldegrun
Dr. Arie S. Belldegrun, born in 1949, is a physician and businessman whom the Los Angeles Business Journal named one of the city’s 500 most influential people in 2017 and Ernst & Young honored as 2018 Master Entrepreneur.
Head of the Israeli army’s medical evacuation unit in the late 1970s, he has been closely involved with the founding, development and sale of several private and public biopharmaceutical companies.
His cofounded personalized cancer immunotherapy company, Kite Pharma, was acquired in 2017 by Gilead Sciences for $11.9 billion. Belldegrun cofounded a new venture with Pfizer, Allogene Therapeutics, to develop a lower-cost off-the-shelf immune cell therapy.
Also cofounder of Vida Ventures life-sciences investment firm in Boston, executive chairman of UroGen Pharma and director of the UCLA Institute of Urologic Oncology, Belldegrun completed his medical degree at Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem and a post-graduate fellowship at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in 1979.
- Joseph Nakash
Born in 1942, Joe Nakash left Tel Aviv for New York in 1962 with little more than an entrepreneurial spirit. He worked as a stock boy at a Manhattan clothing store, earning enough money to send for younger brothers Ralph and Avi in 1966.
The brothers opened a discount designer jeans shop in Brooklyn and launched the highly successful Jordache Jeans brand in 1978. Today, Jordache Enterprises and Nakash Holdings comprise an international conglomerate with a multibillion-dollar portfolio in aviation, retail, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing and real estate.
In Israel, Nakash Holdings manages Arkia Israeli Airlines; the Port of Eilat; Prinir tomato, citrus, olive and pickle products; Halutza olive oil; Tel Aviv’s Electra Tower; and a dozen luxury hotels, including recently opened five-star Setai hotels in the Galilee and Tel Aviv. Nakash also owns The Israeli Network, a TV station based in New York aimed at Israelis living abroad.
- Elie Tahari
Elie Tahari, whose name is on the label of clothing, shoes, sunglasses and accessories sold in more than 600 stores in 40-plus countries, was born near Jerusalem in 1952 as one of seven siblings in a poor Iranian immigrant family.
In 1971, he emigrated from Israel to the United States with less than $100 in his pocket.
Tahari began working in New York City’s garment center and launched his eponymous label in 1973. In 1989, his first shop in Bloomingdale’s NYC opened followed by Saks Fifth Avenue. By the late 1990s, Tahari apparel was the brand of choice for clothing actors on hit TV shows such as “Ally McBeal,” “The X Files” and “Will & Grace.”
In 2014, Tahari was honored with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a tribute to immigrants who made a significant contribution to the United States.
- Noa Tishby
Paving a path for future Wonder Woman and fellow Israeli Gal Gadot, Noa Tishby was the first Hollywood honcho who could boast that her Israeli army service trained her to “wield any weapon like she means it and kick some serious ass,” as she playfully reveals on her personal website.
Born in 1977 and raised in Tel Aviv, Tishby has been acting, singing and modeling since age 16. She was voted “sexiest woman in Israel” in 2007, by which time she was already racking up credits in films and TV shows including NCIS, CSI: Miami, Las Vegas and Nip/Tuck.
Through her Noa’s Arc production company, Tishby broke new ground by selling In Treatment to HBO, the first Israeli television show remade as an American series, and served as its co-executive producer. She went on to introduce additional Israeli television projects to HBO and MTV. Tishby splits her time between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.
- Adi Tatarko
Adi Tatarko is CEO of Houzz, a highly successful home remodeling and design platform that she founded with husband Alon Cohen in 2009 in the San Francisco Bay area.
Today, Houzz attracts 40 million unique monthly users in 15 countries. In 2017, the company was valued at around $4 billion, making 45-year-old Tatarko one of the only female CEOs of “unicorn” startups worth at least $1 billion, and one of the wealthiest women in the United States.
Tatarko graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1996. She met her husband on a trip to Thailand, and together they founded a software company in Israel before moving to the United States in 1998.
- Hadar Goldman
Serious musicians don’t often make it big in the world of business. Hadar Goldman is a sterling exception. Concert master of the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from 1978 to 1981, at age 16 he won second prize at the International Young Violinist Competition in Italy.
Goldman moved to London in 1984 when his band, Ciam, landed a record deal with PolyGram. There he got a master’s degree in marketing communications, worked for ad firm Saatchi & Saatchi and returned to Israel to forge a career in advertising.
His Zalman Goldman firm became of Israel’s top 10 ad agencies, but after nearly 13 years there he went to New York to found C2 Communities, which has developed a disruptive technological platform aimed at overhauling the US rental market. C2’s platform handles a wide range of tenant and management needs.
In 2015, Goldman also founded KeepItFree.io, which provides “100% effective technology to circumvent all ad blockers.”
- Shai Wininger
Serial entrepreneur and inventor Shai Wininger found a winning concept with Lemonade, an insurance-tech app for renters and homeowners operating in 19 US states (and Washington, DC) so far.
Established in 2015, Lemonade replaces brokers with a bot and paperwork with algorithms, and gives any leftover money to charity.
Wininger came to Lemonade (based in New York with R&D in Tel Aviv) from Fiverr, which he cofounded in Tel Aviv and built into the world’s largest marketplace for digital services. He remains on Fiverr’s board of directors. His Lemonade cofounder, London-born Daniel Schreiber, was formerly president of Israeli company Powermat and before that was a senior vice president at SanDisk.
Wininger graduated from Haifa’s Neri Bloomfield (WIZO) Academy of Design and Education in 1991 and returned as a faculty member in computer graphics in 2002, staying on for nearly six years before turning his full attention to his first startup, Morbideo Aerospace.
Read about other prominent Israelis in the American business world in Boston, Silicon Valley and New York City.
By: Abigail Klein Leichman
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