Doing business in Israel? Drop the stiff upper lip

Cash in on £3bn trade partnership

By Candice Krieger, January 20, 2011

Avi Levi
Avi Levi, General Manager UK of Bank Hapoalim International. He moved to the UK from Israel in 2007

● I have had to adjust to doing business in the UK - be more formal and reserved.

In Israel, if clients have something to say, they say it, whereas Brits are more subtle.

In the UK, there are lots more meetings before concluding transactions, whereas in Israel, you can conclude everything in one meeting.

There is an emphasis on execution. Israelis are always looking for the bottom line. The UK could learn from this and be a bit more direct.

They could learn to not waste so much time, while Israelis could learn about planning.

I have never come across a client who hasn't wanted to invest in Israel because of their working practices. People understand and accept their culture.

Ed Mlavsky
Founding partner of Israel-based Gemini VC. Born in Britain, Mr Mlavsky moved to Israel in 1956

● What could the two nations learn from one another? Israelis could learn some manners and the Brits could learn 'chutzpah'. They are less pushy.

The business culture in Israel can be quite onerous but there is a mindset that enables them to succeed abroad.

Britain has not always been a place we have emphasised to clients because their investors, in the past, have been more likely to buy from big companies rather than small ones. They do not take risks.

The word impossible is not in an Israeli's vocabulary - whereas in Britain, business people are more likely to say no.

Jamie Lazarus
British-born senior tax associate at PwC in Tel Aviv. He joined the firm in January 2010

● In my time working with Israelis I have found them to be extremely professional. Because so much of business is done internationally, clients expect high standards and so, this positively affects the way Israelis want to be perceived.

I have found that my Israeli colleagues are very confident and will not be shy to get what they want if it means that a better service can be provided to the end user. Working hours are long and like any professional workplace, they expect you to work efficiently.

The change from working in the UK to Israel has not been as difficult as I thought it may be. My Israeli colleagues are just as polite as my UK colleagues were and if anything, work harder, because they know that the international client expects such high standards.

Sir Andrew Cahn
The recently departed former chief executive of the UK Trade & Investment

● Israel has always been a really important business partner for the UK.

Israel and the UK are very well-suited. Israel is known for its start-ups and that's the sort of economy we want to engage with. We both do well with start-ups, but we both tend to sell out too soon and don't grow those small start-ups into the Google and Facebooks. We can offer Israel access to venture capitalists. This is the greatest area of potential synergy between the two countries.

Israelis are natural business people. They don't need lessons. They are more direct than the Brits. Any country you go to has cultural challenges and I don't think the Israeli ones are bigger than others - they are significantly less than when doing business in Vietnam.

The dynamism of Israelis is something our SMEs could learn from.

Rachel Levitan
Founding partner of Tel Aviv law firm Levitan, Sharon & Co, representing UK and US companies in Israel

● There is a huge difference between British and Israeli business cultures. Israelis want a good deal on everything - even when they are buying a bus ticket.

That's not to say Brits are less sophisticated in business. They are more straightforward and clear. Matters are defined and more regulated. Everything is agreed in advance. You know what to expect and that makes it easier to do business there.

In Israel there is flexibility. That can be good in hi-tech,but in traditional sectors fee arrangements are often left until afterwards.

That causes misunderstandings.

Daniel Seal
Daniel Seal, chief executive of the UK-based British-Israel Chamber of Commerce

● Brits are far more conservative than Israelis - and not as into risk. Doing business with Israelis can be challenging. They are less bothered what people think of them.

They have the drive to get something done. The downside is that everyone in Israel wants to be their own boss.

People who understand the tough exterior and Israeli mentality - and not mind if they answer their mobile in the middle of a meeting - will get on well with them. You have to know how to handle Israelis. They don't believe in paying people for thoughts but in paying them for actions. They are wary of consultants and like working with entrepreneurs.

The beauty about doing business in Israel is that everybody knows everybody.

Richard Salt
Director of Trade and Investment at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, where he has served for four years

● Israeli business culture is unique and refreshingly direct. There is less ceremony and more informality than anywhere else, and you quickly get to appreciate Israeli honesty, bluntness and 'tachlis-what's in it for me?' approach. Israelis are great at networking and that is a big strength in the business community, and access is great.

Although Israel is very open, UK businesspeople, who try to do business here without being briefed about the culture, will find it exasperating.

In meetings, expect mobile phones to go off, someone to walk out and the first question to be asked, a blunt: 'Why am I here?'

"Israelis typically misunderstand British businesspeople - they think they might be close to closing a deal but the Brits are just being polite.

David Hyams
UK-based internet entrepreneur, CEO of Print Fair, and MD of Israeli JV Vocal Greetings

lTwenty years ago, Israel was quite behind the times in terms of business. But now, it is very cutting edge. Israel is in a hurry to get things done. The whole country supports entrepreneurs, whereas in the UK, there is a constant battle to get things moving.

I thought it would be really hard to do business in Israel but it wasn't. The Israelis were very business-like and determined. I have worked in the UK and in the US but would rank Israel at the top. Brits seem to run their business by the book- Israelis think outside the box. Israelis are tough. I would want them negotiating on my behalf. Although they do have egos. They once came to a meeting with a two-page contract but as a UK company,we told them that they had to produce the full version – they weren't happy.

Last updated: 10:42am, January 20 2011