Check Point’s Gil Shwed Believes in Israel

by on April 17, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Checkpoints_gil_shwed_10 Our group met with Check Point’s CEO and founder Gil Schwed today in Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan, the same stretch of land where the Barkats’ grandfather, a bus driver once grew tomatoes. According to Rosenthal’s research, he is nicknamed “Gil Gates” after successfully growing Check Point into a $20 billion stock market value company by 2001.

I shot a 15 minute video of Gil telling his ’story’ on a Nokia GSM video phone, but it sadly seems to have disappeared. If I can somehow reclaim the footage, I’ll post the video at a later date. Scoble also shot him in high resolution so if my raw footage is lost, you can watch the interview on Fast Company.com later this month.

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One of the things that was an underlying thread throughout all of his business examples and recap of Check Point’s history, was his love of Israel and his belief that running a technology company here is easier than it would be in the United States. Easier and more efficient. He also brought up several other points.

Says Gil, “we?ve had an entrepreneurial spirit for over 100 years. My parents came here, trying to build something new. First agriculture, then infrastructure and today, technology. One thing that really helps us here is that we don?t have a local market.

What if we had started Check Point in Boston rather than Tel Aviv? Here, we think more globally. In the states, France and Germany, you have large local markets, which means creating and thinking in those languages and for those cultures. We are thinking of customers who are 6,000+ miles away from home.”

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More than anything else, he stressed the benefits of building a company in Israel. “People are loyal here,” says Gil. “They are driven, think globally, and have a lot of passion. Because they are far away from the energy of Silicon Valley, they are focused on products and listening to customers, not the hype and latest trends.”

He thinks that being in an environment where a new trend born every few months is distracting. In Silicon Valley, there’s always a new trend and if people don?t jump on that bandwagon when it hits, they feel left behind. “Not the case here,” he says. “People work at companies for 3-5 years or longer and don?t feel as if they?re being left behind. They feel like they?re part of a group, a community, that they?re building something.”

In Rosenthal’s book, what it means to be an Israeli entrepreneur comes through as strong as it did today when we chatted in one of his conference rooms on Tel Aviv’s Ha’solelim Street. She describes him as a ‘boyish looking bachelor with cropped hair and John Lennon glasses.’ I didn’t quite see him that way, but I do think she did a great job of bringing his dry and serious wit to life.

During his interview with her, he noted that Israel is a natural for start-ups. Yossi Vardi feels the same way as does numerous other driven and successful entrepreneurs in this country.

Like Gil’s references today, he brought up the impact that immigration has had on business growth, particularly technology. He has immigrant mentality – strong, committed, loyal, passionate, driven and practical. I have read in a few articles that wearing black clothes is one of Gil’s trademarks, so I expected him to walk through the door wearing all black, and he did. Not surprising that he thinks wearing all black is “practical.” When you travel as much as he does, it makes sense.

He tells an amusing story of his resourceful mother in the book, an example from childhood that I resonated with. I think his mother and my grandfather would have really hit it off since my grandfather pulled similar stunts on a regular basis when I was growing up.

He recalls traveling around the country with her. “She’d see a dairy and stop and ask, ‘can my kid watch how you milk cow? She knocked on the door of Ha’aretz and asked, ‘can my kid see how you print the newspaper?’

It’s the best way to raise kids in my opinion. It gives children a sense of adventure and shows them how easy it is to create it. If it doesn’t feel right or you’re not sure, just ask. How will you know if you don’t try? I was raised that way but its no surprise since I was raised my grandparents, a generation behind most of my counterparts.

That generation is closer to the early immigrant mentality that Israel is experiencing today. It is during this stage of building a new country that great innovation happens. Passion and energy levels are high. There isn’t a lot of fear nor is there much complacency.

People hunger for growth and knowledge and with these characteristics, comes great things, like the amazing technology that came out of Check Point more than ten years ago and is being launched today in incubators and start-ups. Great innovation is coming out of kibbutzim as well but that’s another story to be told. Stay tuned. It’s a story that will likely bring tears to your eyes.

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