About Uzia Galil
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About the Interview
UZIA GALIL: An Interview Conducted by Jacob Baal-Schem, IEEE History Center, 18 December 2007
Interview #481 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Uzia Galil, an oral history conducted in 2007 by Jacob Baal-Schem, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
I am Jacob Baal Schem Chair of the IEEE Israel Section Life Member Group and I am interviewing Mr. Uzia Galil, who is known as the father of the hi-tech in Israel, and who was the first chairman of the Israel section.
Thank you for interviewing me.
Well first of my acquaintance with the IEEE happened in the United States while I was doing my graduate studies at the Purdue University.
Would you begin when you fled Rumania.
I was born in 1925 in Bucharest Rumania. I grew up in Bucharest, Rumania and went to school there. I was an only child, but at the age of 16 the situation was very serious, the Germans were already in Bucharest and my parents encouraged me to leave Rumania. I was part of the last youth immigration that left Rumania in 1941 legally. We went to Constanza, and then from there by boat to Istanbul and by train to Aleppo Syria, continued to Beirut and we came to Israel by bus.
Finally, when we arrived in Israel, I was sent by the youth Aliya, after a short time at Ahava, to learn at the Max Fine Technical School in TA [Tel-Aviv]. In parallel I wanted to continue my studies, and therefore I did my London matriculation by mails. In 1943 I graduated from both places, and I was ready to continue my studies. I was accepted at the Technion, but at the same time one had to either serve in the British Army, or serve here locally in the police force. I preferred the police force, so that I could study in parallel. So I did learn Electrical Engineering at the Technion. Obviously, all these years since my parents were still in Bucharest, I had to work at all kinds of jobs, in order to be able to continue my studies. In 1947, I took my bachelor in Electrical Engineering and at the same year, I also got married the first time. In 1948 at the time that the state of Israel was voted and accepted in the world, my first daughter was born.
My first job was with the Iraq Petroleum Company in Haifa. I got an engineering job there at the table, drafting and designing. Independence war was already on, and therefore very shortly after, I had to leave my job and join the army. In the Israeli army, I was initially in regular forces; they asked me what do I know - I said; "well I finished Electrical Engineering" so they said OK, you are good for communication, take the equipment on your back and move.
When the war ended, I succeeded to transfer to the Navy. I got a position, in charge of building the first radio station of the army here in Haifa. I was living in Haifa, and I became an officer. Although in the Navy, I really had very little to do on the sea, I was always in the ground working in Electronic Warfare.
My parents came 10 years after I left Rumania by the end of 1950. In 1951 my second daughter was born. Already in 1951 talented people were sent to take additional courses, or study more in the United States. I was sent to the United State to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, to do my Master degree.
So in the beginning of 1952, I took my family and after a long flight to New York and then by train, we arrived West Lafayette Indiana. There I started my studies for my masters degree in Electrical Engineering, but already then with the focus on computers. It became very clear to me, that what I really wanted to do was to get more involved in computer science.
Sometime during that period that I was at Purdue University I became a student member of IRE, which much later on became IEEE. I was a student member for M.Sc., and I had already my B.Sc.EE from the Technion. So I became a member about 55 years ago.
I graduated faster than they thought. I was sent for two years, and I took my Master of Science in EE in one year. So I took advantage of the second year.
In principal, I really wanted to do some work related to Electronic Warfare, but there was no way as a foreigner to do that. So I looked at something very close, and I found it at Motorola in Chicago, doing research and development in colored television that was really digital and analog. I worked in research and development of one of the first colored televisions of Motorola. Then, I think not only that I have learned many things, but I got also my first lesson. What was that first lesson? - Always be careful when you do new things against the standard. At that time, there was already a standard for colored TV, and R&D of Motorola decided that they have a better method, and it was better, I can tell you even today, I remember if we compare quality wise and so on. But it did not help, in the long run; they had to switch back to the standard. I think that through my life afterwards, in my professional life I always learn more from mistakes than from anything else, provided you remember your mistakes and act accordingly.
We returned to Israel in the beginning of 1954, and I had an obligation to serve in the Navy for another 4 years. I got the position as an officer in the Navy to be in charge of Electronic Warfare, and the idea was to set up something in the Navy for that purpose. But even then, and that is something I maintain with me all the time I said, "it does not make sense to set up something separate when I know that the ministry of defense, has a very strong and good research lab it is called "RAFAEL", at that time under a different name, why don't we join there so that will be much more efficient" and my superiors agreed to that. So during almost 4 years that I was still in the army, I was part of the Navy, and at the same time physically I spend most of my time in Rafael and got in touch with both qualified people in Radar and Computer R&D, and I got to know the fields quite well.
That was the time that it was decided to create in Israel the Israeli section of IEEE, while I was still in naval uniform. I was very happy to do this, and that was the time when we founded the IEEE section in Israel.
Even while I was in the army, I already decided with a friend Ben Sandller and Gideon Kirshner (recently passed away) that we must do something here to change a basic thing in the environment, and here I want to go into more details of the whole concept, because this really started when I was in the States.
In this country, in the beginning of the 50's, one could identify a very advanced research and development in the military, and a very advanced research and development in the universities, but the industry had nothing to do with that. The industry lived from license from different places, and the major problem was, that the people that worked in the industry that time, did not know to communicate with the people in the military R&D, or with the people in the universities. Everybody was trying to tell me that our future is in agriculture, I did not believe it. I believed, that in the long run what was happening in the States where people from the university, were also setting up start-ups and business must happen also in Israel. I realized that what we needed in this country was what I called at that time, a Knowledge Based Industry. I did not use the word hi tech yet, that was much later, when people started to use it. I said, that we have to find a way to take advantage of the knowledge in the university and in the defense in order to create an industry that will be attractive to the young people that study, and they will want to go and create an industry here, and stay here, and that will be to the benefit of the society. I also realized that we do not have enough of a market therefore; there must be products that people in the world will find interesting. That was the concept.
I tried to convince the government, the ministers, and it was very difficult because at that time, the key element was obviously, there is immigration we have to bring people to the Negev and find jobs for many people.
I remember , I went at some point to Pinhas Sapir, who later was Minister of Finance, and I told him we need that kind of a support in order to build this, his answer was are you going to the Negev, are you going to use hundreds of people. I said I do not know if I will use hundreds of people, but certainly I am not going to the Negev, this has to be in an area that we are close to the Technion and I thought Haifa is perfect. I must say on parenthesis that later on when Sapir realized what is happening, he totally changed his mind and was very supportive. So I set Elron originally like a lab in a small company, owned by me and a friend, but after I left the Army I needed a source of income. I had a family, so I went and got a job at the Technion at the Faculty of Physics, a very interesting position, I was in charge of the electronics laboratory in the faculty of physics, and as a lecturer to teach graduate students in physics about the electronic methods they could use in physics research. I had a full day, and in the evening I continued to do the business. Incidentally, that was also very interesting because when I took the job in the Technion, I said I have a condition that I will continue also my company that I started, a small company "Elron". That was at that time very unusual because, the academia did not like the idea of people between academia and business. I said too bad, if you do not accept it I will not come. So I was lucky and they accepted it.
In the Technion, I met Prof. Singer at the Faculty of Aeronautics he got me acquainted with Prof Moshe Arens. Prof. Arens, came from the States and he understood very fast what I was doing because he had the background, and he said, "I want to be helpful", I said "wonderful" let see what you can do. Sometime there is luck in life, and you have to make sure it doesn’t pass you by.
In 1961 Moshe Arens got me acquainted with Dan Tolkowsky, (General reserve) prior head of the Air Force. Moshe Arens, knew him very well from his position in the faculty. Dan Tolkowsky joined the Discount Bank Investment Corporation, headed by Augusto Levi. At that time DBIC was owned by the Discount bank, controlled by Daniel Recanati. Dan Tolkowsky liked the idea of Elron and convinced them to invest.
At the same time, our Israeli financial representative in the United States, Michael Doron, got to know the Laurence and David Rockefeller Venture Fund, and they decided at that time to invest outside the Untied States, so he brought us together. In 1962, I remember the day, February 4 1962, I succeeded in putting together the Rockefeller Venture Fund and the Discount Bank Investment Corp. and we created a new company "Elron Electronic Industries Ltd". They invested together 160,000 dollars in the company which at that time was very much money. Now it was different, I had 160,000 dollars and we started moving.
Initially that was a continuation of what I started. Now the question was where is the knowledge, and where do we sell? So one of the customers that we could see, was the Ministry of Defense, so we could do some work for them and the other we saw was that the universities needed at that time regulated power supplies, and some kind of nuclear equipment, so we were very diversified because I was using knowledge from the Technion, from the Weitzman institute, from different places in order to be able to move forward. It was diversified between laboratory equipment, medical equipment, defense equipment, all in relatively small things but we manage to start growing.
In 1966, there was a very serious financial crisis in this country which affected the R&D budgets of the Ministry of Defense and of Rafael. I said to myself, one moment, may be here is an opportunity. At that time in France Charles de Gaulle was giving a lot of money for the computer industry. I knew Dr. Alexander Shani, who was the head of the computer department in Rafael and we invited Shimon Peres, who was then Vice Minister of Ministry of Defense, we had a meeting with him and the head of Rafael, Yedidia Shamir and Dan Tolkowsky and we said; this is an opportunity to take the know-how from Rafael and set up a company that will build special computers also for the world. But we needed what we had, and we needed the key people from Rafael, Dr. Shany, Rafi Mor and Yehuda Shinar, (unfortunately none of them is alive) and Zvi Netter who hopefully lives for a long time. There was a team we could bring over, and around them build a computer company, so lets do it.
Finally, we set up a joined company, Elbit Computers Ltd. 50% owned by the Ministry of Defense and 50% owned by Elron Electronic Industries Ltd. The ministry of defense transferred the people to this company, and invested also 500,000 "lirot" and gave us an initial contract. So here we had the two companies. I managed both Elron and Elbit, and we had a very good head of Chief Technical Officer in Elron, Yohach Gilat, he really was very bright and Gidon Kirshner continued with us and we continued to grow both Elron and Elbit. Dr. Alexander Shani became the Senior VP of Elbit. But, as we were doing this, the most important thing in addition to the work in defense, was that in Rafael they already started the work for a mini computer, which was headed by Yehuda Shinar, and we said OK, we are going to invest in developing the first mini computer. In parallel there was in the world only one major company doing the mini computer at that time, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and hard to believe that in 1968 we were presenting at an exhibition in the United States the Elbit 100, while DEC was presenting the PDP8. Then I learned my second big lesson; people were coming to both our booths, and DEC was selling while we were talking about our technology and did not succeed to sell anything. So we learned the hard way, that there is no sense to put only money in R&D, and not in parallel to do tremendous marketing effort, because otherwise we can publish papers and nothing more.
So when we came back we started putting focus on marketing, we started working with France to sell all kind of applications of the minicomputer. In the same time I realized, one more thing; we were very defocused, here were Elbit in computers, in Elron itself we had a number of different things. So I said "let us try to see if we can start splitting and focusing", and again I was very lucky.
In the Technion, a guy that just completed his PhD was Dr. Avraham Suhami.
I realized that he was an extremely talented person, and he started part time working with us in Elron in the Medical Division. He really wanted to have an academic career, and I said: "look Avraham, you really are the kind of person that can really help building what I call "knowledge based industry" you should come and join us in the Industry". One day, he came to me and said: "you know you convinced me and I am leaving, I am going to have my own company". So I found the right approach, I said: "one moment, fine, we will set up a subsidiary, we will call it Elscint, you will get 10% of the company and you will get options, but you will manage the company and we will be the major share holder in the company". He accepted.
We set Elscint separately under Abraham Suhami; we had a separate team under Zvi Glazer in the Electronic laboratory equipment. I felt we could also spin it off.
We were lucky again, as we found out that Monsanto at that time decided to get involved in Electronics. Through a wonderful person from Boston, Fred Katzman, we set up a company "Monsel" - Monsanto Elron, which operated for a number of years under the management of Mark Shavit. Afterwards, Monsanto decided to buy the Company. We gradually, in Elbit, arrived to the conclusion that the Ministry of Defense was very good as a customer, but was really not good for us as a business partner. I do not believe in the government as partners in business.
Then we got lucky again, the luck was that Dave Familiant (today lives in Monaco) was representing Control Data and Nafta Raz was here with him. He wanted to sell big computers of Control Data to the Ministry of Defense, and so, he said; maybe one of the ways to do this in a big way would be to convince Control Data to invest in Israel. So what can they invest, they could buy the ministry of defense share in Elbit. I remember, I flew with Dan Tolkowsky to Minneapolis for one day, and after long discussion with Bill Norris the Chairman of CDC , the deal was concluded. Control Data bought the shares of the Ministry of Defense. I decided, now was the time that Elron really spins-off everything and become an operating holding company. We had Elscint, Monsel and Elbit so, that is exactly what we did. Control Data became a very interesting partner, we got them interested in the mini computer, they only had very large computers and they got involved in the medium size computers, they had a lot of software, we did not have software in the mini, so we said, we will adapt your software to our mini, and you will take over the marketing for mini computer that we call CR17, and it will appear in the world as a Control Data product developed here. It was a good competitive product in the world.
On one hand Elbit was growing with defense contract, and on the other hand we had CR 17. Control Data wanted to really sell the large computers, and they did not focus enough on the CR-17. They sold a few thousands, but not enough to create a business. That created some problems, and we were trying to think what the right solution was.
In my personal life there were also changes. In 1969, I divorced and married my present wife Ella who for the last 10 years is the Chairperson of Israel Junior Achievements.
Luckily again in 1972, we met Fred Adler, a professional lawyer of Fulbright & Jaworski in NY, who was also in venture capital. We got to know him and he started looking at the companies and got interested. He found particularly Elscint attractive. As a result in 1972, Elscint was the first hi-tech Israeli company that went public on NASDAQ and raised 2 million dollars.
Elscint also convinced the Israel government to participate 80% in the development in the computer tomography. So we were one of the first CT providers, competing with the very big ones. In 1975 we took Elron as an operating holding company public here in Israel and in 1977, we took Elbit public.
I met Dr. Morris Weinberg from Boston, that built Fiber Optics, and had the dream to build a Fiber Optics Company in Israel, and as a result we built Fibronics. The company grew very fast and we took it public. At the same time I met Shlomo Barak from Electro Optics, and we set up Optrotech which later on became Orbotech Ltd. after merging with Orbot.
In 1983, almost by coincidence, I met in the Ben Gurion airport Dr. Levy Gerzberg, who just started a company ZORAN, in semiconductors after completing his position at Stanford University. He wanted to raise money for the company and focus the R&D in a subsidiary in Israel. I was very impressed and after meeting together with Fred Adler we joined Zoran Corporation and set up also the Israeli subsidiary. To-day Zoran corporation with subsidiaries all over the world is a wonderful successful half a billion dollar company in revenues.
There is a lot of history here and I do not want to go step by step. Finally we became obviously a holding company of billions, with revenue of billions of dollars and if I jump of what happens today, out of the Elron group companies that we built, certainly the largest and most successful is Elbit Systems, with 70% export all over the world and about 10-15 subsidiaries starting from the States to Rumania.
Elscint in the meantime, became a $300M company but, at some point we arrived to the conclusion that it was very tough to compete with GE, Philips and Siemens and we decided to sell. Today you see the center of worldwide Philips R&D development is here in Haifa Israel coming from Elscint. We sold the MRI to GE that means more and more people working in R&D.
I stayed as CEO of Elron, until the end of 1999. I was already 75 at that time. Before that, what I did not mentioned yet is, that in the 80's 1979 actually, I decided for the management of Elbit, I brought Benny Peled, who was the head of the Air Force and Benny Peled brought Emmanuel Gill, and Emmanuel Gill brought Yossi Ackerman who is today the head of Elbit Systems. We also set up Partner Orange the cellular company with Hutchison Whampoa from Hong Kong.
By the end of 1999, I left Elron and I brought in Ami Erel who was President & CEO of Bezeq to take my place. I continued to stay on the board of companies in places where Elron did not continue or Ami personally could not. So I remained Chairman of the Board of Zoran until today, and on the Board of Partner Orange, Orbotech and NetManage .
At the same time, I set up my own company, Uzia Initiatives and Management Ltd. with the purpose of helping young startups, and investing in some of them. For 6 years I worked together with Hutchison Whampoa with a small team (Amit Menipaz today General Manager of Shopping.com subsidiary of eBay and Ronen Yehoshua today with Cedar Ventures) in order to bring technologies that requested by companies worldwide and particularly by Hutchison subsidiaries.
When I am looking at the future, I start by asking what people want, because we have to recognize the fact that technology by itself is developing and research continues. Some times, I take a number of people usually young people but not only young, and I say; "just assume for a moment that technology can do anything you want, what would you like to have, what do you need", and usually the first minute it is quiet, what do I need…then I start provoking them, I start saying "you are working on the Internet on the PC, are you happy with what you get" answer is "no, no, we are not happy". So one thing I personally learned in the last few years that, we have to realize that the name of the game is that today technology is available to the consumer at large. If I look backwards, thinking we where only supplying to the defense, hospitals or to universities, today is different. Today, we have the Internet, the cellular world all the gadgets around us; we can definitely assume that if things are done in quantities then the price is a question of quantity now. I have many arguments even with my friends at the Technion and the University and part of the Industry, because when I look at the future there are different approaches, one approach of the very advanced talented scientist that say, look I want to dream I want to do the really breakthroughs and you see obviously afterwards a very few of them, Nobel Prize winners.
But let us look at the market needs. We need health, we need entertainment, and obviously we need food, basic things. In my personal opinion, people start realizing that we have not done enough for the health, that health was somehow left in the hands of faculties, but the patients didn't have very much to say about themselves on the health. I believe, that in the information technology, medical devices from the point when they come to serve the patients, and not only to show breakthroughs, that is where a lot of the future is going to be.
This is also the reason, that I made a major donation and I set up at the Technion the Galil Center for Medical Informatics and Telemedicine. I started at that time with medical informatics because I was shocked by the fact, that when I was looking at the general practitioner and the patient, the tools where not available. The physician had only 10-15 minutes to get to know a lot of things and decide to give some drugs and that’s it. And then, undoubtedly people will tell you that there are statistics of hundred thousand or more people dying in the United States because of mistakes. I say, forget about it that’s certainly very bad but many more are dying not because of mistakes, it is simply because the information available, is not available and is not taken advantage of when the patient is treated. Now, there is already in the world a major change in the medical record. It is already quite common at least in the western world that the Information available in the computer goes to the physician. The question is what kind of information is available, and then they come to the question of ethics and a lot of other things. There is also a different concept now: "your personal information is your proprietary". I can show you a chip that all your information is there including genomics. The concept is that it should be treated almost as a bank you are going to allow, who has access to it, and who can use it. Of course, this system creates a lot of ethical problems, when you realize that when you go to the hospital the first thing you sign is that everything is available to everybody. What you need now, in an ideal situation, that when you have a problem, you can see in a fast way the relevant parts of your personal history, what are the relevant things that happen in the world in order to solve these particular problems. There is a lot to do in this area. In my opinion, if you look ahead, there is going to be a major effort, which will combine science, technology and the consumer.
The other area is entertainment, the breakthrough that we have today with the cellular and internet, we look and say how great it is, but we are far from the simple user needs. Different people need different things, young people want music, and older wants something else… There is a lot to do in the future of communication and entertainment.
Then again you get to the world of food that tie also health. Sometimes I wonder, every time I read, I start thinking is this really healthy for you, or is it good for the one that makes the food and pays the advertising to do this. At least if you look at the ones in the western world, we ask ourselves if the food industry is on the right track, or we have to change a lot.
So, in my opinion, if we look at the future we will see more and more technology work both in academia, and in business link together, considering first of all the consumer, and how to improve his life. Obviously, in addition to that, you have the scientist who will do the big work. That is the foreseeable future and I personally, try to be focused in the area of information technology for medical, biomedical, genetics and so on...
How do we get the awareness of the society and thereby most students to study this
I will answer this from something I saw lately in China. It is obviously dangerous to take conclusions from short visits, but I must say one thing: "students go to study, because they understand that, that is what their society needs"
I am today a member of "MOLMOP" (the National Committee for R&D), reporting to the Government and the subject of education is very high on our agenda.
We understand that high quality educated manpower is our most important asset. In order to maintain and continuously improve this we have to encourage the young people to study primarily science and technology so that the number of graduates increases both for the benefit of the industry, medicine and of the academia.
But, we must also remember, that in order to achieve this we need not only adequate budgets, but most important assure that education at all levels depends on good and motivated teachers.
Thank you very much Uzia Galil.