From A Working Class Neighborhood To Being The CEO Of Apple Israel And The Innovation Authority - With A Mindset Of Modesty, Determination And Listening

Aharon Aharon,
CEO and Entrepreneur

Aharon grew up in Kiryat Eliezer, a working class neighborhood. Most of the couples there were a mother whos a housewife and father whos a port worker, holocaust survivors, who wanted their children to be better and have more then they had. Eat and learn, that's what mattered.

In eighth grade at the elementary school where Aharon studied there was a choice - seafaring and agriculture or craft and technology - Aharon chose technology, and then went on to study electronics in vocational high school, a move that stemmed from practical thinking - to get a good profession and forge a different path for himself, like his dad wished for him.

In ninth grade, when the hard studies took the wind out of his sails, his father told him "Come to the port." After two days of tasting the hard work at the port, Aharon got the perspective he needed and returned to school, determined more than ever. Lesson learned.

A not so easy path

Aharon came to the Technion, and was surrounded by a class of geniuses, 35 out of 40 in the class came with an academic degree, soldier-students, some of whom are today’s Israeli richest people.

The studies felt like a foreign language to him, where the rest of the class know how to speak the lecturer's language and everyone nods, and only he is lost and confused. He consulted with a friend from the year above him who told him, "so nod your head too," fake it till you make it. And so he did. This is a feeling that almost all of us are familiar with, the 'imposter syndrome'. We tend to think that it's just us, that only we are flooded by the new material and will not be able to bridge the gap, but all of those feelings and thoughts are a part of the process of chewing the material - it was true then and it still holds true today.

He served in unit 848 in the army, which is now known as 8200. He underwent a standard 3-month technician course, and was then sent to a more complex 6-month course with a lot of English.

Flashback to his past - from 5th-12th grade, Aharon had a private English tutor. He was the best within his class, but to his mother, it was not relevant. And so, even though they did not have an abundance of money, and even though it was not acceptable back then, the best student in the class received private lessons.

Back to his course in 8200, Aharon was surrounded by amazing people, most of them engineers or practical engineers. In the exams, they knew the material, but he was the one who mastered the English.

Should you work to minimize your disadvantages or strengthen your advantages?

The advice that Aharon learned from his own experience and shares in conversations with managers is clear - use the advantages of the employees to overcome the shortcomings.

Aharon also shares his mindset when facing challenges, which he learned while climbing a volcano in South America. The way he managed to climb it successfully in the difficult conditions was to focus on one task - follow the one who was walking in the meter ahead of  him.

This wisdom of ‘the meter ahead’ view in dealing with a problem, is very effective for us as entrepreneurs and as founders as well. We have a mountain we have to climb, and from an initial look at the path to the top of the mountain ahead, we are filled with anxiety - it seems too frightening, impossible. Instead, it can help us break down the climb into small tasks. There should be the North Star, the final place I want to get to, but I divide this mission into a lot of small parts that I can digest and succeed in doing.

He served as a technician in Sinai, and it was then that he decided he was going to study at the Technion. Math and physics were not easy - but he coped and made it through.

At the beginning of his undergraduate degree he came across an ad: "Looking for teaching assistants for a course."

He went to the interview, and only during that conversation did he discover that it was a position intended for those with a master's degree, when he had not yet finished this subject in high school. Still, he was accepted. And so, in his first degree he was an assistant, and during the second degree he was already a lecturer. It taught him to always try - don’t be afraid to approach. Try, at most you will succeed.

To grow with the company

His master's degree was in collaboration with Intel and IBM in research. At the end of the degree he had to decide between the two. His choice was to join IBM, precisely because it was smaller - he wanted to grow with them.

When their manager made a relocation, they were looking for a new one to replace him, with the mindset being - "Who will do less damage?". As a relatively new employee he was selected, and thus began the managerial side of his career, which he also greatly enjoyed.

Aharon had to learn to bridge the gap between the job to which he was accustomed to and the managerial side. And then the boss returned from his relocation and Aharon moved to the Technion - for a PhD residence he had not yet completed, in parallel with management at IBM. In an attempt to combine the two, the price was too high - his personal life. It took him two years of wrestling with this dilemma and nights of doubts and cold sweat, until he made the right decision for him - and left the PhD path.

Aharon defines his time at IBM as the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey. They developed wonderful tools in the company in Israel, and tried to sell them within the company abroad, but encountered reluctance on the part of the company that initially did not believe in the tools they developed. Aharon thought of a way to change their minds, and decided to sell the tools outside of IBM. He had excellent partners, a CEO and a legal counsel who supported him. The sales were very successful and made them $3M, as many companies started using their tools. As a result, IBM also decided to use the same tools, because if so many companies are using them, apparently it's good - that way they indirectly managed to insert their tools successfully.

Aharon raises an important point for entrepreneurs that approach investors - how crucial it is to listen deeply to those sitting in front of us - to their questions, their body language, the tone in which they speak that can indicate their feelings and concerns, and this is true for job interviews as well. It's more important for people to hear how we approach problems and how we think, than the immediate knowledge of the solution to the problem.

Aharon emphasizes the importance of listening without bias. One of the companies he recruited for was in a field that was not very interesting to investors, and his way of handling with the given situation was using deep listening and looking and talking to the investors on the same level -

"I never thought there was anyone superior to me, but I also never felt superior to anyone either. There were people I wanted to learn from - but I never felt that they were above me. The service providers are equal to me too - we are all on a job, doing our role. I learned a lot from people, but I didn’t idolize anyone."

This inner dialogue with ourselves, the understanding that we are all human, reduces stress and allows us not to be shaken easily. Even the people who are in the high positions, they also want to speak at the same level as equals - as people, they too are looking to be seen.

Zoran was a small company when Aharon joined it. He joined as VP of R&D and was the company's CEO in Israel, then moved to the US to run the company.

Levy Gerzberg - the CEO, faced a difficult decision - whether to continue with 7 product lines that were in development or focus on just 3 of them. Aharon was in favor of a limited focus, he realized that stopping developing product lines is a difficult but cardinal decision. Levy agreed with him, he decided to focus the company’s path - and for focus you have to understand what to reduce and sacrifice. The company was very successful, and when he left their profit was 3 times in sales in just 3 years, and from there just kept on leaping.

After 3 years in the US, he returned to Israel and came to Cybridge. When asked how much salary he wanted, he said - 10% more than the current CEO. When they asked him why, he simply replied:

"I don’t know the current CEO and I don’t know what his salary is, but if you are looking for me to replace his position, it probably should be more."

He got the job, with the mission - to do a process of turnaround for the company - a very difficult one. Just a month before he came to the office for the first time he realized that the company was not profitable and losing a lot, and if he didn't find a way to change the situation, the company would close. 

On his first day they had to fire 80 people he didn’t know, an event he still remembers as very traumatic.

A lot of advisors were fired, which also turned out to be a cardinal decision. Siemens' goal was to rehabilitate the company, put on cellophane on it and then sell, but then something surprising happened - when they succeeded after two years, the owners fell in love with it, and decided to stay with the company.

Dealing with failure

Aharon founded Camero, which did an amazing pioneering job, almost on the edge of technological capabilities.

"We put out an amazing product - after two years of hard work we got very generous recruitment rounds. I couldn’t believe at first we would put out the product, and I even said that if we succeed I would dye my hair and beard red as Abu-Tir - and for a month, I really did go out with red hair, I was so incredibly proud. But then there were failures - the market wasn’t ready for the product."

Aharon experiences pride and a sense of failure in the same breath. On the one hand, immense pride in making a product that is almost on the verge of science fiction, and on the other hand - a bad sale of the company - firesale, which did not return the investment to investors.

How do you know when it’s time to stop?

"I realized that even in the best scenarios the markets would not be interesting to investors, and the investors were not as patient as they should have been in this market. We came to a mutual conclusion - let's sell at this current point. In that sense there were investors who came in later, today known as - 83North, and I felt I was disappointing them. But after realizing that there was no chance even in twenty years to recoup the investment they would have expected to see, we knew there was no choice - but to cut the losses."

His partner then was Amir Beeri, who was full of passion for what they did. A large part of this passion is what has helped them overcome many obstacles. They were a good combination of passion and realism.


Aharon is chosen to be the CEO of Apple Israel. Before that he was at Apple in the US and learned from them amazing things about the unique way in which the company operates:

1. The organizational structure is functional and not hierarchical. Professional decisions are made by a debate, and not by a senior manager's sole decision.

2. Attention to details down to the tiniest one. The products are perfected down to the last detail, which includes engineering as well. The amount of details is huge - this is part of the company's DNA.

3. Even with Apple's insane growth, and the companies it absorbed into it - the same original culture has been preserved.

4. Inspired by Steve Jobs - in his lifetime people thought the company would not continue to exist without him. Then came Tim Cook who does an amazing job - and today the company exists amazingly, proving that a company is not the product of one person. Organizations are bigger than people.

The choice to lead the Israel Innovation Authority

"Money is a good thing as long as we manage it and it’s not managing us."

Aharon decided that he wanted to move on, give back and contribute to the society in which he grew up, and met amazing people there with the same ideology as him. Today he continues his social work,

"I hear a lot from high-tech people:" What has the country given me? Just don’t let it interfere your way.”

Aharon believes that everyone should look at the places from which they came and try to contribute back to those - "Know where you came from and where you are going".

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