Sami Sagol was proclaimed "Globes" business person of the year at the beginning of the Israel Business Conference. Sagol, 73, last July signed a deal to sell 80% of Keter Plastic to the BC Partners investment fund. Sagol had managed Keter Plastic since the 1980s. The Sagol family is expected to get $1.4 billion in cash from the deal, of which Sagol will personally receive $1 billion.
Sagol acquired the shares of the partners in Keter Plastic, founded by his late father, in 1971. Under Sagol's management, Keter Plastic grew into a real empire with 25,000 sales points worldwide, 18 manufacturing plants, and distribution centers in nine countries. The company has 4,000 employees, including close to 2,000 in Israel.
Upon receiving the prize, Sagol was interviewed by "Globes" editor-in-chief Hagai Golan. Asked whether he was moved by the prize, Sagol answered, "A little."
Golan: Describe your feelings on the day when a check reportedly for $1.35 billion for a non-high-tech business reached your desk.
Sagol: "First of all, this is an exciting day. After 50 years of production work, a day came on which it was all suddenly turned into money, into a number. That's an exciting day. This single number reflects the business's entire value, and in effect summarizes the past 50 years. Now it's the next 50 years."
I want to ask you whether you thought at the beginning that you would reach such achievements, or whether it evolved gradually over the years, and you eventually found yourself at the head of a business empire.
"You can't predict 50 years in advance. One thing was clear, though - which, incidentally, is being a very hot topic - exponential growth was involved. Today, there are rules in the business world, such as Moore's Law, which says that the size and price of transistors will decrease exponentially. There are also laws of economics, and exponential thinking works."
Does this thinking apply to Keter?
"That's what I thought, and still think. At some point, this law loses its validity - it starts to be asymptotic. That's the time to change direction."
Did that also happen at Keter Plastic?
"After 2008, there was a feeling that something in the world was going to change. To my surprise, in 2010, it turned out that nothing had changed. (The central banks, S.F.) began printing money, things went back to the way they were before, and the stock market went back up. For me, however, that was the signal to change direction. That's when I decided to sell the business."
Already in 2010?
"I decided in 2011 to change direction, and to replace the ownership and management. The revolution took place in 2013. The interest rate fell, and all the signs pointed to growth, which is still happening. At the same time, I still thought it was time to change direction."
Did you also think that you were no longer a child? Did you think it was time to sell?
"That is what actually happened. That's how it is with every deal - you turn it into a number, into cash. It's saying that the direction of development is different."
Many people say it's hard to succeed in industry in Israel, and Keter Plastic is the most successful industry in Israel. Is there a secret, a certain way to choose, in order to succeed, or is it really difficult to succeed in industry in Israel?
"There are several examples of big successes. New directions are opening in industry, and the old industry has to change direction. We'll see more changes in the future - I hope they are positive."
"I believe I'll see revolutions"
You have been dealing with and contributing to brain research a lot in recent years. Are those your plans for the next 50 years?
"Like everyone else, my interest in the brain comes from my parents. My father died of a stroke and my mother from Alzheimer's Disease, so it's clear to the child which way he's going. A change has to be made. We have to invest in the young, in brain science schools and hospitals, in the hope that we'll speed the process up and change something in the future. I see here in the audience some of those who are going to change the future, and I hope they manage to do it while I'm still here."
How do you perceive this field? Are there enough resources and studies in it?
"There are enormous resources, just enormous. Money isn't the problem; it's personal talent - to attract the most innovative and revolutionary people - in order to achieve a scientific breakthrough. I hope that some of it comes from Israel. I believe that I'll see revolutions in this field."
During your lifetime?
Does it also include your personal experience with aging?
"At age 75, I decided that I had to take part in the hope of achieving rejuvenation. There's a doctor here who offered to rejuvenate my brain. I gave him a chance. I hope I won't be disappointed."
What does that mean in terms of the daily processes?
"As general advice, I can tell you to exercise, eat correctly, don't smoke, and be socially involved. This advice hasn't changed since then. I'm not offering anything concrete or scientific that can change the difficult state the brain can reach, but I see people in the audience on whose behalf it's worth making an effort."
Many people ask whether the processes the brain undergoes are a function of the environment or genetics. Can you fight genetics at all?
"We know now that genetics is involved, but in another 10-20 years, we'll be able to influence that, too."
This field includes a variety of ethical problems. How do we overcome them?
"In my opinion, there are ethical problems in every technological sector. The nuclear bomb is a classic case of such a situation. It's a fact that society has overcome it, at least for now. I hope that the treatment of genetics, of the brain, does not lead to difficult social change. Meanwhile, in any case, science and technology are continuing."
You say that you are investing resources in this field. Are you referring to donations or investments?
"For now, I'm donating, but in the future, we'll invest."
Your new baby is smart luggage. Can you tell us about it?
"When we sold control of the company, an over-80 advisor came to me and said that the older employees were afraid that young people wouldn't like them. I decided to establish a new plant that would hire all the older employees, but I didn't want it to look like an old age home. Instead, I said that we'd overhaul the raw materials industry - the most expensive component in the plastics industry. I was at MIT and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. We decided to establish schools for materials that would be smart in both in their connection to the Internet and biologically. Meanwhile, we've begun making suitcases that will be smart in the future."
What does that mean?
"In every procedure we go through at the airport, they ask us, 'Where have you been? What did you put in your luggage?' The suitcase itself should know these things. Our iPhone already knows similar things."
Will a specific chip be installed in the suitcase?
"Actually, the suitcase will be biological to some degree. Just as our body feels the surroundings and responds to them, the future materials will be the same way. I hope we see it happen soon. It's a matter of years, not decades."
To sum up, in 100 years, when they talk about Sami Sagol, who will they remember - the man from the plastic chairs factory in Jaffa, or the one who may have helped to revolutionize brain research?
"Neither one. I'm a Jewish boy who didn't have to immigrate to Israel, but I did, and I wanted to build a new world here. Fortunately, a new world was built. Now, I hope that this world continues growing. That's how I want them to remember me."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 13, 2016
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