Category Archives: Business & Finance

Jews in the World of Business and Finance

Jews of the Week: Safra Family

World’s Richest Banker

Edmond, Joseph, and Moise Safra

Jacob Safra (1891-1963) was born to a religious Sephardic family in the Jewish community of Aleppo, Syria. He was from a long line of Ottoman merchants and bankers. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Safra opened a new banking business in Beirut. His bank soon became the most trusted financial institution for the region’s many Jews. When things became difficult in Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel, Safra moved his family (with four sons and four daughters) to Italy, and then to Brazil. There, Safra and his sons founded a new bank in São Paulo in 1955. While eldest son Elie Safra (1922-1993), and third son Moise Safra (1934-2014) played smaller roles in the family business, the most prominent of the brothers was undoubtedly Edmond Safra (1932-1999). He opened a branch in Geneva, and transformed an initial $1 million into $5 billion in less than three decades. He also founded the Republic National Bank of New York, which grew to 80 locations, making it the third largest bank network in the city (after Chase and Citigroup). Edmond later opened financial institutions in Luxembourg and Russia. The latter would prove unfortunate, as many believe his “accidental” death in a house fire may have been an assassination by Russian mobsters. Today, Banco Safra is run by youngest son Joseph Safra (b. 1939). His net worth is estimated around $25 billion, making him the richest banker in the world. The Safras have always been famous for their incredible generosity. They have funded countless schools, hospitals, universities, and charities. Edmond Safra was particularly interested in building and restoring Jewish sites, and paid for synagogues all over the world, including in Manila, Istanbul, and Kinshasa. He financed the first new synagogue in Madrid in 500 years, and saved an ancient synagogue in France from demolition. He also refurbished and funded the tombs of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochaiin Israel, and prayed at the tomb of the former each year before the holiday of Shavuot. Several medical centres and university faculties around the world bear his name, and the Safra family was one of the founders of São Paulo’s most renowned hospital. He established the International Sephardic Education Foundation to provide scholarships for those in need, and the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation continues to give millions to charity each year. The Safras stay out of the public eye, and hold on to their faith – as well as a strictly kosher diet. Most recently, they paid for the beautiful new Moise Safra Centre in Manhattan.

15 Life Lessons from King David

Words of the Week

If you believe breaking is possible, believe fixing is possible.
– Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

In 2014, Joseph Safra purchased one of London’s most iconic buildings, the Gherkin (left), for a whopping £700 million. The Safras also own the General Motors Building in Manhattan (bottom centre), and fund (clockwise from top) the American University of Beirut, the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital in Israel, the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue of New York, and the tomb of Rabbi Meir – a popular pilgrimage site.

Jew of the Week: Bob Iger

The Man Behind “America’s Most Admired Company”

Bob Iger (Photo Credit: Angela George)

Robert Allen Iger (b. 1951) was born in New York City and raised on Long Island. He studied television and radio at Ithaca College (with the dream of becoming a news anchor) and there had his first media job on the college television station. After several months working as a casual weatherman, and struggling to find a reporting job, Iger joined ABC as a “studio supervisor” helping out on the set of soap operas and game shows. A few years later he joined the production team at ABC Sports, a position he held for nearly a decade. From there, he became a VP of ABC Sports, and a few years later a VP of ABC. In 1992, he became the company’s president, having incredibly worked his way up from an entry-level position, with just a bachelor’s degree in hand. Iger went on to launch some of ABC’s most popular television shows, including Home ImprovementAmerica’s Funniest Home Videos, and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?Meanwhile, because of his tremendous success and famous foresight, he was one of only a few executives to survive the buyout of ABC, first by Capital Cities Broadcasting, and then again by The Walt Disney Company. In 1999, Iger was made president of Walt Disney International. By 2005, he took over as CEO as well, and was put in charge of Disney’s day-to-day operations, vowing to fix the struggling company. Soon, Iger engineered Disney’s takeover of Pixar, and then its acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. To the latter he gave the necessary boost to bring out the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, now the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. Iger had a vision to do something similar with Star Wars, and in 2012 acquired Lucasfilm. Star Wars has since become the second highest-grossing film franchise of all time. Iger has expanded Disney in other ways, too, including a new $5.5 billion Disney Resort in Shanghai. All in all, he increased Disney’s value from $48 billion to some $170 billion, and hired over 18,000 people during his tenure, earning the company multiple accolades including “America’s Most Admired Company” (Fortune Magazine), the “World’s Most Reputable Company” (Forbes), and the “Best Place to Launch a Career” (BusinessWeek). Iger, meanwhile, has been called the “Best CEO”, won multiple “CEO of the Year” awards, as well as a “Corporate Humanitarian Award” and “Equal Opportunity Award”. He is ranked among the 25 most powerful people in business. Iger is also a generous philanthropist, and has been given the Ambassador for Humanity Award for his efforts.

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Words of the Week

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
– Dr. Robert Jastrow, renowned astrophysicist