Category Archives: Business & Finance

Jews in the World of Business and Finance

Jew of the Week: Sheldon Adelson

In Memory of Israel’s Greatest Defender

Sheldon Gary Sholom Gedaliah Adelson (1933-2021) was born in Boston to a working-class, immigrant Jewish family of Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and English heritage. Even as a child he thought about how to get the family out of financial hardship, starting his first business at just 12 years of age by selling newspapers. Three years later, he started a new business operating a vending machine. His studies didn’t go well, and he dropped out of both college and a trade school before joining the military. After his army service, Adelson started a new business selling toiletries, followed by several more businesses before making his big break with a charter-bus tour company. In his 30s, he had already become a millionaire. A few years later, he was the co-creator of one of the first computer industry trade shows. The business grew exponentially and was sold to a Japanese company in 1995 for $862 million (of which $500 million went to Adelson). Meanwhile, Adelson had started investing in Las Vegas real estate. His first major venture there was purchasing the Sands Hotel and Casino for $110 million. A few years later, he dreamed of building a massive resort hotel and the result was The Venetian. Adelson also built a casino in Pennsylvania, in Singapore, and the Sands Macao, which was China’s first Vegas-like casino. The latter was one of Adelson’s most profitable investments, with some estimates suggesting it multiplied his wealth by fourteen times! In 2007, Adelson started a new conservative-leaning newspaper in Israel, called Israel Hayom. Distributed for free, it became the country’s number-one weekday paper. Originally a Democrat, Adelson grew disenchanted with the party and became a Republican. He always believed business and politics should not mix, and that wealthy people shouldn’t influence elections. However, when he discovered how strongly some wealthy people were influencing elections, he felt he had no choice but to do so as well. Over the years, Adelson donated hundreds of millions to support various Republican candidates. While he initially did not favour Trump, he ended up backing him due to Trump’s promises to help Israel. He gave around $65 million for Trump’s 2016 campaign, another $113 million to Republicans in 2018, followed by another $100 million in the last election. Trump’s erratic behaviour and obsession with election fraud led to a rift between the two, and they had not spoken following the election. A generous philanthropist, Adelson gave nearly $500 million for Birthright Israel (being its largest individual donor), $50 million to Yad Vashem, $25 million to build a medical school at Ariel University in Israel’s historic heartland, as well as nearly $20 million to fund Israel’s young space-exploration industry. His contributions played a key role in getting Benjamin Netanyahu into office in 1996. In the US, Adelson’s foundation funds medical research at 10 different universities. Aside from Las Vegas’ casinos, Adelson has built a state-of-the-art school, substance abuse centre, and research clinic in the city. His other major passion was fighting against the legalization of drugs, including cannabis. This was personal for him, having lost his son to a drug overdose. Adelson gave millions to ensure no other parent would experience such a tragedy. Sadly, Adelson succumbed to cancer earlier this week. Over the years, he gained a reputation as Israel’s greatest defender, and the biggest advocate of the Jewish people. Friend and fellow-billionaire Michael Steinhardt has said that “Whether he is in the Oval Office, the Prime Minister’s Office, a senator’s office, or a Congressman’s office, his first goal was to be an advocate for the Jewish people and the Jewish community, not for his own personal gain.”

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Words of the Week

Those who never change their mind never change anything.
– Winston Churchill 

Jew of the Week: Baron Maurice de Hirsch

Moses of the 19th Century

Moritz Tzvi von Hirsch auf Gereuth (1831-1896) was born in Munich to a wealthy German-Jewish family. His grandfather was a banker for the Bavarian king, and became the first Jew to be permitted to own land in Bavaria. His father also served as the court banker, and became a German baron. Hirsch studied in Brussels, then took a banking job himself at age 17. Years later, he branched off on his own, eventually making his fortune from sugar, copper, and railroads. One of his boldest projects was building a Vienna-to-Istanbul rail line. Hirsch settled in Paris where he lived for the remainder of his life, going by the French version of his name, Maurice de Hirsch. In 1860, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (Kol Israel Haverim) organization was founded in Paris to secure human rights and education for Jews around the world. Hirsch became their biggest supporter, essentially bankrolling their operation to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds a year. The organization was most famous for building Jewish schools, including the first schools in pre-State Israel. The Alliance schools were also the first to teach a Hebrew curriculum, playing a key role in the language’s revival. Hirsch also donated countless sums to schools and hospitals across Germany, France, and England. He paid for the renowned Pasteur Institute’s entire biochemistry building. In the last two decades of his life, Hirsch was devoted to easing the plight of Russian Jews. He founded the Jewish Colonization Association in 1891 with a starting budget of £2 million pounds. The money was used to resettle Eastern European Jews in the Americas (particularly in Canada and Argentina), as well as in Ottoman Palestine. Altogether, Hirsch donated £18 million to the organization, the equivalent of about $4 billion today! Needless to say, it played a massive role in getting the Zionist movement off the ground and re-establishing a Jewish state in Israel (though de Hirsch himself didn’t believe it would ever actually happen!) as well as saving countless lives from pogroms and oppression. Maurice de Hirsch is ranked among the most generous philanthropists of all time. His wife, Clara de Hirsch, is also on this list, in her own right. She came from a wealthy banking family, too, and donated another 200 million francs of her own funds. When the couple tragically lost their only son in 1887, Maurice de Hirsch declared: “My son I have lost, but not my heir; humanity is my heir.” For his efforts to launch a mass-exodus and liberation of Jews, he has been called the “Moses of the 19th Century”.

Words of the Week

I suppose I shall spend all my money in this movement. But, after all, what is the use of money unless you do some good with it?
– Baron Maurice de Hirsch

Jews of the Week: Sergey Brin and Larry Page

Google!

Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin (b. 1973) was born in Moscow to Russian-Jewish parents. After many long months trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union, the family was finally permitted to leave in the spring of 1979, when Brin was six years old. The family lived in Vienna, then Paris, and finally made it to the US with help from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Brin’s father got a job as a math professor at the University of Maryland, and his mother worked as a researcher for NASA. Following in his parents’ footsteps, Brin studied math and computer science at the University of Maryland. He went on to do graduate studies at Stanford, and there met Larry Page.

Lawrence Edward Page (b. 1973) was born in Michigan. His mother is Jewish, and his grandfather lives in Israel. Page’s parents were both computer scientists, and he grew up immersed in technology. He was also passionate about music, and credits music training with helping to shape his analytical mind. Page studied computer engineering at the University of Michigan before heading over to Stanford. Together with Brin, the two co-authored a paper on “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine”. They then developed a new algorithm that would dramatically improve the capabilities of search engines. Brin and Page used their dorm rooms as office and lab, scrapping together whatever money they could for servers and other parts, and slowly building the infrastructure for their new search engine. (There were a number of other people involved, too, who were instrumental in its development.) The new search engine, originally called BackRub, was launched on the Stanford website in 1996. By the following year, Brin and Page understood that the search engine had the potential to transform the world. They renamed it “Google”, and bought the google.com domain on September 15, 1997 (twenty-three years ago, today). The rest is history.

Last year, Brin and Page both stepped down from Google (and its new parent company, Alphabet) though they are still employees and controlling shareholders. Both are big investors in green technology, space exploration, life extension, and Tesla Motors. They are also noted philanthropists. Among their donations are Brin’s $1 million to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and over $160 million to fight Parkinson’s disease (which his mother suffers from); and Page’s $15 million to fight Ebola and over $20 million to find treatments for vocal cord illnesses, which he suffers from. Brin and Page are currently the 13th– and 14th-richest people in the world.

Words of the Week

You always hear the phrase, “money doesn’t buy you happiness”. But I always, in the back of my mind, figured a lot of money will buy you a little bit of happiness. But it’s not really true.
– Sergey Brin

Google’s first logo, as it appeared on September 15, 1997 when the website was launched.