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(photo credit: Courtesy)
From her initial dream of developing her insatiable mind in the film industry, Noga Kainan has readjusted her sights to head a unique forum of chief financial officers of Israel's leading companies.
"I have a very creative mind and was attracted by the film and writing industry, but my studies took me in a different direction altogether," says Kainan, 52, president and founder of the Israel Chief Financial Officers Forum and the country's representative of the International Association of Financial Executives Institutes.
Haifa-born Kainan recalls that while she was studying for her masters degree in literature at Tel Aviv University she was lured into the world of business management.
"The faculty of business management was next to the literature faculty and time and time again I had a glimpse, and one day out of curiosity I went in during my first year of study," she says. "I was immediately attracted and fascinated by the broad diversity of subjects ranging from psychology to statistics, so I decided to make the switch to business management studying for a masters of business administration".
Kainan, who also co-chairs the Prime Minister's Award Committee for Excellence in Creating Growth in the Israeli Economy, founded the CFO forum in September 1997 after years of consultancy experience in the high-tech and media industry. The CFO forum, which today has about 500 members, regularly publishes position papers and surveys impacting current economic policy, tax reforms, corporate governance and car leasing regulations.
In a recent survey by Dun & Bradstreet, which examined 1,400 companies of different sectors in Israel, Kainan was chosen one of the top chairwomen in the country next to Ashdod Port's Iris Stark and Bank Leumi's Galia Maor.
"My vision was to create a forum of leading business representatives from all spheres and fields of the economy, public or private, who would cooperate and share informal information to add value and efficiency to the companies, while also having a unique impact on the economy as a whole," she says. "I found that the position of the CFO was appropriate as it touches all parts of a company."
Council members of the forum are CFOs of companies with minimum annual revenues of $200 million. Most CFOs of Israeli companies meeting this criterion are already council members. Regular forum members are CFOs of companies with minimum annual revenues of $40 million. The members are CFOs of the leading companies with shares in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's top 100 firms, active in different fields of industry and high-tech including Teva Pharmaceuticals, Checkpoint Software Technologies, Israel Electric Corp., Bezeq, Partner Communications, El Al Israel Airlines, IBM, Africa Israel Investments and Intel Israel.
"CFOs view the forum as their home, a place where they can raise and discuss amongst them the issues that are important to them in an environment of trust, while adding value to their company, make changes and impact the economy, government policy, etc.," says Kainan proudly.
She says that on a personal level, she is fulfilling her dream of working with a broad range of industries, fields and interests, which constantly raises new challenges.
"We have 20 committees and I sit in all of them," says Kainan. "Through my work experience, I can say that I am bad at connecting masses and understanding the needs of all, and instead I discovered that I am good at connecting with a very distinguished group of people, that is, executive managers in the money world. Their needs are different, and quality and professionalism are high."
Before establishing the CFO Forum, Kainan started off as a strategic consultant for high-tech companies and later worked as senior consultant for computerized multi-media projects of exhibition centers in Germany in the beginning of the 1990s.
"I was always and I am still fascinated by the dream of ubiquity, the ability to be present everywhere or in several places at once," she says. "Since this dream was not yet possible, about 13 years before the Internet era I developed virtual multi-media information kiosks to make it possible for exhibition centers to have a wider exposure and enlarge their growth markets."
Before establishing the CFO Forum, the magic of the virtual world brought Kainan to continue her career as a consultant for multi-media projects in the Department for Business Development at Globes, where she founded a forum for marketing managers.
"I believe that any company today must have a marketing division that stands on its own," she says.
Throughout her career, the hyperactive Kainan has constantly been looking for the next challenge, which she confronts without fear.
"My philosophy is to challenge people and to go beyond the visible in an effort to challenge things which are larger than me beyond my responsibility, which is the great engine for seeking future challenges," she says.
Looking back, the mother of three recounts that as a young woman, most of her girlfriends had not been interested in getting too close because they often had different interests from that of a working mother.
"It is true that my six-year-old daughter had to make eggs for her friends, but as a career woman I gained and they gained from being raised as independent children," says Kainan. "Today though, it is all a matter of choice and gone are the days that a woman won't be accepted in the work place if she is good."
Still, Kainan is aware of the fact that only a small number of women can be found in senior executive positions in Israel's corporate world even today.
"I cannot deny that if I were a man, I would be higher on the career ladder," she remarks.
Last month's survey by D&B found that although women made up 46 percent of the working population, only 6.6% of the chief executive officers leading Israel's major companies were female.
Kainan thinks one of the reasons for the lack of women at the top is the "confidence bar" which still exists between men and women at work.
"Once Israeli society retreats from being a society of generals, we might see more women in high-ranking positions," she says. "Women need to understand - and it will take some years - that they are able to be in a position of the creator or provider, determining and deciding their own or their family's standard of living."
Profile of a Powerhouse:
Status: Divorced. Three children
Education: BA Humanities, Haifa University, Masters of Business Administration, Tel Aviv University
Professional milestones: Senior Consultant, Computerized Multimedia Project of Exhibition Centers in Germany
Consultant, Department for Business Development, Globes newspaper
Co-Chair of the Prime Minister's Award Committee for Excellence in Creating Growth in the Israeli Economy
President of the Israel Chief Financial Officers Forum