Tributes flow in for Eli Hurvitz

Man who turned Teva from small pharmaceutical firm into global giant remembered as a visionary of Israeli industry.

By NADAV SHEMER,
November 23, 2011 04:24
4 minute read.
Teva Founder Eli Hurvitz.

Eli Hurvitz 311. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“He was one of Israel’s great industrialists,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, paying tribute to Eli Hurvitz, the man who turned Teva from a small Israeli pharmaceutical company into the world’s largest maker of generic drugs.

Hurvitz died Monday night at the age of 79, after fighting a long battle with cancer. He had been hospitalized at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Hospital since November 13.

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“He was noble, a complete patriot and very dedicated to developing the Israeli economy and society,” said Netanyahu in one of the may tributes that poured in during the day. “I learned much from him; I admired his wisdom and achievements. I loved his warm personality. Israeli initiatives and the Israeli spirit had no better ambassador.

I will miss this wonderful man.”

Born in Jerusalem in 1932, Hurvitz served in the army during the country’s war of independence and later lived on the Tel Katzir kibbutz. He began his career in pharmaceuticals as a dishwasher for Assia Chemical Labs while studying for a degree in economics at the Hebrew University in the mid-1950s.

Hurvitz rose through the ranks to eventually head Assia, and when that company merged with Teva and Zori in 1976 to form Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, he was named as its chief executive.

Hurvitz served as CEO until 2002 and then as chairman of the board from 2002-2010, when he resigned after being diagnosed with cancer. During his time in charge of Teva, the company grew through several large acquisitions and it branched out into manufacturing branded drugs, such as Copaxone, which treats multiple sclerosis.

Teva board member Dan Suesskind recalled travelling incognito with Hurvitz in 1980 to look at a factory of Israeli drugmaker Ikapharm before buying the smaller company. The two were taken aback by Ikapharm’s expensively built guardhouse, Suesskind said. Putting money into posh offices instead of manufacturing “didn’t fit our style,” said Suesskind, who served alongside Hurvitz as chief financial officer from 1977 to 2008.

Hurvitz held many other positions outside of Teva, serving as chairman of the Israel Export Institute from 1974-78, as president of the Manufacturers Association from 1981-86, as chairman of Bank Leumi from 1986-87 and as chairman of the Israel Democracy Institute from 2002- 08, among others. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 2002 for his contribution to the country. He was awarded Go4Europe’s inaugural prize for lifetime achievement at their conference in Tel Aviv three weeks ago, in what turned out to be his last public appearance before his death.

Upon accepting the prize, Hurvitz demonstrated his attention to long-term vision, saying: “Teva knows that without competitors, it has no right to exist. I can already predict Teva’s results for the year 2050. For us 2050 is our tomorrow and we are already preparing for that time. Those who don’t know how to prepare for the year 2050 don’t know how to manage a company and will not achieve results.”

Teva CEO Shlomo Yanai said Hurvitz has improved the lives of people worldwide.

“Today, we mourn the loss of a true pioneer, whose vision of providing access to affordable medicine has helped improve the lives of people around the world,” he said.

President Shimon Peres learned of his friend’s death while en route to Vietnam. Upon landing, the president described Hurvitz as an extraordinary Israeli, speaking of how he had risen from the life of a simple kibbutznik to the pinnacle of Israeli enterprise.

“He was a unique human being,” said Peres, who noted that although Hurvitz was brilliant, he was an unpretentious and even modest individual, who through Teva had contributed to the saving of millions of lives. “His passing is a personal loss to me and an even greater loss to the State of Israel.

Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh, who is with Peres in Vietnam, said in a press statement, “Israeli industry has lost a leader, a groundbreaker, a visionary and a strategist of the highest degree. We all are shocked and saddened by the passing of Eli Hurvitz, of blessed memory. This is an unimaginable loss.

“Eli Hurvitz did not just turn Teva into Israel’s largest manufacturer and one of the leading manufacturers in the world, but he also educated all of us on having a broad strategic vision while protecting our values.”

The Export Institute said that Hurvitz “was one of the cornerstones of the Israeli economy. A visionary who left his mark on Teva and turned it from a local company into a global one. On top of his business activities, Hurvitz left his mark on the Israeli economy.”

Hurvitz is survived by his wife Dalia and their three children. His funeral will be held at Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha on Thursday afternoon.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.


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