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They say that behind every successful man there is a strong woman, and for some women the secret of their success is having a strong man standing firm beside them.
"The secret of my success is my husband who is also my best friend, my best adviser and my strongest supporter," Bina Bar-On, Director General of the Industrial Corporation Authority proudly explains to The Jerusalem Post in the first interview for a new series highlighting women who have made a name for themselves in the business world.
Bright and early and with a smile on her face, Bar-On waits for me at the door of her humble Tel Aviv office. There is no secretary. Bar-On is self-sufficient and, in her young and vibrant manner, she serves me a glass of water.
Although Bar-On attributes her success to the support of her partner and best friend, she makes it very clear at the outset that she wants to stand on her own accomplishment and does not want to be known only as the wife of Roni Bar-On, the new Interior minister. A well-known political figure, her husband formerly was minister of National Infrastructure and minister of Science and Technology.
Instead, the 56 years-old advocate by profession, enthusiastically presents the fruits of her labor as Director General of the ICA and her belief and role in marketing the Israeli product through cooperations with global companies such as Siemens, Intel and Boeing.
"You want to be good for who and what you are," explains Bar-On.
ICA, part of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, is the government authority designated to manage, monitor and initiate industrial cooperation programs subsequent to Government procurement, both commercial and defense related.
"Since I joined the ICA in 2004, we have been proactive in providing incentives and a competitive edge for establishing long-term involvement of international companies in Israel," says Bar-On. "When I started our budget was tight working with only three people and without an international representation."
Today, the ICA work force has increased to five with offices based in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and an international representation at the Israel Economic mission in New York, covering activities in North America.
Bar-On, who also gained ample experience in the private business sector while running the family toy business for 11 years, has a clear concept of how the ICA should be run.
"You have to manage it as a business and not as a public services office," she says.
She describes her management style as based on "good faith" versus the "hit and run" approach.
"I am not waiting for things to happen," she explains in her confident manner. "In 2005 we managed with only five people to generate as much business as the tourism industry."
In 2005 alone, as a result of ICA agreements, firms worldwide acquired more than $2 billion worth of goods from more than 300 Israeli companies. Siemens, which purchased approximately $120 million worth of raw materials in Israel last year, signed an agreement with Bar-On committing the company to expanding its activity in the country. Since the 1980s, Lockheed Martin has purchased some $2.55b. from Israeli companies, far more than any other foreign company has paid in the history of the state, according to Bar-On.
As such, the ICA plays a vital role in helping overseas companies consummate their Industrial Cooperation undertakings in Israel by assisting them in identifying and finding local manufacturers with appropriate products and services. ICA seeks to help the foreign businessman locate suitable Israeli manufacturers for their products, or strategic partnerships for joint ventures, outsourcing, research & development and more. The main fields of industrial cooperation include plastics, hi-tech and low-tech from aviation, transportation, automotive and electronics to aerospace and defense.
"The long-term industrial cooperation between a foreign company and an Israeli manufacturer must ultimately depend on the competitiveness of Israeli products," explains Bar-On. "The global industry needs a push and I go the extra mile, by presenting competitive conditions and results because I believe in the Israeli product."
It is no coincidence, Bar-On proudly adds, that in 2007 the meeting of the heads of the ministries of the ICA's 32 member countries will take place in Israel.
Bar-On started her public sector career at the State Comptroller's Office after graduating with a law degree from the Hebrew University in 1972.
At the age of 40, Bar-On moved to the Ministry of Environment as a legal adviser, where she pushed her way from the Head of the Enforcement Division to vice-director general before being appointed director general of the ICA in 2004.
"Being a woman, I have never been faced with obstacles while climbing up the career ladder," she smiles. "Rather the opposite, being a woman brings with it other characteristics including better social skills, such as doing business with a smile and not in a threatening way. Women are good networkers and they should use this skill to their advantage."
According to Bar-On, women have progressed in their status and in the protection they can count on by the law regarding, for example, sexual harassment.
"However, I feel that overprotection for the status of women is not good," Bar-On says. "I don't see much point in celebrating Women's Day, for example. Every woman can have a fun day without determining an official day of the year."
Instead Bar-On suggests the focus for the advancement of women should be on teaching computer skills at school, further education and flexible working hours to enable women to work from home.
The mother of three has no bad sentiments about juggling her two lives the family and her career.
"It is all about making choices and adjusting your environment to your life style, while accepting the support and help of others," she says naturally. "We are seeing more and more women in business careers as women today get married later."
Where Bar-On still sees a problem for the advancement of women is in politics. "I am sorry that there are not enough women in politics and it will take time to break the male structure."
Finally, breaking out of her astute and serious manner, Bar-On tells me how different men and women still are.
"During the lunch break at conferences, women switch on their mobile phone to tell the nanny or their children to put the schnitzel in the oven, while men phone their secretaries."
Profile of a powerhouse: Bina Bar-On
Status: Married with 3 children
Education: Law degree, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
1972 State Comptroller's Office
1990 - 2004 Ministry of Environment holding positions as legal adviser, Head of Enforcement Division and Vice Director General
2004 - to date Director General of the Industrial Corporation Authority