In October of 1973, Cincinnati-born Gary Heiman was spending a post-college year in Israel. "I was like most Israelis back then," Heiman says. "There was no doubt in my mind that Israel was strong. I'd grown up on all the great war stories, how we fought and won our independence in 1948 and how, in 1967, it took us only six days to beat back the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. When I was 21, I thought Israel was invincible."
That changed on October 7. "I'd been in Israel for ten months, volunteering in a program called Sherut L'Am," Heiman recalls. "I lived in a moshav, Neve Ativ, and when I had time, I worked with the moshav helping construct the Mt. Hermon ski area. That's where I was when the war broke out on Yom Kippur.
"That night, I went outside and it looked as though the whole Golan was on fire," he continues. "When I saw the Syrian tanks roll across the border, I could hardly believe it. The smoke, the blazing fires, the enemy tanks - it was the first time it ever occurred to me that this could be the end."
Heiman didn't hesitate. "If Israel's survival was in question, I decided I'd rather be one that tried to defend it than one who ran away. I volunteered for an artillery unit and was assigned to Unit 114.
"Those days changed the entire course of my life," he says. "I spent only about four months in the Army, but afterwards, nothing was the same."
Destiny had already tinkered with Heiman's life. His original plan called for him to be in Japan during 1973.
"We were three boys in our family. I was the oldest and had just graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. My plan was to first spend a year in Japan followed by a year in Israel, but when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to reverse it and come to Israel first. If I needed to get home quickly, Israel was closer," Heiman says.
"Then the war broke out and I was in the Army. Back then, there weren't cell phones or text messaging, so it was several weeks before I was able to get through to my parents to tell them what I was doing," he continues "To put it mildly, they were highly relieved to hear from me."
Heiman scrapped the year in Japan in favor of staying in Israel. "The war changed everything," he says. "When it was over, I tried to understand and evaluate what had happened, what impact the war would have on Israel's future. As I saw it, if Israel was going to blossom into a strong, independent country that could survive, prosper and continue to absorb immigrants, it needed a solid industrial infrastructure - which it didn't have at the time.
"THE MONTHS after the war were tough for everyone," Heiman tells. "People were depressed, feeling sad and defeated. But in thinking about it, I decided there might be a role I could play to help the country refocus and move ahead.
"Even before that, I'd signed on to Ben Gurion's dream, wanting to make the Negev bloom," he says. "I didn't think the future of Israel was in the north, which was already becoming overcrowded, and certainly not in the center. I decided to build an industrial plant somewhere in the Negev, which was still under populated and largely undeveloped. I bought a motorcycle and took off."
Heiman visited every one of Israel's 28 development towns, north and south. "I took my time and rode, visiting each one in turn. Ultimately I settled on Arad. The location was great, right where the Judean and Negev Deserts come together. It already had a designated industrial area separated from residential area, which indicated good planning. It had a good infrastructure and city officials were enthusiastic.
"The mayor, Avraham 'Beiga' Shochat, had a pro-business philosophy and was willing to work to make Arad flourish. So Arad it was. That was where I wanted to build a factory," he says.
No matter how intense a young man's commitment might be, not everyone can decide to build a factory and expect success. But Gary Heiman came from a unique family, one that had established a precedent for building from scratch.
"My father's parents were German and had been sent to Auschwitz," Heiman says. "Paul, my father, was the youngest of three children. His sister Teah, the middle child, died of tuberculosis in the camp, but ultimately the rest of the family escaped and made their way to the Swiss border.
"Like so many others, they wandered through Europe and eventually reached London, where they applied for visas for three different locations: South America, the United States, and Palestine. It took a year, but in 1940, the visa for the US finally came through. My father was 13 years old and my grandfather was 50.
"When they arrived in Cincinnati, with its very different economy and culture, he had to start over completely. He began buying and selling linens and textiles, at first working from the family's small apartment. As he became more successful, his company, Standard Textiles, began specializing, focusing on supplying hospitals with sheets, pillowcases, towels, blankets and curtains.
"My grandfather was strictly a wholesaler. He didn't manufacture, just bought and sold. When my father took over, he began the manufacturing textiles as well," he said.
BY THE time Gary Heiman was fighting the Yom Kippur War in Israel, Standard Textiles in the US was a thriving concern. The family was staunchly Zionist, so when Gary announced he wanted to build a textile factory in Israel to provide jobs and help build the industrial base, they were supportive.
Still, it took time.
"As a development town, Arad offered some government financing. We submitted the feasibility study to the government in 1974 and it took about a year to get it approved," Heiman recalls. "I used that year to study in Switzerland and Germany, learning how to use all the machinery we'd ordered.
"We started construction on the factory in 1975 and officially opened on July 5, 1976, right after the rescue at Entebbe," he says. "I still remember hearing car horns blaring in the middle of the night, then finding out about the rescue. It was a dual celebration."
Compared to today's facility, the initial plant was modest. "Arad had about 9,000 residents, just a dusty town in the middle of the Negev. The spot we picked for the factory was out in the middle of nowhere, nothing nearby, not even trees or plants.
"We built an 18,000 square foot building (1,672 square meters) and started with about 20 employees. We all worked around the clock - there were no shifts. Someone would just say, 'I'm going home to get a couple of hours of sleep, I'll be back.' It was from that initial group that our whole business philosophy, our culture, developed. We became a very cohesive organization where every employee is important," Heiman says.
At first, Arad Textiles produced about a ton of towels a day. Today the factory - in the same location but now with about 600,000 square feet - produces 30 tons of towels a day, about 6 million towels a month. In fact, Arad Textiles, Ltd is one of the largest towel manufacturers in the world.
The company is not limited to producing towels, either, but also sheets, blankets, bath mats, robes and other specialized items for hotels and hospitals worldwide. Ninety-five percent of the factory's output goes for export to such customers as Marriott, Starwood, Gaylord, high-end Las Vegas casino hotels, the French hotel chain Accor and most of Europe's large industrial laundries, which provide towels for hotels and health care facilities. Within Israel, Arad Textiles supplies the IDF, the Prison Services, the Health Ministry and 70% of the country's quality hotels.
"From the very first, with just a couple of dozen people, every one of us concentrated on finding ways to do things better, more creatively. Everyone contributed ideas, and it's still that way today," Heiman says. "Lots of our best innovations came from the people who actually do the work - like the employee who devised a way to make a woven salvage, the flat edge of the towel. One of our biggest clients in Europe said, 'We want a woven salvage,' so we found a way to do it. The salvage still looks like its sewn, but the woven edge is stronger. We eliminated the need for sewing, saved money and made a better product."
Another big innovation was the unique 'Room Ready' concept. "We were looking for ways to deliver a product that would save our customers money and hassle," he recalls. "Before we came along, the industry standard was to ship manufactured towels as-is from the factory, not washed or pre-shrunk. When the hospital or hotel received them, they'd have to unpack them, wash, dry and then fold the towels for their own use.
"We decided we'd ship our towels "room ready" - with all of those processes already done, with each towel folded exactly as the customer wanted. Our process is still under patent, so we're the only ones in the industry shipping 'room ready.' It saves our customers 3-4% of the cost of the towel, money they'd have to spend doing it themselves," he says.
Even "Tide" wanted into the action. "We were approached by Proctor & Gamble, makers of Tide detergent. They loved the idea of shipping 'room ready' towels, and asked us what it would take to make it 'Room Ready for you with Tide,' Heiman tells. "That was interesting - Standard Textiles, the parent company - is based in Cincinnati, as is Proctor & Gamble. They said they'd looked all over the world for someone who was producing textiles and found us in their back yard. We made it work - we now wash with Tide and we added the Tide logo."
AS DEEP as Heiman was involved with textiles, he soon discovered his military career wasn't over. "I was drafted into the Army again, and after three months of basic training, was recruited into the Special Forces - Unit 669 - which is the Airborne Rescue and Evacuation Unit of the Israeli Air Force. The Unit carries the responsibility for extracting and providing initial medical treatment to downed pilots or soldiers trapped behind enemy lines," he says.
"Being a part of Unit 669 is a very intensive commitment," Heiman continues. "From that time on, even after my regular military service was over, I spent about four months a year back on active duty. The Unit performs all kinds of rescues, including civilian, but I was always involved in military rescues, most of them in Lebanon. All of them were behind enemy lines, always in the middle of the night and always in the worst possible places."
The elite unit had a standard operating procedure. "We'd be dropped off from a helicopter in the general location where the endangered troops were, and then the helicopter would take off immediately. Sitting on the ground, a helicopter makes a great target. We'd remain in radio contact with the helicopter, with an agreement to be back in 45 minutes, or whatever seemed appropriate. If things went right, we'd be back. If things went wrong, then nobody made it back. Unit 669 is not a great place for someone who can't handle stress," he concludes.
In the earlier days, the helicopters were smaller, and the standard rescue team was three men. "Then we started using Blackhawks, so teams increased by increments of three - three, six, nine or 12 - depending on the situation. Sometimes we found wounded soldiers, sometimes not," he tells. "We always got the troops out, but we didn't always get them out alive. We did everything we possibly could to save them, running under fire."
"I can say this: no one ever died on the helicopter," Heiman says. "If they were alive when we got them on the helicopter, we kept them alive until they got to the hospital, usually Rambam Hospital in Haifa, because that was the closest to Lebanon. We never left anyone behind, even if it meant we were just bringing back body parts."
Heiman recalls the painful day that proved an exception to that rule, the day Ron Arad went down. "Only one time was there a decision made not to go after a downed soldier. It was a hellish situation. I'll never forget all the arguments and discussions. Ron Arad, a Lieutenant Colonel, was a navigator, a weapon systems officer. On October 16, 1986, he and a pilot were flying a mission in Lebanon and their plane went down.
"I was in reserve service, on a training school base. We were maybe five minutes from the Lebanon border, but the area was so highly fortified with enemy that the chance of our succeeding was judged to be zero. 'All you're going to succeed at is getting yourself killed,' they told us. We didn't go. While he was coming down, Arad had sent a message saying he was alive, so for us, the whole thing was absolutely terrible. If they'd let us go, we could have pulled a force of 12 who'd go, no question about that - we always try, we always go in. But according to the best information we had, there was no chance we could have succeeded.
"I can't even describe the feeling - we never leave anyone behind. That's who we are, as a people. We don't leave anyone behind. That day cooler heads prevailed, and we weren't permitted to sacrifice 12 more special forces in addition to Arad himself. That was a tough decision."
Heiman continued to go back for regular reserve duty until he turned 45 and had to quit, but even then he didn't stop. "I came back again, to complete the circle, as a volunteer during the 2006 war in Lebanon. I wasn't with Unit 669 them, but with another Army unit. I believe it's our responsibility to do whatever we're able to do. If you can do only one thing well, then do it. If it's two things, then do two things well. If it's 50 things, then do them all. But this is a small country. We all have to do our part."
IN 1988, at his father's request, Gary Heiman returned to Cincinnati and took over as CEO of the parent company, Standard Textiles. "When the stock market was going through the roof in 1991, we took the company public. We did extremely well, but about ten years later we bought out all the shareholders and took the company private again. The shareholders did very well and it was the right decision for us, too.
"We're still a closely held company, and we've expanded many times. Standard Textiles has 24 production facilities in 13 countries, customers in over 60 countries, with annual revenues of approximately $650 million," he says.
Using international trade agreements to expand is Heiman innovation. "We built factories in Jordan, too," Heiman notes. "In 1996, the US Congress passed beneficial trade legislation creating 'QIZ' - Qualified Industrial Zone - to help Israel, Jordan and Egypt. If you manufacture a product that has 8% value added in Israel, and 11% value added in Jordan, it can be exported to the US with no quota and no duty. It helps Jordan, because we're a huge employer, and it's great for us, because it allows us to compete with the Far East on cost."
Within the last several months, new contracts were signed that signal another growth spurt for Arad Textiles. The Arad plant will now be supplying most of the towels needed by the 4130 hotels in the Accor chain, located in 100 different countries around the world. The Arad plant has also become the sole supplier to Marriot, contracted to supply about 18 million towels to their 3000 hotels and resorts. If that weren't enough, a retail operation has also been created, with "Arad" retail shops now open in Arad, the Dead Sea, Rishon Lezion, Modi'in, Haifa and Eilat. The retail shops sell luxury items for the bedroom, bath, spa and kitchen.
The heavy emphasis on manufacturing in Israel for export around the world reflects Heiman's original plan: to strengthen Israel's industrial base, bringing strength and stability to the whole economy, but especially in Israel's periphery.
The Heimans are intensely Israeli. At the factory in Arad, Gary is famous for insisting on speaking only Hebrew, no English. Gary met his wife Kim in Jerusalem, when she was a partner in Comstock, a trading company. They have three children, Danielle, studying in Madrid, a son Alex, in college, and a daughter Teah, who's still in high school. The family divides its time between Tel Aviv and Cincinnati, where Heiman also serves as president of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati. A year ago, he was named one of the "Defenders of Industry in the Negev."
"Through all of this, my most cherished memories are of the times when I felt I was building something in our homeland," Heiman says.
"We now have 24 plants in 13 countries, but my heart is with our Israeli factories. By building in Israel, we're giving something to Jews that so many countries throughout history have worked to take away, the ability to produce. To be able to do that in our own land, to employ our own people - many of them immigrants like myself - gives me great satisfaction. Maybe that's one of the best things anyone can do: create opportunity for others."