Eli Hurvitz, who turned Teva into global giant, dies at 79

Ex-CEO of leading generics company and Israel Prize winner succumbs to cancer.

By NADAV SHEMER,
November 22, 2011 15:41
4 minute read.
Teva Founder Eli Hurvitz.

Eli Hurvitz 311. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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Eli Hurvitz, the man who turned Teva from a small Israeli pharmaceutical company into the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs, died Monday night at the age of 79. Hurvitz, who fought a long battle with cancer, had been hospitalized at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Hospital since November 13.

Born in Jerusalem in 1932, Hurvitz began his career in pharmaceuticals as a dish-washer for Assia Chemical Labs while studying for his economics degree 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.

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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.

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 of Hurvitz: “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.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Hurvitz “one of Israel’s great industrialists,” saying: “He was noble, a complete patriot and very dedicated to developing the Israeli economy and society. 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.”

President Shimon Peres learned of his friend’s passing while en route to Vietnam. On landing to a red and gold carpet welcome, he described Hurvitz as an extraordinary Israeli, speaking of how he had risen from the life of a simple kibbutznik on Tel Katzir (where he lived briefly as a young man) 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. He added, “His passing is a personal loss to me and an even greater loss to the State of Israel.”

Many members of the large business delegation accompanying Peres in Vietnam were also personal friends of Hurvitz, and would have undoubtedly attended his funeral on Thursday had they been in Israel.

Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh, who is with Peres in Vietnam, said in a press statement, “Israeli industry has lost a leader, a ground-breaker, a visionary and a strategist of the highest degree. We all are shocked and sadden 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, “Eli 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.

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