Eli Groner has taken on multiple roles throughout his lifetime, having made aliyah almost 40 years ago.
Since 2019, Groner has managed the Israel office of Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), focusing on long-term investments in Israeli companies. Prior to his current position, he was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office (2015-2018, PM Benjamin Netanyahu) and the Israel government’s economic attaché to Washington (2011-2014).
His years in the public sector were preceded by two years as a senior adviser to the chairman of Tnuva (2009-2011), six years as a consultant for McKinsey & Company (2003-2009), and five years as a journalist at The Jerusalem Post (1996-2001, covering Jerusalem, business and economics).
Student, paratrooper, and bronze medalist
Groner grew up in Binghamton, New York, where his father was a community rabbi. In 1985, when Groner was 15, the family moved to Israel and settled in Jerusalem. He studied at the Or Etzion Yeshiva high school outside Ashkelon, and then attended the Bnei David pre-military academy in the settlement of Eli. In 1989, he enlisted in the IDF Paratroopers Brigade, where he received a citation for outstanding performance and exemplary leadership.
Groner spent several years playing for Israel’s national fastpitch softball team and won a bronze medal at the 1993 Maccabiah Games.
He later earned a BA in political science from Bar-Ilan University and an MBA from New York University.
Community leader, husband, father, and father-in-law
Groner and his wife, Tamar, live in Elazar in Gush Etzion, where they are raising their five children. He is currently on the board of directors of Birthright, The Israel Democracy Institute, and the Wexner Foundation’s Israel Advisory Committee; he is also the chairman of the umbrella organization for Israel’s hi-tech community, the Israel Advanced Technology Industries, and is on the selection committee of The Genesis Prize.
The Magazine recently sat down with Groner in his Tel Aviv office.
In 2017, when you were the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, you were named the ‘most powerful Anglo’ of the day. The quote is from Gil Hoffman, who was then political correspondent for the ‘Post.’ Do you miss those times?
‘Power’ is not the word I’d use. But I do miss the ability to influence Israeli society in a very meaningful way.
What were some of your successes in that position?
I’ll mention just three: (1) Developing our natural gas reservoirs and turning Israel into an energy powerhouse; (2) Initiating The Numerator policy, whereby there could be no new government spending without parallel cutting; and (3) Our overarching national deregulation plan, which was cited by the EU as being the best in the world for that five-year period.
Is it true that you spoke English with the prime minister?
Yes and no. I always thought that any discussion with the prime minister of Israel should be held in Hebrew. During the natural course of things, many of those discussions morphed into English, depending on the circumstances.
You said that your study in the pre-military academy in Eli was transformative for you. How so?
I grew up in the US, where Jews led two-track lives, and there was a clear distinction between the holy and the general. In Eli, I saw that while studying Torah is holy work, so too is anything related to strengthening the Jewish state, whether it be defending our country or strengthening our economy. This was a message Tamar and I made sure to instill in our children, including our three sons who all studied or are currently studying in Eli.
What role has sports played in your life?
Far and away the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life was to move to Israel at the age of 15. Since I didn’t know Hebrew and I wasn’t accepted into the local National Religious schools, I spent my first years of Israeli schooling away from my family. It was super difficult. What saved me was basketball. That’s how I integrated into society, and that’s how I made friends. I also learned about numbers from sports. Before becoming an economics and financial markets reporter for The Jerusalem Post, I covered Israeli basketball for the paper.
Your position at the ‘Post’ was your first step on the professional ladder. How was it helpful to you as you rose up the ladder?
A number of things about my job as a journalist made me better at my future jobs. As a journalist, the most important things you can do are figuring out what questions to ask and who can answer them; and understanding trends before the general public does. These are transferable skills, and they’ve helped me both as a management consultant and as an investor. To that extent, I’m very grateful for the five years I spent at the Post.
Like Netanyahu, you received a master’s degree in business from a prestigious American university. How did that affect your career trajectory?
It gave me instant access to Wall Street, from which point I was able to chart a path I’m not sure I otherwise would have been able to. During graduate school, I received a coveted internship at Lehman Brothers shortly after 9/11, but there wasn’t much work to do. Fortunately, I pivoted to consulting, went to McKinsey, and developed skills that were transferable.
The name of your company is Koch Disruptive Technologies. For us non-techies, what is the meaning of ‘disruptive technology’?
A new technology that completely changes the way things are done. Disruptive companies have the potential to transform their industries. For example, KDT recently invested in a company called NeuraLight, whose mission is to develop a gold standard in measuring neurological diseases. You can currently take an X-ray and know immediately what stage cancer someone has, but there is no equivalent in Parkinson’s. We think NeuraLight can change that. That, for example, is disruptive.
Is it true that since you became a KDT managing director, the company has already invested about $1 billion – in 19 Israeli companies?
Are you still the only KDT office outside of the US?
Why did KDT decide to open an office in Israel?
I met KDT CEO Chase Kochbsix weeks after I left the Prime Minister’s Office and was impressed by his belief in Israeli technology. He understood and appreciated the fact that there is no other country in the world with so much technological ingenuity in such a concentrated geographic area, and he wanted to make Koch Industries more technologically savvy. Six months later, I was setting up a KDT satellite office here in the Azrieli Building.
What advice would you give a 15-year-old in Binghamton today?
Pursue things that you are passionate about and where you can make a tangible difference. Live a life of harmony between personal and professional values. And most importantly, find the right partner. ■
Eli Groner From Binghamton, NY to Jerusalem, 1985