Through the Glass Ceiling: A mix of energy and charm

Ruth Sheetrit spins things her way.

ruth sheetrit 88 298 (photo credit: )
ruth sheetrit 88 298
(photo credit: )
To the stranger who may be clueless as to the identity of the person behind the Sheetrit Media Group, it becomes instantly apparent upon entering the company's suite of offices in Ramat Gan that there's a woman at the helm. The decor is mainly white, offset by a deep chocolate brown. There are lots of glass walls creating a sense of space while giving each of the account executives his/her own semi-private office. Large, tall vases in the entrance lobby and the mirrored bathroom are filled with sheaves of long-stemmed white gladioli. Indeed, Ruth Sheetrit has been running her own show since 1987 but she's been in the communications business for around 30 years. Although married to Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit, Ruth Sheetrit has never been content to be merely "the wife of…" Being her own person was always important. "I know that conventional wisdom says that the wife of a politician should be by his side," she says as she sips coffee in the company's attractive board room, "but all my life I knew that I was born for business. I decided not to give up on my dream, just as I don't ask Meir to give up on his dream - which is politics." Actually, however, when she started work it wasn't in big business, but in education. When she was still at the courting stage and told her husband-to-be that she wanted to be a working woman, he thought that the best profession for a woman was teaching. As a result, she dutifully enrolled at the Ahva Teachers College, earned a teaching diploma and taught very briefly in Yavneh where they live. She has since completed two years of study towards a law degree at the Interdisciplinary College Herzliya. Meir Sheetrit was a long time Likud minister and parliamentarian before he moved over to Kadima. At 26, he was elected mayor of Yavneh, a position he held for 13 years, some of them concurrent with his service as a member of Knesset. In 1988, he left the Knesset to take on the position of treasurer of the Jewish Agency, and returned to the Knesset four years later. Over the years, he held a number of ministerial portfolios including finance, justice, transportation, education, culture and sport and now housing and construction. During the Sharon administration, he was also a minister in the Finance Ministry, serving alongside then finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Quite early in her marriage, Ruth Sheetrit met another Likud activist, a colorful businessman by the name of Haim Shiff, who for several years headed the Israel Hotel Association and who, in addition to his chain of hotels, was involved in various other business projects. Shiff offered her a job running his advertising and public relations and coordinating with external advertising and PR agencies. She loved working for him and she learned a lot about business along the way. When Shiff's empire started to crumble just over 20 years ago, Sheetrit realized it was time for her to leave his employ and launch out on her own She opened an office in Yavneh, which was far from the center of Israel's public relations and advertising world but, because she and her husband are both very family oriented, she wanted to be close enough to home to eat lunch each day with her children. Tragedy struck the Sheetrit family when Miri, the eldest of their three children was diagnosed with cancer. She died in her mid-teens after a futile four-year struggle to contain the disease. Had she lived, she would be 30 years old "and I would be a grandmother several times over," said her mother as a wave of sadness washed over her usually animated features. For the four years that Miri was ill, Sheetrit put her career on the back burner. Her office continued to operate, but on a very low key level. Although devastated after Miri's death, she had also gained new strength during the years that she cared for her daughter. "I discovered things about myself that I never knew before. I realized after Miri died that I had two options. I could go to bed and wallow in self-pity, or I could be actively and positively involved in the development of my other two children. I chose the second option." Even so, she has never quite come to terms with Miri's death. Her husband's CV states "married with two children;" her's "married with three children." A very rational thinker Sheetrit was aware that the death of a child could destroy the closest and most functional of families but was determined that it would not destroy hers. Both she and her husband were raised with a strong sense of family values, which they imparted into their own children. One of six siblings, Ruth Sheetrit was born in Morocco, in the port city of Mogador. The family came to Israel in 1962, and was sent to a transit camp in Yeruham. From there, they went to Dimona where her brother Meir Cohen is now the mayor. Her father worked in phosphates and both her parents impressed on their children the importance of education and the need to strive towards excellence. The quest for excellence stayed with her throughout the years, and the projects and campaigns that she has run for her clients add up to tens of millions of shekels. Marriage to a politician demands sacrifice - not only hosting lavish dinners at a moment's notice and following him around on the campaign trail, but also losing income. In Ruth Sheetrit's case, her husband cost her a lot of money in lost revenues. "I'm the one who has to notify a client that I can no longer work for him or his company when Meir gets a new position. I have to be very careful." When Meir Sheetrit became transportation minister his wife had to relinquish Derech Eretz, an extremely lucrative client, and to let go the two account executives who had handled the account. Likewise, when Meir Sheetrit became Housing and Construction Minister, she had to advise Azorim, which had been on her client list for the best part of 15 years, and other construction companies on her books that she could no longer work for them, and to reluctantly fire a couple of account executives. Nonetheless, she and her 26 employees continue to run a highly successful operation providing total and partial media services in advertising, marketing and public relations, including image campaigns, management of new brand names until they take root in the market, marketing and sales campaigns and promotions of all kinds including mega events. Her clients include the Blue Square supermarket giant; the Dor-Alon energy company, which operates a chain of service stations; Alon USA, which incorporates Fina and Seven-Eleven, Pizza Hut Israel and the Alonit chain of convenience stores located in service stations across the country; the Mediterranean Towers, a chain of protected living facilities,; Non-Stop Radio and many others. In addition, she leads an extremely busy social life, not only as a hostess for her husband's political gatherings at their home, but also as an active volunteer for numerous cultural, social welfare and health organizations. She and her husband established the Miri Sheetrit oncology wing for children at Rambam Hospital, in addition to which they created a Miri Foundation, which each year sends 40 young cancer patients to the US to have a good time and temporarily forget their woes. She also is a member of the board of directors of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and chairperson of the Mann Auditorium's renewal campaign; a member of the board of governors of the Israel Cancer Association and chairperson of its overseas activities; a member of the board of governors of the Tel Aviv Museum; a member of the executive committee of Give Children the World - yet another monument to Miri Sheetrit where, in partnership with the Israel Cancer Association, she provides an annual vacation at a youth village in Israel for 200 families of children with cancer. She is also a member of the board of governors of the Hand in Hand Association, which provides a friendly environment with hot meals for children from economically deprived backgrounds, and she is the founder of the Warm Home in Yavneh, which caters to 22 such children on a daily basis. As if that was not enough for the woman who in 1997 was awarded the President's Prize for Volunteerism, she chairs the Alon Foundation, which supports various causes in Israel and the US, most notably the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts to which the Alon Foundation has contributed $1 million. Aside from all that she helps new immigrants and people who don't know how to cope with Israel's bureaucracy to find their way. She attributes her success both in business and in other fields to her lack of ego. "Because I have no ego problem, I can work with people who are clever, brilliant and challenging. I have no difficulty at all in acknowledging their talents, learning from them or giving them responsibility. I can acknowledge that I don't know everything and that many of the people who work with me are smarter than I am and know a lot more." Sheetrit sees herself as the trouble shooter and the problem solver. "I'm good at seeing the broader picture and I can make snap decisions." Only this past week she was shooting three commercials and at the last minute it transpired that the client had not yet signed the contract with the star. The star's agent was jittery, but Sheetrit took full responsibility. The shoot went ahead as scheduled and the contract was signed the following morning. Sheetrit looks much younger than her 52 years. Her complexion is flawless. Her make-up is perfect. Her clothes have designer labels ("My only luxury"), she sports a French manicure and she wears an enchanting perfume that is actually a man's eau de toilette - Teint De Neige by Lorenzo Vilooresi, Firenze, which is unavailable in Israel She and her family have lived in the same home in Yavneh for 30 years. "I make enough money to live anywhere in the country, but we love Yavneh because it's open and welcoming." Does she cook the family meals? She finds the question almost insulting. "Do you know a Moroccan woman who doesn't? We grow up in the kitchen learning from our mothers. " She admits though, that her daughter Naama is a better cook than she is. "I'm her sous chef." Is there anything that would take Sheetrit away from her work? Only one thing: If her husband realizes his ambition to become prime minister she will either close, sell or transfer her business "because then my place will have to be by his side." Profile of a powerhouse Name: Ruth Sheetrit Profession: Owner and CEO of Sheetrit Media Group. Age: 52 Status: Married to Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit. Mother of Miri, deceased; Dudi a musician with the IDF Orchestra who will soon enroll at Julliard; and Naama, who is completing her bagrut. Level of Education: Teacher's diploma; two years of law studies. Professional milestones: Getting a job with the late Haim Shiff. Setting up her own business. Moving her business to Ramat Gan.