“It’s in our blood,” says Sigal Bar-On, co-chairperson of Fischer Pharmaceuticals Ltd. “We grew up with it.” Bar-On, who together with her sister Dr. Nurit Harel heads the Israeli pharmaceutical giant founded by their parents, Dr. Eli Fischer and his late wife Devorah, worked in the family business during summer vacations and was determined to make it an integral part of her life.
Bar-On, recalling her childhood experiences, smiles and says, “It was the best business school I ever had.” The company that started in 1965 in a tiny 100 square meter office in B’nei Brak is today a multinational firm that is a household name in Israel, renowned for its wide range of products in treatment toiletries, advanced anti-aging cosmetics, specialized dietary supplements, and innovative medical preparations. Bar-On enjoys her work immensely. “Visiting our manufacturing plant in the Galil is the most fun. It is a pleasure walking between all of the production lines, smelling and feeling everything!”
“My sister and I are chairpersons and partners,” says Bar-On. “We believe in teamwork. There are three heads under us – Danny Bar-On, my husband, is the CEO of the Body Shop chain of stores; Yossi Harel, my sister’s husband, who is CEO of international marketing; and Moshe Zilberstein, CEO of Dr. Fischer Israel, who has been with the company for many years.”
Bar-On says that as a family-run business, it is essential to separate family matters from business discussions. “We are together frequently as a family on holidays and Shabbat, and we separate business from family.” She adds that the unique harmony that exists between members of the family was instilled in them by her parents. “It begins and ends with education and personal examples,” she says. “The older we get, the more we understand. My parents established Dr. Fischer in 1965 as a couple.”
Bar-On notes that this past year with the pandemic and its accompanying issues has been challenging from several perspectives. Fischer Pharmaceuticals manufactures Alco-Gel, the popular hand sanitizer, which became even more widely used due to the pandemic. There was a great demand for the product in early March, and the company had to quickly purchase vast amounts of the necessary raw materials, and bring them in by express air, instead of transporting them by ship. Workers on company production lines were separated into capsules, and office workers began to spend more time working from home. The company’s Body Shop stores, which are located in shopping malls, had to shut down. “Most important,” says Bar-On, we listened to our employees, and we stayed in touch with them. Their health was most important, and we had to arrange ways for them to combine working from home and the office.”
Despite the challenges presented by COVID, says Bar-On, Fischer Pharmaceuticals learned to accentuate the positive. “The situation pushed us and gave us a boost in product development. We put out new products that were in the pipeline.” In addition, she adds that the company learned more about the possibilities of combining working from home and the office.
Fischer Pharmaceuticals is well-known not only for its comprehensive line of products but for its extensive activities in the community at large. Bar-On says that helping others is a family tradition. “It was understood that when we got up in the morning, we were not only getting ready to work but getting ready for social action as well,” she says. The company supports numerous charitable organizations and established the ‘Art for Peace’ initiative, in which artists from Israel, Egypt, and Jordan have participated and shown their work.
An exhibition of Israeli and Emirati artists will be online soon and is scheduled to be shown in Dubai, New York, and Tel Aviv during 2021. Fischer Pharmaceuticals also established the Devorah Fischer Gallery in Tel Aviv, named after Dr. Eli Fischer’s late wife and company co-founder, which presents exhibits to benefit various charitable organizations throughout the year. Speaking of the company’s efforts to improve society, Sigal adds, “We don’t want to just write a check. We want to do something significant. Giving is receiving. When you do something for someone, you get something back.”
Bar-On says that International Women’s Day is the ideal time to bring up important social issues that are not discussed on a daily basis. She is leading an economic and social forum of industrialists and business leaders tasked with increasing awareness to prevent domestic violence in families. Bar-On looks upon her company as a large community of hundreds of employees and suppliers and says, “We have not only business responsibilities, but societal responsibilities as well.”
“Fischer Pharmaceuticals provides equal opportunities for women, and there are actually more women at the company than men, including executive positions,” says Sigal Bar-On. “It is based on talent and merit.” She points out that the company’s most valuable asset is its workforce. “They are professional, connected, and committed. They are very important to us. We have Moslems, Christians, and Jews – secular and religious– all working together for the common good. We are a microcosm of Israeli society.”