More than meets the eye

Aiming to protect their customers through every stage of life, sisters Sigal Bar-On and Nurit Harel of Fischer Pharmaceuticals uphold the company’s passion for philanthropy and social responsibility.

(Left) Nurit Harel and Sigal Bar-On, the daughters of Dr. Eli Fischer and current CEO’s of Fischer pharmaceuticals. (photo credit: Courtesy)
(Left) Nurit Harel and Sigal Bar-On, the daughters of Dr. Eli Fischer and current CEO’s of Fischer pharmaceuticals.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Like many Israelis, I am a fan of the beach. The rhythmic sounds of matkot balls bouncing from paddle to paddle, waves crashing against the sand, and basking in the sun are intoxicating.
But like most things in life, all this fun in the sun comes with a price: at best, excessive sun exposure can make your skin look like a piece of burnt toast, and at worst, it can increase your risk of skin cancer.
So when I came back from the beach a mere week after sitting with the co-chairwomen of Dr. Fischer – the Israeli pharmaceutical giant most famous for its skincare products – sporting a complexion better fit for a lobster than a human being, pangs of guilt were inevitable.
That is because Sigal Bar-On and Nurit Harel – Dr. Eli Fischer’s daughters, who currently run the company – eloquently and persuasively explained the very real risks of sun damage in their Bnei Brak office.
While public awareness of sun damage is much higher today, many people still aren’t consistent about protecting themselves before (and after) they frolic on the beach.
“I think the public understands the dangers, if not to protect themselves, then at least their children. Even if they don’t quite understand, they know the sun is dangerous,” Harel said.
She explained that in the course of her career, she had witnessed the sharp change in public perception regarding the issue.
“When I was 30, I gave a talk to female soldiers about the dangers of sun exposure.
I warned them that the damage they are inflicting on their skin won’t be seen now, but when they are in their 30s and 40s. You’ll see spots and wrinkles, I said. And they all told me, ‘By then I’ll be old and married, who cares?’” To that end, Harel helped develop the company’s Ultrasol Platinum IR series this year. The series contains two creams – one that preemptively protects the skin prior to sun exposure, and the other to be administered afterward to help the body cope with being under the sun’s soothing but ultimately harmful rays.
The series – the only Israeli product on the market that protects from UVA, UVB and infrared rays – is just one of many products provided by Fischer Pharmaceuticals, whose presence in Israeli households dates back 50 years.
“Essentially, since the moment of birth, we want to be there for every stage of a person’s life when it comes to their personal well-being,” Bar-On said, effectively explaining the company philosophy in a nutshell.
What started as Fischer’s promise to his mother to find the fountain of youth and delay the aging process has spiraled into a domestic pharmaceutical powerhouse with a growing international presence.
The opening of an online store with Amazon, plus ongoing cooperation with multinational conglomerates like Wal-Mart – which markets Dr. Fischer formulas under its name as a private label – indicate that what began as a mom-and-pop operation has become a force to be reckoned with.
That is not to say that the trajectory has been an easy one for the sisters, and many challenges lie ahead.
The growing momentum of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is something Bar-On finds particularly worrisome.
“I think it’s very dangerous for Israel in general,” she said frankly. “[Our company doesn’t] feel it at the moment, but we’re preparing ourselves.”
While none of Dr. Fischer’s international clients have indicated interest in terminating the partnership, Bar-On said it was quite possible that there were potential clients that had completely ruled out such cooperation because of a hesitancy to work with an Israeli company.
“Our clients have not stopped working with us – and we’re continuing to elicit new ones as well – but there could be companies completely closed off from the possibility of working with us and won’t call us because we’re an Israeli company,” she said.
For Harel, BDS poses a long-term threat to Israel, one that may not be truly felt for some time.
“[The] students who are now in university, they’re the businessmen and -women of the future. And then we’ll really have to deal with this problem,” she warned.
What is the antidote? Bar-On believes the only way to combat BDS effectively is to back Israeli business unequivocally and offer quality products that are attractive to an international market.
“It may not be popular to say, but our emphasis is Zionism,” Bar-On said. “It may be more cost-effective to have a factory overseas, for example. But we think that as Israeli Zionists who live in this country and want to continue to ensure the vitality of Israeli industry... it’s very important for the people who live here to think of ways to take the country forward and not just worry about lining their own pockets.”
As such, putting the well-being of Israel and its citizens first is at the forefront of the company’s corporate responsibility philosophy.
“Part of our company culture is responsibility for our surroundings. I always say corporate responsibility isn’t just writing a check and you’re done with it. It must be more than that,” Bar- On said firmly.
That philosophy is evident in the company’s multifaceted factory in the Galilee, which employs 700 workers from all walks of Israeli life – Muslims, Jews, Ethiopians, secular and religious workers, Christians and ex-soldiers from the South Lebanese Army. The sisters maintain that they uphold an open-door policy, and enriching the lives of their workers in the periphery is part and parcel of supporting the next generation of Israelis.
During last year’s Operation Protective Edge, for example, the sisters made it a priority to visit the Galilee factory and check in. They said they witnessed a familial sense of camaraderie.
“After all, most people want to live in peace and quiet and make a decent income for their family. I don’t believe there’s a mother on either side of the conflict who is happy that their son will go into the army and fight,” Bar-On said.
The subject of maintaining and yearning for peace is integral to the company.
Its “Messengers of Peace” art collection is a manifestation of that passion. The collection is a series of envelopes designed by artists from all over the world, celebrating Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Each envelope has English, Hebrew and Arabic writing.
“We are convinced that industry succeeds where culture flourishes and that there should be a defined place alongside economic activity for cooperation with culture enterprises and assistance to the arts,” Dvora and Eli Fischer wrote in a 1996 book that collected all of the pieces of the Jordan collection.
This month, Bar-On was appointed chairwoman of Judah Israel, a nonprofit dedicated to the empowerment of Israeli women. Part of the larger Lion of Judah organization, Judah Israel seeks to help girls and women in a myriad of ways, specifically targeting young girls in distress or those living in less economically affluent conditions.
At the end of the day, though, it is a sense of family that ties the company together, and that is apparent when the two sisters interact. Each respectfully gives the other her moment to shine and express what drives her as a businesswoman and philanthropist. Their disparate backgrounds (Bar-On’s expertise lies in consulting and marketing, while Harel has a PhD in genetics) make for an unlikely but ultimately successful combination.
“I think we were also raised well, for which I have to give credit to my mother.
Ever since we were kids, we weren’t allowed to be brogez [angry with each other],” Bar-On said, smiling. “We always needed to talk things out, even when we were angry. It’s important to sometimes check your ego and understand where the other person is coming from. I think that’s a really important life lesson in general.”