Perseverance and success in business

A tale of romance, trauma, hard work and a jelly bean.

Keith Brooks  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Keith Brooks
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Keith and Vanessa Brooks came to the placid surroundings of Rehovot with their three children and a dog looking for a different lifestyle.
Both had previously lived in Israel in their single days. In fact, Keith had met Dublin- born Vanessa here in 1996 via JDate.
But 2014, when they were relatively new here, featured a summer that wasn’t so placid. Operation Protective Edge was in full sway, with sirens wailing, jets overhead and much of the population tense and traumatized. The sonic booms scared their dog so much that “the dog’s hair turned gray,” Brooks comments wryly. Luckily, the children’s schools proved satisfactory, and Berman, the Rehovot synagogue they chose to attend, was “a very welcoming community.” The couple wound up happy with their choice of locale.
Brooks grew up in Miami, where he attended Jewish day schools. After spending a year at Yeshiva University’s yeshiva program in Israel, he moved to New York to major in accounting at YU.
During his studies, he worked a night shift at YU’s radio station for a couple of years. When he needed company, friends would join him in the studio to chat and enjoy the music. Then, while doing MBA studies in international taxation at Baruch College, he interned in a Broadway theater, assisting the business manager, and then moved on to IT support on Wall Street for Bankers Trust.
At age 24 he returned to Miami, where he managed IT services for Burger King, Ryder and Citibank.
In 1996, Keith and Vanessa moved to Tel Aviv to work for IBM, the start of a long association with that company.
Two years later, they reassigned Keith to London for a similar stint, where his intensive work involved lots of traveling.
“I worked on IBM messaging and collaboration solutions as an employee and through their vast network of business partners to such a degree that I was named an IBM Champion for the last five years,” he says. Meanwhile, Vanessa worked for KPMG, a firm that provides audit, tax and advisory services, liaising between investors and Israeli start-ups looking for funding.
In 2001, the couple decided to leave London, but were not yet ready to return to Israel. Instead, they relocated that summer to Boca Raton, where Keith’s grandparents, mother and other family members lived. However, a period of crisis soon ensued with the advent of 9/11, the Twin Towers disaster.
“After 9/11 it was very hard to find work – an acute problem in the USA. Lots of companies went under,” he explains.
When their daughter was born, the little girl proved allergic to many infant products. Realizing the costs involved in purchasing organic baby products, the Brooks embarked on a joint enterprise, marketing alternative products from various US companies. Although sales grew successfully, their primary supplier eventually cut off all the small affiliates including theirs.
“We had just bought a house and had a second child,” Brooks says. While reorganizing, he returned to IT work, some local, some remote and some involving travel. He worked on various projects over the next decade until they finally left for Israel right after their eldest daughter’s bat mitzva.
These days Vanessa works out of the house as a manicurist and makeup stylist for clients attending events. Like most of us, Keith Brooks has adapted to challenges and constraints of working in Israel that often force highly qualified immigrants to work independently and employ their talents across a broad spectrum of activities.
He still works with a few IBM business partners and customers, advising them how best to “work together to include everyone in the projects and share their information” across the company.
“The world is open, the need to work locally is not like it was in previous decades,” he remarks.
Additionally, he uses tools such as social media and blogging to establish himself locally, in addition to networking by attending and lecturing at conferences and other events. One story he tells about teaching troubleshooting shows that a problem may not necessarily be technical in nature. When a printer wasn’t printing, after trying all the usual ways – plus some unusual ones – Brooks shook the printer upside down, and out fell a single solitary jelly bean.
“Never give up on solving a problem, just look at the problem differently!” he quips.
Fortunately, Brooks can now capitalize on his 25 years of solid business experience in large corporations in areas such as computer systems, communications and customer relations to create a suitable niche for himself in Israel. He has consequently become involved in “shaping and forming the marketing personalities” of Israeli start-ups. As a mentor, he undertakes “early-stage intervention before they get to the sales end.” He teaches these companies how to increase their credibility and gain respect from corporate giants.
“I am working on helping them think, speak and act like proper companies in order to sell their solutions to large companies.”
Though many start-ups aim to supply services to corporate giants, they lack basic accessibility. Brooks has a 12-point checklist of their websites where he looks for basic items large companies would expect to see or know. One such item is how to contact the business.
Often he just finds an email address or a Web form to submit a question – not even a company phone number.
“Large companies don’t trust someone they can’t talk to. They want to be sure that you are real and exist. You are trying to sell services that they can rely on,” he clarifies. His simple suggestion is to explain to his clients the advantages of obtaining an American phone number and posting it on their website.
In retrospect, he can now say, “It’s nice to feel at home again. My life here is less stressful than in the US. I can live better for less money, while my kids get to have the experiences and freedom they could not have in America.”