JFrog CEO Shlomi Ben Haim

Leaping into action: JFrog CEO rushes to Israel in show of solidarity

Shlomi Ben Haim, the Israeli CEO of JFrog who lives in California, tells why he decided to fly back to Israel immediately when the war broke out, what the key elements in the company's emergency plan are, and how you continue to run a global Israeli company during these times. "When the board asked why I was flying to Israel. I said I needed to be there with our employees"

On Friday night of October 6th in California, Shlomi Ben Haim, founder and CEO of the Israeli software company JFrog, started to receive the news from Israel, where it was already Saturday morning. He first checked that his older daughters, who are both soldiers in the IDF, were okay, then he convened a management meeting and immediately began looking for flights to Israel.
JFrog is a company that employs 1,500 people, of which 800 are in Israel. In September 2020 it was listed on Nasdaq. Ben Haim lives in California with his wife and youngest daughter while his two older daughters, as mentioned, serve in the IDF.
1 View gallery
 שלומי בן חיים
 שלומי בן חיים
JFrog CEO Shlomi Ben Haim
(Photo: JFrog)
"A few hours after we heard what was happening, we convened a management meeting and began implementing our business continuity plan. It is a plan that has three main elements, the first is internal communication and employee safety, the second is the continuity of technology and the provision of services, and the third is communication to the outside world. After that, I started looking for flights to Israel. United Airlines had stopped their flights, but I was able to get on an El Al flight on Monday," he says.
The obvious question is why did you decide to return to Israel during this war, since you live in California and run the company from there.
"I have a family here and I have 800 employees here. Like any Israeli CEO, I feel that continuing to manage the company from abroad is roughly like a government that does not go to visit the families of the kidnapped and merely receives updates on their situation from afar.
"On my second day in Israel, the first images started to arrive from the kibbutzim, towns, and cities in the area. At this point we held meetings with the board once a week. My board of directors is mostly non-Israeli and non-Jewish. In the second meeting with the board, I told them the following: we have to deal not only with a murderous enemy and a cruel terrorist organization (Hamas), but there will be a lot to deal with in the aftermath. I asked to invest $1.5 million in one of the kibbutzim or towns near the Gaza border to be chosen by the company. To make this happen we appointed a dedicated team that includes a CPA and a lawyer and a VP of human resources and operations and we started moving forward. This momentum was started in Israel and many Israeli and non-Israeli companies subsequently began to join the efforts.
"I think we need to embrace the Israeli communities along the Gaza border. As of today, there are more than 60,000 displaced Israelis, traumatized families who suffered not only a blow that includes the destruction of everything they knew as their homes and communities, but also the mental side, and these things need to be restored. Twenty years from today, the children who were among the victims of this attack by Hamas will eat in a dining room or enjoy themselves in a lounge in sheltered buildings that JFrog and other companies will donate."
How did the board respond?
"I think that as a board of directors that was the first, or among the first, to choose to make such a decision at the very beginning of the war - it is a brave and impressive decision. I think that today, every board and every Israeli company, assuming it is not in financial difficulties, will approve a donation, if only because there are dozens of companies that have already approved such donations. I have a board made up of a majority of women and I am convinced that what I saw in their eyes was a mother's pain. You can't avoid thinking about it and putting ourselves in the shoes of the victims. Some of the board members wrote to me privately after the meeting that they want to donate personally as well. But there is something more amazing that has come full circle for the members of the directorate. A little over a year ago, we sent a JFrog delegation to Ukraine, to help with water, towels and blankets for refugees who fled from Ukraine to Poland. We were there. On the second day of this war with Hamas, after it became clear that there was an indescribable disaster here in Israel, I received a text message which said: 'My name is X, you probably don't remember me, you helped me on the border between Ukraine and Poland' and they checked on my welfare. The only thing that came to my mind is that when you do good there is a ripple effect. When you do bad - it has no continuity. Among other things, I also shared this message with the board and to my delight they wholeheartedly supported the decision. It is a lot of money, but the board did not hesitate and it trusts us that the employees understand that this is a global company and that there should be business continuity."
It's very nice that you and others are donating, but why should the restoration be based on donations, isn't it the state's place to restore the communities bordering Gaza?
"This question has already been addressed to me from several directions, and I wish the answer I would have received from my board was 'but you have a government.' There should not be a conflict between the restoration by the government and the contribution of companies. We have not encountered a terrorist event on this scale, we have had wars, the country has suffered attacks but not on this large of a scale and with this brutality, there should be a national, political, civil and social gathering here in order to respond so that these people can restore their lives.
"When I met with the employees around the world, I showed them the distance between the Gaza Strip and our company's offices in Tel Aviv and Netanya. It is like the trip from New Jersey to New York and such a terrible event is not something that a government, even the most powerful, can handle alone. There are companies here, which were born thanks to this country, successful and stable companies, and it is perfectly fine that, in parallel with the government, companies will help bypass the bureaucracy. For people who lost everything (homes, property, loved ones, etc), sending them an appraiser is probably not something they can bear. If the company's employees and people like us can help, at the same time as the government's efforts, there is nothing wrong with that. I see nothing wrong with civilians bringing equipment for soldiers and civilians. Let them embrace the Gaza border communities without all the bureaucracy. We have an amazing and united people that works at a different and blessed pace - we don't need to be alarmed by that."
You are in Israel now, how long do you plan to stay?
"It will depend on the situation, but in principle I am here as long as the war continues. I wrote to the employees when I boarded the flight. Although nobody asked me to come, I informed them that I was coming to be with them. I received 257 responses. People cling to every act of leadership these days."
How do you continue to lead in times like this?
"Most of the company's employees do not live near the Gaza border, there are 1,500 employees, some of whom are Muslims, Christians, Jews, women and men, some who understand the situation and some who don't, some who care and some who care less. One of the things that should be done from the beginning is to talk, explain and not get angry. We had employees who started to think about how we will continue to manage the company from Israel because it is defined as a war zone from the world's point of view. So there are dilemmas and it is even more difficult to talk to employees who live in the areas that were attacked. A few hours into the fighting we formed a group with people who live in Rishon Lezion and south of it. One of the workers in the group was locked in the bomb shelter when shots were fired outside the door and he wrote to us 'Send the army'. We couldn't do that. 12 hours after that they rescued him. There are very difficult decisions. We have dozens of employees in the reserves, we support their families. We have hundreds of employees who have already participated virtually in helping and treating anxiety. There are also those who ask if our company will continue to exist tomorrow.
We need to be clear with the team first and then with the rest of the world - JFrog is a global company and an Israeli company and we are proud of it. A global company has to conduct itself even if there is a disaster in a certain area. You need to take advantage of the geographical distribution and make sure that business continuity is maintained. In India, during the Coronavirus pandemic period, people died in the streets. This does not mean that we closed the offices there. There were riots in the streets of France, there were military operations in Israel before, and there is also an economic recession. We are a strong global company and one of the things we are very proud of is that there is no stagnation. We understand there is a disaster, but also understand that we must move on and win."
But how do you actually do it?
"Leadership is reflected in your interaction with the employees. What I would like my manager to give me is confidence, honesty and openness. Don't tell me everything will be fine, tell me the truth and that you will outline the way. Therefore, one of the first things we did was to share with the employees the Business Continuity program. For the employees outside of Israel, this is the time to do the right thing and support their friends in Israel.
"There is no one in Israel today who does not know someone who has experienced a tragedy. But you can't collapse. My heart was torn, but I told the managers, go into the bathroom for a moment, collect yourselves, don't fall apart in front of the team, don't broadcast that we are lost. The basis is interaction, confidence and honesty and not only with the Israeli workers. An employee in France or the USA is no less afraid about the future of the company.
"When the board asked me why I was flying to a war zone, I told them that it was necessary to be with the employees and that moves like this create culture and will benefit everyone in JFrog in the long run.
"Interaction is not just about answering questions, that is not leadership. You have to get out of your comfort zone. Even if you are uncomfortable talking to an employee whose family was directly affected. We have investors who were affected by the terrorist attack of Hamas, including one of the first investors who believed in JFrog at the beginning. His parents, 84 years old, were kidnapped. How would you talk to a family in such a situation? What can you say to him? But you have to be proactive, I've been talking to him almost every day since then."
What do you recommend managers do in times like this?
"The first thing is to be proactive and create interaction and confidence. The second thing is that you have to be ready.
"Finally, you have to remember that you are operating in an ecosystem. You have a board and 35,000 investors and you cannot let the company collapse. You need to know how to communicate everything outward. We need to keep the Israeli economy strong and stable so that our Israeli employees who are now serving in the IDF reserves will also have a job to return to. Vigilance must also be exercised in the media aspect - for example, we took down posts by employees that were offensive (even if the content was factually correct), the media must be managed outwardly and inwardly, and here too direction and leadership are required. We are very proud of the process for the reconstruction of the communities along the Gaza border and even more proud of our nation that in an almost miraculous way rose up from a horrible terrorist attack and aims to win the war against Hamas. We call on companies to join the effort by contacting care@jfrog.com."