Israel-Japan Conference"Israelis are good at creating something from nothing, but the Japanese will take it from two to ten"
"Israelis are good at creating something from nothing, but the Japanese will take it from two to ten"
Eyal Agmoni, Chairman of Chartered Group, spoke to Calcalist ahead of the Israel-Japan conference in Tokyo next week
When Eyal Agmoni, Chairman of Chartered Group, came to Japan for the first time for a short visit after the army, he realized what he wants many other Israelis to understand today: in Japan there are many opportunities that we as Israelis recognize and to the Japanese seem less attractive.
After a short stay in a hotel at the time, he decided to look for another living solution, and published an ad in which he seeked a Japanese partner for a real estate deal. This is how he reached an agreement with a local in which he would rent an apartment in his name and they would sublet it.
"He said that no one would want to live with roommates, but after six months we had 20,000 customers living in apartments under his name. There was a need for an accomodation solution for people who did not come as representatives of international companies. People who came to teach English for six months, for example, had nowhere to live because you can't rent an apartment for six months." This was Agamoni's first business venture in Japan and was followed by many more.
"I identified opportunities, built businesses and along the way I started buying local businesses. The emphasis was on things that didn't exist or that the Japanese didn't initially value. One of the things we first brought to Japan were calling cards. The Japanese didn't see the need at the time because then you could dial by phone for $4 per minute, but this didn’t account for 3 million foreigners in Japan who had no way to call abroad. This company was one of our biggest successes. After that I focused on a private equity fund, where the goal was to examine opportunities at existing companies which were undervalued by the Japanese and also look at opportunities to enter new markets that aren't of much interest to the Japanese," he says.
Over the years, Agmoni has made several large transactions, including in 2007 when he bought the fifth largest company in the non-bank financing sector. He took over an investment fund and also invested in tourism, establishing the Aman Resort in Kyoto and a ski resort in the town of Niseko.
All the investments were made through Chartered in which Agmoni is the main investor. "Investors in Israel know how to invest in real estate in Eastern Europe, but in the third largest economy in the world they have nothing. They don't have access to the credit market or the real estate market and it amazes me that today, we are 70 years into the relationship between Japan and Israel and there is still no progress," he says. "I’m calling on the institutional investors in Israel: it's time for them to be exposed to Japan."
About seven years ago, Agmoni recognized the need for large Japanese companies to be exposed to deep-tech and started investing in Israeli tech companies. Together with Tel Aviv University, they founded TAU Ventures, led by Chartered, and to date have invested around $350 million in over 50 Israeli high-tech companies.
Regarding how to conduct business in Japan, Agmoni said: "The fundamental difference in culture between the Japanese and the Israelis is that the Japanese are people of detail," says Agmoni. "We as Israelis identify an opportunity and run for it even if the solution is not perfect, which is good enough for the American market where a large company will see the solution and implement it or buy the company, but the Japanese get down to the small details.
“In the beginning, as Israelis, there is a lot of work needed to bridge the cultural gaps. Today we believe in ‘Born in Israel - Made in Japan.’ We Israelis are good at creating something from nothing, from zero to one. The Japanese will take it from two to ten. That's why we need to understand our shortcomings and advantages and not come with Israeli arrogance. We believe we have identified that this is the winning formula for business between Israel and Japan."