As the CEOs of two leading Ottawa companies, Leslie Klein and Arnold Kimmel are seasoned international business travellers.
© Cole Burston
C-COM Satellite Systems CEO Leslie Klein
By David Sali
However, the trip they took to Israel last month was far from a typical meet-and-greet with foreign executives to share ideas and discuss potential deals.
Mr. Klein and Mr. Kimmel were among dozens of Canadian businesspeople who joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his four-day tour of the Middle Eastern country, when Mr. Harper made history by becoming the first Canadian leader to address the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
While the PM’s staunch defence of Israel generated a fair amount of debate back home, Mr. Klein, the head of C-COM Satellite Systems, said listening to Mr. Harper’s speech was one of the highlights of his trip.
“It was very interesting,” he said. “It’s not something you can get every day (to visit) the Knesset and actually watch the prime minister speak and also the prime minister of Israel speak and see how the opposition heckled both of them.”
Still, Mr. Klein said politics wasn’t the primary focus of the visit for him. The Canadian government’s most important role, he said, was arranging one-on-one meetings with Israeli business executives and trips to cutting-edge learning centres such as the Technion, Israel’s world-renowned institute of technology.
“Everybody knew we were there and we were very well-treated,” he said.
“That added an extra dimension and opened up new doors that normally if it’s only done on the embassy level, you would not necessarily see. To me, that was far more beneficial than the political aspect of it. The main purpose of my trip was really to see how we can do more business in Israel. The political aspect of it was really a sideline.”
For Mr. Kimmel, the founder of Quickie Convenience Stores, the trip was an eye-opener.
“Certainly, you were exposed to a much higher level of people within an industry, or every aspect of Israeli corporate life or political life,” said the Ottawa native, adding he went on the journey more for educational than business reasons.
“When you travel with the prime minister, it’s very different than when Arnie Kimmel goes to Israel on a business trip to meet somebody.”
Both men said they were struck by how technologically advanced the country is and were impressed with Israel’s burgeoning high-tech startup culture. Members of the prime minister’s travelling party had their choice of tours, and Mr. Kimmel elected to visit the Iron Dome, a state-of-the-art mobile air defence system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells.
“I was very surprised they showed us that,” he said. “It was nothing short of amazing.”
Mr. Klein said Canada has much to learn from the Israeli government’s willingness to work together with startups to nurture a vibrant spirit of entrepreneurship.
“I think the incubator model that they have is obviously very, very successful,” he said. “The government and the private sector work together to foster these small venture firms that turn out to be very large and generate tremendous business opportunities. They become publicly traded, they raise millions and millions of dollars and sell their products all over the world.”
While Mr. Klein was a guest of the Canadian government and attended several events as part of the PM’s entourage, he stressed he paid for his trip himself. He spent a couple of extra days in the country to meet with potential business partners and believes his efforts will pay off.
A couple of “very large, multinational companies” sought him out while he was there, he said, leading to talks that could bear fruit for C-COM down the road.
“I think we’ll be doing business with them on some very large international projects where they will be hopefully using our technology to combine with some Israeli technology that they’ve developed,” he said. “I think, from my standpoint, because we do business with a number of Israeli companies and we will do more business with them, it was a very useful trip.”