“I don’t like big organizations,” Zohar Zisapel, the co-founder and chairman of RAD Data Communications, one of Israel’s most successful groups of companies.Rumor has it that one of Israel’s most successful entrepreneurs — Zohar Zisapel, a founder of RAD Data Communications — wears sandals and jeans to work, and flies economy class. The sandals part is true, he tells ISRAEL21c, but he no longer flies economy.
“I did it for many years,” says Zisapel who has earned millions through the 27 high-tech start-ups he’s created with his brother Yehuda in as many years. “People told me it was too arrogant.”
Lauded by entrepreneurs as one of the most successful and prolific high-tech entrepreneurs in Israel, or anywhere, especially in the telecom industry, Zisapel humbly says if it weren’t them, someone else would have created the technologies developed by RAD, and its group of companies. Six RAD Group companies now listed on NASDAQ include RADVISION, Ceragon Networks, Radware, RiT Technologies, RADCOM, and Silicom.
RAD has helped change life as we know it — enabling high-speed and wireless communication, and secure telephone networks and banking. Today, RAD is a solutions provider for more than 100 telecom operators around the world, including AT&T, British Telecom, Deutsche Telecom, France Telecom, Japan Telecom, and Orange France. It provides communications tools to major players in the banking, commerce, education, finance, government, military, transportation, and utility sectors.
“We were part of a trend,” says Zisapel. “We were lucky to be starting in the beginning of the ’80s when Israel was still a very socialist country.”
From oranges to modems
In the beginning, he admits, it was hard to change the world’s image of Israel, from a predominantly agricultural exporter to one that had fashioned — at the time — the smallest modem on the planet. When Zisapel went to develop the business abroad, “People said ‘we’re buying oranges, not modems’”, he recalls.
“Could life be different without us? I don’t think any company can claim that,” says Zisapel. “Not even Google or Microsoft.” He gives the comparison of art and applies it to high-tech: “There are those who did it first. When you do something first, you’ll have others following you.”
Born in Tel Aviv in 1949, Zisapel’s father — an immigrant from Poland — was a shoe salesman. Before becoming the head of the Electronic Research Department of the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Zisapel had studied at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology for two degrees, then went on to Tel Aviv University for an MBA.
In 1981, he quit the Ministry of Defense and start RAD from the back offices of Bynet, a company his brother had started. Zohar’s first assignment at RAD was to manage the development of the company’s first product — a mini modem that would change the computer industry.
He and his brother Yehuda were always and are still very much a team in their entrepreneurial activities. In Israel where everyone and his brother vie to build a high-tech company, Zisapel laughs, because it actually happened. “Me and my brother — we are totally different. The fact is we are compatible because we stayed together for so many years, are together today and will be together in the future. We have very different strengths and weaknesses.
“He’s more of a sales and marketing person. And he has very interesting ideas. His brain works in a different way than other people — a quality of coming up with something new that others wouldn’t think about. I am more technology oriented, and come from the entrepreneur side, although we are both very much entrepreneurs.”
“I don’t like big organizations,” he adds. “I like them small and to start new ideas.”
The idea comes first, then the people
Today RAD has blossomed into 27 companies, over the 27 years that the brothers have been working together. The group, which employs 3,500 people globally, has been called “the world’s most successful incubator of telecom related start-ups” by Business 2.0 magazine.
“The idea comes first, then we start looking for people,” says Zisapel, who usually looks at a pool of Israeli developers or ones in the US who are interested in coming back to Israel for work. “We’ve done 27 companies in 27 years. In good times in bad times, the rate stays the same,” says Zisapel – about one a year.
“Once a year because we cannot do it faster,” he adds.