With 700-plus direct employees in Israel, the Herzliya R&D center is Apple’s second-largest in the world, Apple CEO Tim Cook told local staff on Thursday.
And at a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin a day earlier, the two leaders discussed not just the fact of Israel’s emergence as an important factor in the Apple ecosystem, but what the two entities had in common.
Cook, who was in Israel to inaugurate Apple’s new R&D center in Herzliya, touched on a number of major issues that concern both Israel and Apple — including environmental matters, education, diversity, and even Israeli Arabs.
That last issue was highlighted not by Cook himself, but by Johny Srouji, who accompanied his boss on the trip. Srouji — vice president for hardware technology — is an Israeli Arab who hails from Haifa. Before joining Apple in 2008 to head its chip-development team, Srouji worked at Intel and IBM, after graduating from the Technion.
For Rivlin, Srouji’s ascent to one of the top tech positions in the world was a harbinger of what the government hopes will be a wave of similar accomplishments by people just like Srouji — Israeli Arabs educated in technology disciplines, working at the 300-some multinationals that have R&D and other facilities in Israel.
“Imagine what the world would be like with another five ‘Johny Sroujis,’” said Rivlin. “We are proud of him and all he has achieved.” To which Cook added, “When you find those five Sroujis, let me know where they are.”
The government is certainly doing what it can to discover them. In its latest program to boost Arab participation in Israeli high-tech, the Economy Ministry last month allocated NIS 10 million ($2.5 million) to two organizations that will provide training and job-placement services for academics from the Arab, Druze, and Circassian communities.
Each year, the ministry said, hundreds of Arab and Druze academics graduate college with relevant tech-industry degrees — but are unable to find work, despite a plethora of jobs.
The reason for this is not necessarily racism, said the ministry, but often a culture clash, with Arab and Druze academics lacking the skills to present themselves at interviews, and having a marked discomfort with the highly competitive atmosphere in many companies. As minorities who grew up in a cultural “bubble,” they may not be familiar with some of the undercurrents in Israeli business culture.
Among the tasks of the two training organizations will be to ensure that prospective Arab employees are ready for the Israeli job market not just with technological skills, but cultural skills.
That Israel has done a great deal in this area already was evidenced by Cook’s comment to Rivlin, that “I personally admire your work in human rights. You are an inspiration for us to work even better.”
Apple, which began operations in Israel in 2012 (acquiring companies that year and in 2013) now has about 700 employees in Israel, said Cook — but works with many more Israelis. About 6,000, said the CEO, are part of Apple’s developer program, and help to develop apps. A recent estimate by app-industry research firm Vision Mobile says that at least 20,000 jobs in Israel’s app economy are directly attributable to iOS.
Along with hiring more Arabs, Israel has been encouraging tech companies to hire more women and ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Increasing diversity in the workplace, Rivlin told Cook, was a lesson Israel could learn from Apple. “True innovation can only result from full access to education for all, regardless of race, religion, or sex,” the president said. “We would like to learn from your experience in the US, in bringing education and technology to periphery groups and communities.”
Diversity is an important issue to Cook himself, who announced several months ago that he was gay.
Apple is one of the few companies that publishes a statistical breakdown of the gender and ethnic background of employees, with Apple — said Tim Cook in a message to employees — looking at diversity as “going far beyond the traditional categories of race, gender, and ethnicity.
“It includes personal qualities that usually go unmeasured, like sexual orientation, veteran status, and disabilities. Who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve experienced influence the way we perceive issues and solve problems. We believe in celebrating that diversity and investing in it,” continued Cook.
To encourage that diversity in hiring, Apple has embarked on a massive educational program, supplying elementary, junior high, and high schools throughout the US with computers, iPads, software, and other materials to ensure that kids get the tech education they need to succeed in today’s world.
“We are huge believers in education, and always felt that education is the great equalizer,” Cook added. “We are working hard to bring schools that have under-served children, to a much higher level. We chose 120 schools from across the US, and we are working hard in the classroom, to help the children and their access to education.”
These are concerns Israel has as well, said Rivlin, telling Cook that “Israel must learn from you how to help our students also in difficult places, as you have done in many schools in the US.”
The new Apple facility in Herzliya, in fact, highlights the company’s commitment to social consciousness — in this case, environmental issues. According to the company, the new building is one of the most environmentally friendly ever built by Apple — and one of the “greenest” in Israel: Solar panels on the roof provide enough energy to supply the entire building’s hot-water requirements; and a smart lighting system (with lights turning off automatically when people leave the room, etc.) reduces electrical usage by 25% compared to buildings of similar size. Ditto for the air-conditioner system, which consumes 40% less power than comparable systems.
The building is so green, in fact, that it is a candidate for a US Green Building Council LEED certification for best in-class green building practices.
Although Apple has had a presence here for only a few years, Israel has become very important to the company. Addressing employees on Thursday, Cook said that “Apple is in Israel because the engineering talent here is incredible. You guys are incredibly important to everything that we do and to all the products that we build.”
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