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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Bibi and Mitt are old friends

The New York Times reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney were colleagues for several months in the 1970's at the Boston Consulting Group (Hat Tip: Mike P). Romney has an MBA from Harvard, while Netanyahu has one from MIT.
Only a few weeks ago, on Super Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a personal briefing by telephone to Mr. Romney about the situation in Iran.

“We can almost speak in shorthand,” Mr. Romney said in an interview. “We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar.”

Mr. Netanyahu attributed their “easy communication” to what he called “B.C.G.’s intellectually rigorous boot camp.”

“So despite our very different backgrounds,” he said through an aide, “my sense is that we employ similar methods in analyzing problems and coming up with solutions for them.”

The ties between Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu stand out because there is little precedent for two politicians of their stature to have such a history together that predates their entry into government. And that history could well influence decision-making at a time when the United States may face crucial questions about whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities or support Israel in such an action.

Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu — a level of deference that could raise eyebrows given Mr. Netanyahu’s polarizing reputation, even as it appeals to the neoconservatives and evangelical Christians who are fiercely protective of Israel.


It was a quirk of history that the two men met at all. In the 1970s, both chose to attend business school in Boston — Harvard for Mr. Romney, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Mr. Netanyahu. After graduating near the top of their classes, they had their pick of jobs at the nation’s biggest and most prestigious consulting firms.

The Boston Consulting Group did not yet qualify as either. Its founder, Bruce D. Henderson, was considered brilliant but idiosyncratic; his unorthodox theories — about measuring a company’s success by its market share, and dividing businesses into categories like “cash cows” and “dogs” — were then regarded as outside the mainstream of corporate consulting.

As Mr. Romney recalled, the faculty and students at Harvard Business School routinely mocked the firm’s recruitment posters. “Boston Consulting was at the time a firm that seemed somewhat under siege,” he said.

But the company’s status as a pioneering upstart, nipping on the heels of bigger blue-chip firms like McKinsey and Booz Allen, fostered a deep camaraderie among its young employees, who traveled around the country advising clients like General Foods and the Mead Corporation.

Even in a firm of 100 M.B.A.’s, Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu managed to stand apart, as much for their biography as for their brainpower. Mr. Romney’s father, a former governor of Michigan, had sought the Republican presidential nomination a few years earlier. Mr. Netanyahu had his own exotic résumé: he had just completed a tour of duty in an elite special forces unit of the Israeli military.

“Both clearly had an aura around them,” said Alan Weyl, who worked at the firm from 1975 to 1989.

Although they never worked closely on a project together, Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu, competitive by nature, left deep impressions on each other, which appear to have only grown.

Mr. Romney, never known for his lack of self-confidence, still recalls the sense of envy he felt watching Mr. Netanyahu effortlessly hold court during the firm’s Monday morning meetings, when consultants presented their work and fielded questions from their colleagues. The sessions were renowned for their sometimes grueling interrogations.

“He was a strong personality with a distinct point of view,” Mr. Romney said. “I aspired to the same kind of perspective.”

Over dinner years later, aides said, Mr. Netanyahu would reveal the depth of his own scorekeeping, when he quipped, with mostly playful chagrin, that Mr. Romney had been “Henderson’s favorite.”

“His star,” the prime minister said of Mr. Romney’s time at Boston Consulting, “had already risen.”

Mr. Romney worked at the company from 1975 to 1977; Mr. Netanyahu was involved from 1976 to 1978. But a month after Mr. Netanyahu arrived, he returned to Israel to start an antiterrorism foundation in memory of his brother, an officer killed while leading the hostage rescue force at Entebbe, Uganda. An aide said he sporadically returned to the company over the rest of that two-year period.

Mr. Romney later decamped to Bain & Company, a rival of Boston Consulting. They did, however, maintain a significant link: at Bain, Mr. Romney worked closely with Fleur Cates, Mr. Netanyahu’s second wife. (Ms. Cates and Mr. Netanyahu divorced in the mid-1980s, but she remains in touch with Mr. Romney.)
It's a fascinating story - read the whole thing.

But Romney is more than in touch with Fleur Cates. Cates - now known as Fleur Harlan - contributed $2,500 to Romney's campaign. The company for whom Harlan worked here in Israel - Scitex - was one of Israel's hottest high tech companies when I moved here in the early 1990's. (For those who are wondering about Netanyahu's first wife, Miriam Haran is now the director general of the Ministry of the Environment).

One other tidbit from the Times article. You will recall that I reported that Sheldon Adelson has bankrolled both Netanyahu and Newt Gingrich.
Even as Mr. Netanyahu, a keen and eager student of American politics, has tried to avoid any hint of favoritism in the presidential election, friends say he has paid especially close attention to Mr. Romney’s political fortunes in this campaign season.

And the prime minister keeps open lines of communication to the candidate. When it was Mr. Gingrich’s turn to leap to the top of the polls, Mr. Netanyahu was startled in January by an article exploring why Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino executive and outspoken supporter of Israel, was devoting millions of dollars to back Mr. Gingrich. It described Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Adelson as close friends.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office quickly relayed a message to a senior Romney adviser, Dan Senor [co-author of Start-up Nation. CiJ]: the prime minister had played no role in Mr. Adelson’s decision to bankroll a Romney rival.
Just not Obama....


Mike P sent me a correction. Miriam Haran is no longer director general of the Ministry of the Environment. She is now a lecturer at Ono College (among other positions).

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At 3:50 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Well, the Start Up Nation(s) peeps working together and with Romney will feel way more comfortable to me than them working with the Obama marcuse/alinsky new left marxists and al Shabab caliphate people. I don't think we'll see Romney using the coercive power of the U.S. govt to flatten out the Start Up Nations' competition in the U.S. energy field. The Romney team won't starve out the Navaho Nation tribe members' mining and power plant enterprises in order to deploy Israel's solar systems as the only electricity source allowed to survive. However, even if Romney can pull off a victory (not a given), I will no longer be as unquestioning of Israel's ethics in the science & tech fields, as I was before this spell.


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