hurvitz - Haaretz - November 23 2011
Eli Hurvitz Photo by Haaretz
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Moti Kimche
Eli Hurvitz receives an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University in November 2010. Photo by Moti Kimche

Eli Hurvitz, the man widely credited with making Teva Pharmaceutical Industries a world-class company, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 79.

Despite his illness, which forced him to leave Teva after decades cultivating the firm, Hurvitz continued to play an active role in Israel's business scene, attending conferences and speaking. But last week he was hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center.

Hurvitz was one of Israel's greatest industrialists, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "He was noble, a patriot to the bone, his entire being devoted to the development of the Israeli economy and society," Netanyahu said. "I learned a great deal from him. I admired his wisdom and achievements, and I liked his warm personality. Israeli entrepreneurship and spirit had no greater ambassador. I shall miss that man."

What's certain is that Hurvitz shattered the myth that Israelis might be terrific at improvisation but they can't manage. He served as Teva's chief executive from 1976 to April 2002, when he took over as chairman - a position he held until February 2010. He left after 57 years at the company to focus on his health.

During those decades Hurvitz became one of the most acclaimed business leaders in Israel and the global pharmaceuticals world. He is usually credited with making Teva the world's biggest generic drug company.

Hurvitz can claim credit for realizing that without consolidation, Israel's pharmaceutical industry, once consisting of minnows, wouldn't go far. But he played down his own prowess, once remarking in an interview that somebody else would surely have come along and done the job.

"You had to be Eli Hurvitz"

Mori Arkin, former owner of drug company Agis Industries (which was later sold to Perrigo ), described in 2009 one of his first meetings with Hurvitz. "Thirty-some years ago, when I was still a small importer, I met with Hurvitz," Arkin said in an interview. "He told me he had a full-time manager for strategy. That was before Teva began making international acquisitions. I asked myself, 'A full-time manager for strategic affairs? What does he do all day?' Hurvitz had the vision and I didn't. I always thought in terms of one niche and then another niche, maybe merging two niches. But a vision of world leadership - for that, you had to be Eli Hurvitz."

Hurvitz began his career in 1953. While studying for a BA in economics, he took a job washing laboratory equipment at pharmaceutical company Assia. His degree in hand, Hurvitz began climbing the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the company's CEO. In 1976, he orchestrated a three-way merger between three Israeli drug makers - Assia, Zuri and Teva - and was given the helm of the new company - Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

In April 2002 Hurvitz was awarded the Israel Prize for his contribution to Israeli society.

In 1996, Teva marked a milestone when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Copaxone, developed by a team of researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, to treat relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Until then, Teva had focused largely on copycat drugs, but this was a major proprietary medication over which it held patents.

In 2005 Teva launched a second proprietary drug, Azilect, to treat Parkinson's disease. Today Teva is the biggest company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, with annual sales of around $20 billion.

Though he was a captain of industry, Hurvitz continued to serve in the Israel Defense Forces reserves. He took part in the first Lebanon war and was promoted to brigade commander by the end of his service.

Hurvitz also served as a member of the Israeli Export Institute board from 1974 to 1977, as president of the Manufacturers Association from 1981 to 1986, as chairman of Bank Leumi from 1986 to 1987, and as chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority from 1989 to 1992.

He is survived by his wife, Dalia, former head of history education at Israel's Educational Television, and three children.