Hundreds of friends, family and colleagues accompanied Benjamin (Benny) Gaon to his final resting place between the orchards of Moshav Beit Halevy Sunday afternoon. He succumbed to cancer on Saturday at 73.
"Unlike many business owners who bought and sold to make money, Gaon took over companies to rehabilitate and grow them," MK Amir Peretz, an old friend of Gaon's, said in a eulogy. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu added: "Gaon was one of those who significantly influenced the Israeli economy for decades. He helped the economy when he took the Histadrut companies and made them competitive."
Eighteen years ago, then-Histadrut chairman Yisrael Keisarasked him to take the reins at Koor. Gaon took over an industrial giant controlling dozens of companies making up a full 10% of Israel's GDP at the time. Even though everyone knew Koor was in trouble, no one understood how badly. It was on the verge of collapse. Within three years Gaon turned it around, and when he left Koor after a decade when ownership changed, it was earning a $480 million profit.
Later he expressed his disappointment at being replaced by the new owners, who he said bought the company he rebuilt at $24 a share and reduced it to $4. That is when he realized he no longer wanted to work for others, but decided to invest in and run his own companies. He founded Gaon Holdings and built it up over 11 years from scratch to a value of over $100 million. His book, "Only Those Who Dare Succeed," describes how he turned Koor around; it could be described as his life's story. "An incredible manager, among the greatest ever in Israel. He provided an example and trained an entire generation of managers," said former Teva CEO Israel Makov.
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