Stef Wertheimer

 

Stef Wertheimer, Founder of ISCAR, Ltd.

Forced to flee Nazi Germany at the age of 10, Stef Wertheimer has long recognized the importance of Israel to the survival of the Jewish people. Trained as a pilot in the War of Independence, he served in the Palmach as a close technical aid to Yigal Alon.

Since then, he has spent his life fostering the economic independence of Israel and promoting peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. The latter goal has been pursued with initiatives aimed to encourage the financial self-reliance of the Palestinians, as well as ventures with several states in the region. Export manufacturing and education have been the vehicles to achieve these goals.

The firm he founded in 1952, ISCAR, Ltd., is today one of the world’s top two manufacturers of precision carbide cutting tools. These precision tools are used in the automotive, aerospace, and electronics industries. In 2006, the firm achieved the highest vote of confidence, when Warren Buffett purchased the majority shares.

In 1967, in response to Charles de Gaulle’s embargo on French weapons to Israel, Mr. Wertheimer began to manufacture jet engine blades. What began as a liability was transformed into a strategic asset: no longer was the Israeli Air Force dependent on imported blades. In the past few years, Pratt and Whitney and Rolls Royce have both become partners with him in the creation of Blades Technologies International, Inc. and TechJet. He has also recently created a third international blades industry in Xian, China.

Since 1982, Mr. Wertheimer has built five industrial parks in Israel. The original park, at Tefen in the Galilee, created an unusual model that has been replicated at Tel Hai, Lavon, Omer, and Dalton. In September 2010, construction will begin on a sixth industrial park in the Arab city of Nazareth. A seventh park – the first to be built outside of Israel – has been active for more than five years in Gebze, Turkey, near Istanbul. It is a joint venture with Turkish partners.

In 1999, he worked closely with Palestinians, who wished to emulate his successful model. The Israeli and Palestinian governments approved this initiative, which would have stimulated the Palestinian economy. The idea was to create twin industrial parks—one Palestinian, the other Israeli—on either side of the border. These parks were expected, ultimately, to enjoy the benefits of a free trade zone. Due to the second Intifada, however, the project has been postponed.

All of his parks are designed to promote export and to ensure a better quality of life. To encourage a new generation of entrepreneurs, they include incubator facilities, where start-up firms begin their operations. They also offer cultural facilities, schools, and aesthetic landscapes. In addition, Mr. Wertheimer has built designed communities near several of the parks.

His contributions have been honored in a variety of ways. From 1977-1981, he served in the Ninth Israeli Knesset as a member of the DASH party. Of his many awards, none is more meaningful to him than his nation’s highest honor, the Israel Prize, bestowed in 1991. Three years later, Yitzhak Rabin went to Oslo to accept the Nobel Prize and took a handful of people with him to celebrate the honor. Mr. Wertheimer was one of them.

His deep commitment to education has led him to establish technical and entrepreneurial programs. He has held volunteer leadership positions at such distinguished institutions as Harvard University and the Technion. In addition, he has received many awards, both domestic and international, including one of Germany's highest honors, the Verdienstmedaille, in April 2009. He has also been awarded honorary doctorates from Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Pratt University/NYU, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Bard College, Brandeis University, and the Weizmann Institute.