Interviews

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH BESTSELLING AUTHOR AND INNOVATIVE BUSINESSMAN BARUCH ELIEZER GROSS

Hello Baruch Eliezer Gross. Thanks for interviewing with us. Why did you write a book using a different name than the one on your office door?

I decided to write under my pen name. The reason is because the point of the book is to realize Hashem’s guiding hand in everything that happens without it just relating to me. The point is that Hashem’s hand guides every Jew’s life.

I did read the book and it’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. Please can you tell me a little about yourself?

I’m 50 years old – a father of five and a grandfather of four. I was born in Bnei Brak. I’m a graduate of esteemed yeshivahs in Jerusalem. I received my rare talent – an extraordinary knack for numbers – from the Ribbono shel Olam. In those days it was unheard of to find a kippah-wearing teenager who never studied the core curriculum of secular subjects competing in math competitions against secular guys with ponytails and winning. Still I must emphasize that this was an inborn talent that my mother, may she live and be well, encouraged me to practice from the age of four –  solving complex mathematical equations in notebooks – developing and honing my skills until I reached a very high level.

 Please tell me more. When did you decide to go into business?

I’ve been a businessman from a very young age. I launched my first business when I was nine and still in fourth grade at the Rabbi Akiva elementary school in central Bnei Brak. That business is actually the second story in my book- the story called Schlepping the Floor.

So, what did you do after age nine?

Well, when I was 10 I wanted to buy a bike but my father, may he rest in peace, told me that the police were about to auction off lost objects that people had found, given to the police, and no one had ever come to claim. The sale was going to take place in Jaffa in the big flea market and he offered to take me there to buy a bike. We went and bought a bicycle, a skateboard, and a half-broken radio. By the next day I had already sold all the stuff to my friends. After that I began traveling to Jaffa each month on my own to buy more ‘lost and found’ merchandise.

A 10-year-old boy?

Alright, maybe I was already ten and a half. And despite the fact that this business is controlled by the flea market company which is a kind of mafia, they let me buy a little and didn’t kick me out of there because I was a cute kid and a smooth talker.

Remarkable. So, what business did you go into after that?

After that, at age 14, I began traveling to Port Authority auctions in Ashdod, Haifa, and at the airport. Those were sales of products which hadn’t reached their buyers for various reasons. There I bought larger quantities, and besides, those deals were more lucrative.

Fascinating hobby for a teen. So, what did you venture into next?

Next I began doing business overseas, in France, England, Belgium, America, Hong Kong – all those deals were in the same field – buying closeouts. I gained a tremendous amount of experience in almost every area of commerce since I have bought and sold almost everything, from shoes to all types of clothing and toys, diamonds, airplanes and airplane parts, kerosene piping, wheat, tobacco, Algerian seaweed, and on and on…

Are you an expert in everything by now?

No, I’m not, but I understand enough in each field to ask the right questions and to know how an item might be used. Yet even with all the knowledge and information I have amassed, I still made many mistakes, although baruch Hashem, with siyata d’Shmaya, I have managed to make more good decisions that brought me profits than mistakes which caused me losses. In the end, as I mention many times in my book, it’s all a matter of siyata d’Shmaya. All the information gathering and other work is for the sake of hishtadlus and hishtadlus alone.

You’ve done well but can you also share stories about any lemons you got stuck with?

Sure. There are a number of these types of stories in my book because as I told you, I put everything out on the table. Read the one about the bad hospital beds and you’ll understand. By the way, my Hebrew book came out before the English one and by the time I wrote my English book I had already gathered enough material for a second volume of my stories, so when I find the time I’m going to sit down and write a second volume of my stories in Hebrew. The first Hebrew volume was so successful that in less than a year four editions came out and close to 8,000 copies were sold. For the sake of full disclosure, I want to note that I also gave out 1,000 copies to the investors from my investment company.

Now you are Chairman of the Besadno Investment Company. What happened to the closeout days?

Now it’s more of a side business for me, since it is exhausting work that has required me to travel to the U.S. many times over the past 15 years. Most of that business took place overseas, not in Israel. I started to feel the effects of all that globetrotting, especially on my bad back, so about four years ago I switched to the field of investments in startup ventures.

Tell me about that.

We have an investment group called Besadno- that’s short for Besiyata d’Shmaya na’aseh v’natzliach. With help from Above, we will do and we will succeed. We invest in young companies launched by entrepreneurs who have promising ideas in a range of fields. We accompany them until they can stand on their own two feet. Practically speaking, we help them break into the U.S. and global markets.

So all the people I see here in this large office complex are involved in helping startups?

Yes. Some are accountants, lawyers, engineers, product designers and business plan strategists. Others are entrepreneurs who use our office as their base, and then there are also people here who offer customer service for our community of investors.

What is the common theme running through Besadno?

As I have mentioned before, Besadno was built on the premise that everything is from Above and nearly all of our employees are shomer mitzvos and believe in this concept.

In addition to our company’s moral values we also have a strong foundation of professional values. We believe in using the best consultants and advisors on the market. For this reason, you will see that Besadno is using Ilan Cohn, a partner at Reinhold Cohn Patent Attorneys, the leading patent firm in Israel. Our finance division is headed by BDO Ziv Haft which is internationally recognized in the area of accounting. Zeev Hollander is a consultant for our General Counsel and is recognized as an expert in international law.

The Incubator/Accelerator Fund is headed by Shmulik Angel, the former General Manager of Symantec Israel (later sold to Norton). The USA division is working with DLA Piper which is the largest legal firm in the world.

I believe that when the roots of the company are built by the best people we can attain a level of professionalism and success beyond what the market offers. Through this strategy we profit together with our investors.

Who are these investors?

We organize groups of people who want to invest in startups, within the parameters that the Israel Securities Authority and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission place for these types of investments. Under the umbrella of our Parnasa fund, we offer small investors the opportunity to invest small amounts of money from approximately $10,000, and enable them to buy a piece of that startup’s dream, which, if it comes to fruition within the relatively brief time span of 2-3 years, will offer returns that are many times more than the initial investment. Of course it is understood that this type of investment has a not insignificant level of risk and that must be taken into account. For that reason, we recommend that people invest modest amounts and not all their wealth. When it comes to investing larger amounts, and to reiterate, not one’s entire savings, we spread out the investment over a number of startups in order to minimize the chance of losses.

Beyond that we have a ‘combined fund’ which invests most of its money in real estate, a setup that provides great stability, and only a small portion of its money in startup businesses. This enables the fund to operate in a way that resembles a mutual fund, and assures the investor, with a greater level of certainty, the full return of their principle – even in cases where the startups suffer losses.

If so, why don’t all your investment funds operate that way?

According to the securities laws in Israel, we are limited to 35 investors per investment. If we take 35 investors who each invest, let’s say $15,000 in a startup, the total only comes to about half a million dollars. A fund of that size cannot be spread out over startups and real estate, it’s too little. However, when we are discussing our ‘combined real estate fund’, the minimum investment is $40,000 per person. That creates a fund large enough to split between startup and real estate ventures.

Have you succeeded with any startups?

We’ve had two exits where investors made a good return, plus a number of businesses that paid people a generous dividend on their investment. And baruch Hashem we haven’t had any losses so far. By the way, this does not mean we won’t have any in the future, but over the past four years we have not had any losses. We have over 1,000 investors and they are very satisfied.

Okay, here’s my check. I want to invest with you.

Don’t laugh, but nearly every time I am interviewed, the reporters also try to invest with us and even the editors of the newspapers jump on board. In addition, we have many lawyers, accountants and leaders – of the Chareidi community in particular – from all segments of the community.

You said Chareidi. Why specifically the Chareidi community?

We work within the Chareidi community, both in Israel and in the United States. We don’t discourage other investors from joining us, however, since all our investments are supervised by the Badatz Eida HaChareidis, many sectors of profitable investments are off limits to us, such as gaming, gambling, and companies which operate on Shabbos. Since all our contracts are subject to Halachah, investors who do not understand our needs are not generally inclined to join. For this reason, we prefer to focus on the Chareidi community. Baruch Hashem we have experienced immense siyata d’Shmaya, and as I mentioned earlier, our very name is an acronym for Besiyata d’Shmaya na’aseh v’natzliach.

My head is already spinning from everything that I see going on here. Can we please get back to your book ,”NESIYATA D’SHMAYA: My Silent Partner?” What gave you the idea to write it?

For years now I’ve been in demand as a speaker who tells first-hand stories of siyata d’Shmaya. The tales that I have gathered are truly special, plus I inherited my late father’s gift for storytelling. One compelling incident of siyata d’Shmaya followed another and ultimately, in the spirit of “Mah ashiv l’Hashem…” How will I repay Hashem for all the kindnesses He has performed for me? I decided to publish this book.

You seem like an extremely busy man. How did you find the time to write it?

Baruch Hashem, I really am a busy man and not just with work. I’m also busy learning with set chevrusas every day. But my ‘Silent Partner’ always gives me the time I need.

 I heard that you also write Torah seforim with your own chiddushim?

(laughing) Don’t exaggerate. I jot down some ideas for my own purposes, not for publication in seforim. However, I did author a very interesting commentary on Maseches Kaylim, and b’ezras Hashem, I hope to publish it by next year. The peirush is entitled Kaylim Pashutim and I hope it will resolve once and for all, the challenges faced by anyone studying that masechta. On that note, I want to mention that there are already some wonderful commentaries out there that even have illustrations, but as a person who specializes in out-of-the-box thinking, I decided to take all the other commentaries to the next level via the framework of my own commentary. I hope that it will benefit the public.

To wind up, do you recommend that people invest by you? 

First off, people shouldn’t invest by me; they should invest along with me. Meaning, they should invest in ventures that I myself have invested in, together with me. Second of all, as you know, a baker cannot attest to the quality of his dough. Thirdly, I don’t even interact with new investors. We have a department that handles that. The phone number of the office appears in the various ads we run in the newspapers.

Can you leave us with one last tale?

You might be surprised to hear that the story I like most doesn’t have to do with business at all. It’s called The Jewish Spark. We put that one in a sidebar too.

Baruch Eliezer Gross we really appreciate the time you gave for this interview and I am sure people will get much pleasure from reading your book.

 

SNEAK PREVIEW INTO NESIYATA D’SHMAYA:

Eyeglass Screws

This episode occurred some thirty years ago when I was still wending my way warily into the world of trade and commerce, dealing primarily in closeouts. An auction was being held in the Haifa port, and I decided to check it out. To my surprise, one of the items up for auction was two crates of eyeglass screws.

It’s tough—if not downright impossible—to calculate the value of such an item without doing a little homework in advance, which is why veteran businessmen wager little for this sort of random item. The low bids result from the knowledge that items like eyeglass screws have a low sale potential in proportion to their high risk. On the other hand, when the merchant does manage to sell, he may earn between 100 to 300 times the purchase price. It’s the classic businessman’s bet.

Young and green as I was, I decided to try my luck and placed a bid that today would equal around $200 for the entire stock. Needless to say, my bid was the highest and I returned with a van to collect the merchandise.

Each of the crates weighed 200 lbs and was filled to capacity with, and I am not exaggerating, millions of tiny eyeglass screws. I dumped the whole stock into one of my storerooms, taking a handful of samples along to show to my local optician and ask if he could recommend an eyeglass distributor who dealt in parts who would be interested in my merchandise.

My optician examined the screws in surprise, fingered them and even tried inserting them into a pair of glasses. Making a face, he delivered his verdict. “Sorry, but these aren’t eyeglass screws. I don’t know what they’re supposed to be, but they’re definitely not meant for eyeglasses.”

My jaw dropped. “How do you know?” The optician launched into a learned explanation regarding the design and make of a screw. “When you insert a screw into anything, you always turn it clockwise; to unscrew it, you turn it counter-clockwise. This is true of every type of screw except eyeglass screws, in which the screwing is done counterclockwise and unscrewing clockwise. The reason for this is that when you open a pair of glasses, the motion is counterclockwise which means that every time you close your glasses, you’d be loosening the screw. That’s why eyeglass screws are manufactured opposite of every other screw.

“These screws were manufactured like regular screws, so they won’t fit eyeglasses. My guess would be that they were manufactured especially for some machine. For all you know, they might even be valuable.” I approached several screw companies in Israel, but none were interested in my product. Eventually, I despaired and stuck the screws in the back of my warehouse, consoling myself with the thought that all I’d lost was two hundred bucks.

Lo and behold, several weeks later, I received a fax from an American company with a list of assorted items they required. Stuck somewhere in the middle of the list was a request for “mini-screws.” Now, I wasn’t sure exactly what “mini-screws” referred to, but I decided to try my luck and mailed them a sample of the screws that I’d purchased in bulk. Needless to say, these screws were exactly what they wanted, and moreover, they were highly impressed by the quality of each tiny screw. They agreed to pay a fortune for the entire stock!

What most amazed me about this particular episode has nothing directly to do with the screws, but actually with the way that the American company contacted me. At the time, I was one of a few hundred people in Israel to own a personal fax machine, but my fax number was known only to a select few to whom I’d given it. After signing the contract with the company, I casually asked the company representative how they’d come upon my number. He replied that he’d obtained it from the Israel Bureau of Commerce—an answer that bowled me over because I’d never even registered as a member of the bureau! So how did this miracle sale come about? As usual, an overdose of siyata d’Shmaya!

Author’s note: Incidentally, one of my acquaintances checked out the optician’s claim and discovered that eyeglass screws are also screwed clockwise. Maybe the difference was really in the method of screwing, as opposed to the direction. Considering that it’s been thirty years since then, I really can’t remember!

 

5,000 Left Shoes

This story took place right when I was launching my career in the world of closeouts. One day, I skimmed a list of items scheduled to be auctioned off at the Haifa port and noticed that one of the items up for sale was a shipment of 5,000 left shoes. Left shoes.

Now, it’s obvious to one and all that left shoes alone are virtually worthless without the right match, but still, maybe…

Some inner voice of mischief prompted me to think out of the box and guess who could possibly stand to benefit from single shoes, and finally I hit on it. On the day of the auction, I placed a very low bid of $5,000 for the whole stock—a dollar per shoe—and indeed, one  week later, received the news that I was now the proud owner of 5,000 left shoes. Family members and colleagues made no secret of their scorn, but I ignored them all, and with my chin held high, I headed to the port to collect the merchandise.

I arranged for delivery directly to my warehouse. Now all I had to do was advertise my product and wait for the right buyer. I guessed that there would only be one. As expected, no more than a week passed before I received a call from a merchant who inquired if I was the one who’d purchased the container of left shoes and what I planned to do with it. I verified that I was indeed the buyer and improvised that I was currently negotiating with a Chinese company in the hope that they’d manufacture the identical matches for each shoe.

“Why waste your time?” the caller rejoined. “I’m willing to buy the whole stock from you at cost price plus a small profit.” When I asked why he thought I was wasting my time, he pleasantly replied that I sounded like a novice in the field and that he didn’t want me to lose out big time. “Thanks,” I replied shortly, “but I think I can manage quite fine.” The next day, he called again, this time offering a significantly higher price for the stock. I turned him down.

The fourth time he called, he stated that his final offer was seven dollars per shoe—a full seven times what I’d paid. Now you must be raising an eyebrow and wondering what exactly was behind this man’s story. I’d wondered the same, but reasoned that he was really the original owner of the stock and had tried to circumvent the customs authority by delivering a shipment of left shoes only.

Twenty-five years ago, when this story took place, import tax on sneakers was over 100%, so a pair of sneakers from China that cost a total of fifteen dollars forced importers to pay twenty dollars in taxes.

I realized that the importer must have ordered the manufacturer to separate every pair of shoes into two separate containers before sending them to Israel, and had then purposely avoided picking up the shipment so he could purchase it back tax-free at an auction price of fifty cents per shoe. The next stage of his plan, after purchasing the left shoes, had been to have the right shoes shipped from abroad and to carry out the same trick. Ultimately, he’d pay a total of one dollar per pair, save the massive price of taxes, and make a killing on the sale of the shoes.

The trouble was that I’d come along and spoiled his brilliant plan, and he was now forced to pay me generously for those shoes. The importer must have decided against playing the same trick twice, because I never did see the right shoes on subsequent auction lists. He probably decided that it was safer to have them sent directly to him and pay the requisite taxes.

I ask you honestly: Would you have wagered $5,000 for 5,000 left shoes? Probably not. I learned from this episode that if Hashem plants an idea in your mind, you can earn a fortune in an instant!

 

The Jewish Spark

As I’ve told you before, I always make sure to daven with a minyan. I’ve been particularly makpid on this the past ten years, but even before that, when I was young and idealistic, I tried to daven every tefillah with a minyan, and if there wasn’t one, I would arrange it myself.

The following story took place about twenty years ago. I was flying from Holland to Eretz Yisrael with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and I was trying to organize a minyan for Maariv. There were four frum Jews besides me on the flight, and several others whom I had the distinct suspicion were Jewish.

I approached the…suspects, and after a brief interrogation, it became clear that some of them weren’t Jews after all and the others weren’t interested. In short, I had no minyan. But my mission was clear: I had to find a way to daven with a minyan. What could I do? I didn’t give up. I went to each of my targets one by one and attempted to change his mind. Then, all of a sudden, one guy turned to me and informed me emphatically, “I won’t let you have a minyan here. This isn’t a shul. If you try to make a minyan here, I’m gonna bother you till you stop!” Interesting… I said to him, equally as emphatic, “I was beginning to think I would just give up and daven in the Itzkowitz shtiebel in Bnei Brak, but now, as far as I’m concerned, you can complain to the airport authorities all you want.  Because here, on this flight, there will be a minyan—whether you like it or not! And if you try to stop me, I’ll buy you a one-way ticket right back to Holland.”

Suddenly an idea sparked in my mind. I went over to the flight attendant who was in charge of the meal service. I put on my brightest smile and said, “Excuse me, I’m considering opening a kosher airline meal catering business.” I asked her to point out to me all the passengers who ordered kosher meals so I could do some market research. I was sure that any fellow who ordered a kosher meal would want to join my minyan.

And that’s how it went. I succeeded in putting together a minyan. We started davening. While we were saying Shema, I noticed from the corner of my eye that Mr. Threatener guy was approaching. I was sure he had come over to bother us. I squared my shoulders and prepared to get rid of him quickly, once and for all. To my complete surprise, he soon turned to me and asked, “Maybe you’ve got an extra kippah handy? I want to join the tefillos.” There’s a spark inside every Jew!!! (Sometimes he just needs a little help igniting it.)

 

Besadno 1-800-801-801

 

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