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Why high-profile businessman Mitch Garber is bullish on Israeli economy

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Mitch Garber addresses a State of Israel Bonds gathering in Montreal on Feb. 20. (Janice Arnold photo)

High-profile Montreal businessman Mitch Garber, who made a fortune in online gaming, has been spending a lot of time in Israel, since he stepped down as chairman and CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) last fall.

Garber, who walked away with a US$210-million payout from the $4.4-billion sale of a large part of CIE to a Chinese consortium in 2016, is bullish on Israel’s high-tech sector, especially in the area of cyber security.

He has an Israeli passport and visits the country every six to eight weeks, Garber told the State of Israel Bonds New Leadership Division on Feb. 20. More than 200 people, mostly young adults, attended the inaugural event, which was held at Le Windsor in Montreal.

Garber announced that he is purchasing $1 million in bonds and has agreed to be an “ambassador” for the organization, which is seeing a revival in Quebec.

Garber, 53, now a private equity co-investor, also has confidence, once again, in the investment prospects in his home town. “Montreal’s economy is the best it has been since pre-1976. You see the cranes, the hotels and condos going up, the startups, the artificial intelligence, the lowest unemployment in years,” he said during an on-stage conversation with New Leadership co-chair Matthew Azrieli. “Things are going extremely well.”

As the CEO of CIE, which he co-founded, Garber shrewdly saw the potential in an Israeli social-gaming startup called Playtika, which he acquired in 2011 for $100 million.

READ: MITCH GARBER TO HEADLINE ISRAEL BONDS EVENT

At the time, it had 12 employees and was doing $10 million in business, he said.

Today, it’s revenue is $540 million and the company (which was a big part of the assets the Chinese bought) is worth $7 billion, Garber said.

He noted the proliferation of Chinese venture capital funds in Israel today. “They want to buy everything; they are completely enamoured with the State of Israel,” he said.

But that’s not the case for Canadian investors. “There are a lot of misconceptions about doing business in Israel, even among Jews,” Garber said. “When I started, (my) Jewish friends said it would be terrible, the Israelis are so arrogant.… But this is a good, confident arrogance that comes from their Israel Defence Forces experience.”

He said that compulsory military service produces men and women who are “independent, self-sufficient, capable of dealing with adversity,” all of which are valuable traits for an entrepreneur.

Garber, a lawyer by profession and former sportscaster, described himself as not so much an entrepreneur, as a professional executive with a knack for growing a company. He ventured into tech during the boom, with fellow Montrealers Joel Leonoff and Rory Olson, who developed a highly profitable online payment system.

Montreal’s economy is the best it has been since pre-1976.
– Mitch Garber

The key to his success, he said, was “surround(ing) myself with good people … the best lawyers, accountants and CFOs. It wasn’t me, it was the team.”

The “ability to know what you don’t know” can take you far in business, he advised.

Garber downplayed his $1-million Israel Bonds purchase, saying the money would be making less in other guaranteed, fixed-income securities.

He never held any Israel Bonds before and said no one ever asked him to buy one. He had always thought of the bonds as a form of charity, a misunderstanding that he thinks is still prevalent.

These bonds are yielding up to 4.2 per cent interest today and have a triple-A credit rating, he said. “Why is the participation rate (in the Jewish community) not 100 per cent?”

New Leadership Division co-chair Israel Steckler said, “In my opinion, one of the best ways to fight BDS is through investment in the State of Israel.”