Amir Bramley - Big Time

Businessman Amir Bramly doesn’t believe in preset budgets. Or in any rules. His holding group, Rubicon, is conducting in a "chaotic" manner. It turns out it’s working: The group entered the list of leading companies in the economy this year — Amir Bramly on a convention-breaking interview for BIG TIME magazine.


BIG TIME - Mia Ben Moshe – Photography by Rami Zeranger

Amir Bramly is considered one of the most intriguing businessmen in the Israeli economy, not only due to his inexhaustible entrepreneurial spirit, the refreshing management style, the diverse areas of business, and the exciting hobbies. Amir Bramly, in his calculated way, takes risks that Business Administration graduates wouldn’t dare to think of, and miraculously reaps tremendous successes over and again. At the age of 37, Bramly owns the Rubicon holding group, which controls dozens of businesses worth hundreds of millions of NIS.

 

He promotes a plan, develops, and makes an exit - at great profit. Last February, Bramly sold control of the website Wobi, which compares auto insurance, to the international insurance giant White Mountains for 40 million NIS, at a company value of 62.5 million NIS - approximately three times his investment in the website. A few months earlier, Bramly sold his holdings in the fulfillment fund for 30 million NIS, four years after investing 2 million NIS in the fund. The shares (15% of the fund) were sold to private investors for 200 million NIS. These are just two examples of out many under his golden touch.

 

Bramly's business success is apparent despite a surprising starting point. He was born in Acre to Annette, 55, an education-woman, and to his late father, Meeno, who worked in Rafael. He is the firstborn of three and married to Daniela, 38 ("love of my life"), a social worker by training, who currently cares for people through dogs. The couple has four children: he says, the family likes being together the most. "We travel in Israel and abroad by season", he says. “We also like being at home. It's fun for us there. It’s a little house in the prairie in the heart of Zikhron Ya'akov, an old and magical house. We always prefer popping open the grill and hosting at home than visiting a restaurant”.

“Entrepreneurship is an urge. It is lustful. You are born with it. It's not something you can learn. And in most cases, it is uncontrollable. All my life I’ve been told I’m a dreamer and exaggerator, they told me, stop, you already have it, why do you want more? That is the meaning of passion. But it comes at a price".

Bramly established his first business venture when he was 16. "As a young counselor in the Society for the Protection of Nature, what I knew, is how to mentor", he says. “I was a snake lover, and I’ve also raised a few. I thought it was the most interesting topic in the world and didn't think there would be anyone who didn't want to hear a lecture about snakes. But I hitchhiked for two months with a snake in my backpack and experienced nothing but refusals".

What did you do?

"In sort of momentary enlightenment, I’ve decided to change the lecture title from a ‘Lecture about Reptiles’ to ‘A safety lecture for the summer’, and it changed everything. No one wanted to say no to a safety lecture. It taught me, without a university or a college, a lesson on the value of marketing. Within three months, I had already hired additional instructors. They weren’t children. All of whom were adults. And that was the beginning".

Didn’t the refusal discourage and frustrate you?

“Frustrated, yes, but not discouraged. These are two different things. The frustration was part of the lesson. It wasn’t just a lesson in marketing, but also in perseverance”. Bramly left school in the 11th grade and did two years of service at a field school of the Society for the Protection of Nature in the Golan Heights. "I was the youngest counselor to have ever gone to a field school", he says. After military service in a unit operating in Lebanon, he took a diving trainers course, and the entrepreneurial spirit arose once more. “I was an amateur diver, and everyone around me went to work as an employee in dive clubs. That didn’t sit well with me. I crunched the numbers and set up a diving training company. It wasn't easy. I operated with no budget or resources. For me, it was entirely imaginary to get a loan of 30 or 40K NIS from the bank. No one has ever approved such a huge sum for me. During both the snakes and the diving period, I kept hearing from all around ‘No. It's impossible; you’re exaggerating’. ‘I was living on a lot of no’s’. ‘That's how entrepreneurs live". Bramly's diving company was unique in providing free diving courses. “The model was such that at the end of the course, you would take a licensing test. If you passed and you want the license, you pay for the course, and if not - the course was at the expense of the company. "After a course like this, there’s nothing you want more than a license. I counted on it, and it worked pretty well", he says with a smile. “As an entrepreneur, you always look fanatic or delusional until you make it. This is what determines whether or not you will be treated with appreciation – your success or failure alone. Not the path, neither the hardship nor the initiative”.

 

How did the diving business end up? “I sold it following an offer that came along without any intention on my part. That is when I realized for the first time that business activity could be sold. I’ve gained yet another layer of experience and knowledge. I was 22.”

 

After diving exit, Amir Bramly met Daniella, who would later become his wife. “Unambiguously, she is part of my success. Spouses have shared decisions. The freedom and security I got from her, while everyone perceived me delusional, was boundless. She was full of faith, and even on hard days, she was there. No way I would have succeeded without her. She is more than an important component - she is a decisive factor”.

After getting married, the two started traveling. "We didn't know where we were heading. We aimed towards Central America and thought that if we find a place we love, we might stay for a month or two". The couple arrived on a private island near Belize, where they ended up managing a scuba diving and fishing resort. “It was beyond any imagination. We did everything from regular operations to diving with the guests. The island is an hour and a half sailing distance off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean. This is where Daniella got pregnant with Uri, our oldest son, and we had to decide where we were going to raise our children. We decided to come back and live next to our family”. The couple settled in Ramot Naftali.

 

Bramly established a business consulting firm with a unique model. “I decided that instead of charging money for the consultation, I would enter as a business partner with the businesses to whom I consult. I provided the services free of charge and made a partnership move. Some succeeded, some didn’t. Of course, I gained lessons there as well".

What businesses were these?

“Boutique hotels, butterfly farms, wineries, tourist sites, a woodcutting workshop, restaurants, a gallery we opened called 'Galileria' which featured and sold works by artists from the Galilee.

Bramly continued providing consultation until 2006.

Two major crises

Back then, the family and business went through two crises. “In April, my father was injured and killed in Rafael. It was a terrible crisis. It took three months before I recovered, and all this time, I moved away from the businesses. When I started making a comeback, the 2006 Lebanon War broke out. What seemed to be a passing week turned into four months. Because most of our businesses were in Galilee, the crisis was severe. ”The war kept Bramly away from the north. We could wait and hope that we might receive compensation from the state. We decided not to. We were on the verge of bankruptcy. The butterfly farm was very successful, so we thought about where all the people are, and we started looking up a place for it in Tel Aviv. Azrieli Mall was the one to welcome us with open arms. We set up the butterfly farm on the roof of the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv. I think they initially agreed since they felt sorry for us because of the war.

 

“After seven years in the north, we sold some of the businesses and moved some to Tel Aviv. We walked away from the Zionist dream of the Galilee because it was too high of a risk as far as I was concerned. Look how a few missiles can rattle you up".

In spite of all the beating you were getting, you kept raising your head? Entrepreneurship seems to be ingrained in you.

“Entrepreneurship is an urge. It is lustful. You are born with it. It's not something you can learn. And in most cases, it is uncontrollable. All my life I’ve been told I’m a dreamer and exaggerator, they told me, stop, you already have it, why do you want more? That is the meaning of passion. But it comes at a price".

What is the cost?

“That it doesn't always work out. Everyday life in the business world is full of temptations. It's like any other kind of art. This correlation isn’t always done since businesses seem very materialistic, but the world of entrepreneurship and business is, to me, a form of art - like poetry or painting. It is unthinkable to tell a painter to stop painting or a writer to stop writing. It is equally impossible to stop a businessman”.

 

It’s especially hard to stop him when he succeeds, isn’t that so?

“Exactly as economic anchors develop, it is easier to become less materialistic. And then the choices become real. Most people's lives are the product of choice out of economic constraint. You don't like to admit it, and there are countless comforting sayings which tell you money isn’t everything in life. But as Oscar Wilde said, "Money isn't everything in life as long as you have enough of it". It is precisely when you have the option, that you can make real and authentic choices, and choose where you will live, how much you will work, how much time you will spend with the family. If there is no economic constraint, the choice becomes honest and sincere, which is a huge thing I’ve been through”.

“Businesses seem very materialistic, but the world of entrepreneurship and business is, to me, a form of art - like poetry or painting. It is unthinkable to tell a painter to stop painting or a writer to stop writing. It is equally impossible to stop an entrepreneur or businessman, and it has nothing to do with money”.

Part of our business strategy is to let go of businesses and not continue to run them forever. “We invest, enhance, and sell them to big companies”, says Bramly. “We’re a company that both funds and large companies in Israel and abroad like to buy from because part of our strategy is not to reach the investment’s peak – thus enabling those who buy from us to continue making a profit. We don’t get rid of businesses but sell them so that others pick up from where we left off. In the end, some of our stability, as delusional as it may sound when holding nearly 30 companies, comes from restraint. We meet with almost 3,000 businesses, companies, and ventures a year and invest in approximately ten”.

One big family

As part of his freedom, Amir Bramly established Rubicon Business Group, a holding group with offices in Tel Aviv and New York, which controls dozens of companies and foundations. “Rubicon is a river in northern Italy that is very hard to cross. When armies crossed it, it was the point of no return. It was a decision point, and commanders had to decide whether to go for it or not. I visited the place and loved the name. I also liked what the name signified, especially in light of my business and entrepreneurial vision.

 

Today, Rubicon is a company with more than 180 employees, operating like one big family. The human factor in it is dominant. It is similar to me and my personality in that it is chaotic".

What do you mean?

“I live with few rules, and even those I have are subject to changes. It’s affected the businesses. To this day, despite all the success, I don't think I have any rule, recipe, or magic tip for business success. Every day I find out how little actually I know”.

 

Rubicon today is a large and diverse group. Even this diversity is something that stems from my personal tendencies. I have an interest in many fields. One of the things I enjoy is that every field we go into, I learn to be proficient in it, and discover a whole new world, whether it's financing or investments or second-hand furniture".

 

In 2013, Rubicon, which recently entered the list of Dan & Bradstreet's top 100 companies in Israel, invested more than 50 million NIS in various ventures. Today, the group owns nearly 30 companies in the financial and insurance, trade and retail, recycling and ecology, and leisure sectors (for example, Hukok Beach, which the group turned into the first ecological beach in the Sea of ​​Galilee). I think that in almost all of our businesses and companies, the customer benefits from our entrepreneurship”, says Bramly. "Consumers are smart and recognize it, which makes the marketing efforts much simpler".

Can you give an example?

“We have a venture in the insurance field, as part of the website Wobi, which helps consumers compare prices. There aren’t many people I know who haven’t heard of it or haven’t used it. There’s instant value to the customer here, who can compare and benefit from the best price without investing time making phone calls to agents. If the customer chooses to purchase the insurance through Wobi, he can save hundreds and even thousands of NIS.”

 

“The recycling field also has tremendous returns. For example, we have a plant that recycles almost 100 percent of household waste without the need for separation. It makes landfills redundant, which means you don't have to bury any waste since most of it is recycled. It impacts the citizen’s home comfort level, as he doesn’t have to separate waste. It also has an impact on an economic and domestic level, as some authorities choose to utilize this technology, which reduces taxes“. Another exciting venture of the group is the ‘Dandash’ chain stores for second-hand products. Unlike second-hand websites on the Internet, Dandash is a physical chain with stores in front of Ayalon Mall and in Rishon Lezion". The concept is that we buy from customers their second-hand products and sell them in most cases at a maximum price, which is less than half the original price”.

Don’t emasculate managers

For many years, Amir Bramly developed financial models used by various banks and entities in Israel and abroad for assessing credit and investment risks. His extensive experience in acquiring, improving, and realizing companies has led him to develop the RP (Risk and Prospect) methodology for monitoring operational risks in businesses and companies. He was also invited to advise the Knesset as part of the Small and Medium Business Subcommittee.

"Over the years, I’ve come across a void in the field of credit and investment risk assessment and management," he says. “It’s become a core field in ​​the company”. Business performance analysis and rating and credit risk assessment are done through various companies within the group, among others by the Kela Fund, an investment fund that deals with corporate and business capital reconciliation by Extreme Credit Systems, which deals with credit risk assessments for companies and businesses, and by Double Check, which deals with potential assessment and business consulting.

 

Recent reports indicate the Kela Fund, which in 2013 also set up offices in New York and Los Angeles, is looking at raising 300 million NIS in bond issuing as well as the issuing of shares at a value of 250 million NIS. Bramly attributes his success to an unconventional method of management that would discourage conservative executives. “In the business world, I’m a rare bird". Most people I work with have a hard time understanding me at first. And after that time passes, they still don't understand me but get used to it".

 

In both life and business, I operate in an organized chaos. Working with a budget, for example, is restrictive. Many executives who receive an accurate budget are bound by it, and instead of working towards developing the company and leading the business, they are immersed in how not to go beyond the budget limits. If a manager needs a certain budget to achieve a goal, in my view, it doesn't make sense castrating him with a lower budget”.

A budget is an important thing. "But a budget is a limit, and limitations aren’t my strong side". There’s something amusing about limitations or rules since we are the ones who set them. Many times, I’ve hit a limit, and instead of fighting not to cross it, I’ve have kept it away just a little. People are afraid of living without boundaries. They need structures. From the age of three months, a baby is thrown into structures, and the first time an Israeli starts thinking on his own is only after a master's degree. Even the after-army trip is a structure”.

 

As part of his breaching of boundaries, Bramly is also engaged in racing. He drives a BMW M5 sports car. “There’s hardly a car with such a performance that has more than two seats, but mine is a family car”, he explains. "I take the kids to the kindergarten and go on a training session in the same car."

Bramly trains personally with the famous Israeli racing driver, Reem Samuel. He has already participated in an international competition in France and is currently undergoing training series for races to be held in Europe this summer“. Reem trains me and is now also my partner as we bought 50 percent of the company he founded. The motorsport field attracted me from an early age, and I only started taking it seriously in the last four years after a single professional training ride, where I discovered driving wasn’t just about stepping on the gas pedal, but a precise technical world.

 

To win a race, you need to control the breaks more so than the gas. In my view, this is a fantastic analogy to the business world, which requires control and timing of the brakes rather than the gas. The other thing that connects the two worlds is setting your gaze - which must always be aimed forward. Setting your gaze constitutes more than 80 percent of correct driving. This is also the case in business and entrepreneurship. You can learn from history, but you can't affect it. The effect only works forward. Took the wrong turn? You can't fix it; you can only set your gaze towards the next round. Setting your gaze is also a significant factor in life. It's hard to get to where you want to get if you don't set your gaze at it and aim toward it”.