His worldly education made for a global view
Born 1951, Jerusalem; Arrived in Washington, 1989 and 2002
For anyone who visited Israel from the mid-1990s on and heard anyone refer to their Pelophone, you can thank Eyal Levy.
Eyal ran the cellphone company from 1994-97 and grew it from a tiny outlier to a major player, with more than 2 million subscribers, at a time when the cellular world looked to Israel as the leader in this exploding space. But to ascribe that success to Eyal without seeing everything else he’s done tells only a fraction of his story.
A seventh-generation Israeli, Eyal spent his formative years in Singapore, where his father served as an advisor to the government, before he came to Stanford on a swimming and water polo scholarship.
“While I was in Singapore, I was actually swimming for Singapore and was representing Israel as well,” he says.
Eyal, incidentally, also qualified for the Israeli swimming team in the 1968 Olympics.
But he only stayed at Stanford for a year. With the Six Day War having just ended and Israel in the midst of its war of attrition, “I decided to leave everything and move back and join the military.”
He spent five years on active duty, worked for the Israeli consulate in Rio de Janeiro, consulted as a graduate student with the World Bank on projects in South America and Africa, then became a lecturer at Tel Aviv University.
Because Eyal was one of two people in all of Israel who specialized in database management systems, he ended up teaching at four universities between Tel Aviv and Haifa, which isn’t as strenuous a commute as it may sound.
“The drive from Tel Aviv to Haifa is like the drive from Seattle to Bellevue in rush hour,” he says.
But that time also brought him in contact with the entrepreneurial students who created Israel’s first wave of a startup nation.
“I was fortunate enough to participate in training a significant number of the entrepreneurs in Israel that led the startup nation progress,” he says. “I think close to three, four thousand of them were my students.”
Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, a company that he founded in the early 1980s went public and brought him to the U.S. Motorola recruited him in 1989 to run operations in Washington, where he stayed for five years before returning to Israel.
Eyal moved into venture capital, which created the partnerships with companies like Microsoft that have made Israel such a strong center of research and development, and returned here in 2002 with his wife, Dr. Zehava Chen-Levy.
In 2007 Eyal joined and helped to fund the Washington-Israel Business Council, an effort to bring Israeli companies to our state while bringing companies to Israel to create jobs there. He said the council got very little support from local government and even the Jewish community, “but we gave it a shot.”
Eyal is grounded by the simple concept of human dignity. As such, he was a founding member of Peace Now, is today involved in New Israel Fund, and supports a successful conclusion to the peace process. Without strong leadership on either side, however, he doesn’t have a lot of optimism.
“But you never stop trying,” he says. “Keep trying. The easiest thing to do is to give up.”