Amir Gal-Or sits in F-16 fighter aircraft in this 2003 file photo.
GOING global has become the slogan for many Chinese industrial cities that wish to develop the local economy by attracting overseas investments. Suzhou, in southern Jiangsu Province, is going along the same path.
The city has, over the past decade, attracted plenty of foreign investments through constant governmental support. The efforts to absorb foreign investments have made the city quite competent in adopting modern technology.
Suzhou’s efforts to take in foreign funds are exemplified by the case of Amir Gal-Or, founder of the Israeli investment company Infinity Group. After successfully launching its first investment in Suzhou in 2004, the company now manages 17 funds in China worth a total of more than US$1.5 billion, making it one of the world’s leading cross-border, Chinese-focused management groups.
For choosing Suzhou as his first step into the Chinese market, Gal-Or acknowledged the city’s strengths in accommodating foreign investment. “Suzhou had an international platform, and the access to the central government was very direct,” said Gal-Or.
He also saw Suzhou’s advantages brought by its unique geographical location. He said Suzhou, as Shanghai’s close neighbor, has talents and access to many resources. He also stresses the city’s willingness to try unique strategies to compete with Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
He added the local people have wide and long-term vision, which makes the city “global in a local way.”
“Suzhou people are exactly like that. They are talented and they feel there is a great opportunity to compete with Shanghai,” he said.
The local staff members, according to Gal-Or, have great abilities in their own working role. “They have to be the best to execute locally, in terms of understanding economics, access to resources, execution, targets; they are great,” he said.
By establishing vital and trusting relationships with the authorities and the business community in China, the company has gained considerable access to investment and development opportunities.
The launch of the Infinity-CSVC Fund in 2004 was the first ever limited partnership offshore fund fully endorsed by both the Chinese and Israeli governments. Gal-Or said the timing was appropriate as new regulations were released to help set up new bilateral business structures.
The Suzhou government’s constant support, according to Gal-Or, has been another crucial factor in the company’s success. He said officials at the top level would attend to foreign investments, “opening doors to different sectors in central and provincial governments. So clearly the value was significant,” he said.
When he first started, Gal-Or said there were special subsidies for the companies. In sectors like taxation and staff accommodation, he gets governmental support if needed. Beneficial policies have paved the way for more international investors to venture into Suzhou.
Gal-Or said his company is very open about expanding investments. In the near future, his focus will be on agricultural technology, medical devices and services, and globalizing Chinese companies.
Gal-Or’s personal background is quite intriguing. Born into a family of engineers, he became a pilot in the national air force in his early years. He chose to be an entrepreneur afterwards.
For him, jumping from the military role to entrepreneurship is not as challenging as many people would think.
“They are different professions toward different targets, but some of the skills that you need are similar,” he said. “It’s about managing risk. You have to reach a target with a lot of unknown factors, while managing risks in a fast environment. Your decision-making process needs to be very clear.”
He emphasizes the “guts” to move forward in certain situations are requisite in both professions.
“Another element is that you need relationships and access to resources. Many entrepreneurs in Israel are pilots, not only me. You have to see things in a very wide picture — risks and opportunities,” he said.
On coming to China, he said he got information about the country from his brother, who went to work in China in the late 1990s. They both agreed China had great potential.
His career in the air force had trained him to “venture beyond boundaries.”
“For me, working in other countries is also part of the education I got in the air force. You have to look over the border,” he said.
“It is a combination of teamwork and working alone. You fly alone but always you are part of a team. It’s kind of an interesting balance between moving forward by yourself and teamwork.”
His advice for those who want to invest in China is to “listen very carefully, and build a picture that finds the right balance between your value and the ability to execute it in China with the right relationships.”