Women in Business — Rakefet Russak-Aminoach

Israeli executive is proud to lead a bank where women make up 60 per cent of the workforce

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Rakefet Russak-Aminoach is president and chief executive of the Leumi Group, Israel’s oldest bank. She was appointed in May 2012, becoming the youngest female chief executive ever to head an Israeli bank. Before this, she served for eight years as head of the corporate banking division.

Before joining Leumi, Ms Russak-Aminoach served as chief executive of KPMG Israel, one of Israel’s leading accounting firms. She has an MBA in Business Management and degrees in accounting and economics, and law from Tel-Aviv University, where she spent 10 years in total and also became a lecturer in accounting.

1. Who are your business influences?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is someone I admire very much. She is the first woman to hold this position and stands at the head of the largest country, and thus the largest market, in the European Union. Chancellor Merkel, in practice, sets the tone for the economic policy of Europe today.

2. What has been your best business decision to date?

My recent decision to set up a fully digital bank was the most significant. We are in the process of building the infrastructure to be launched next year, [which] will allow Leumi customers to manage their banking needs entirely [online], without the need for brick and mortar branches.

The technological revolution and the fintech industry are changing the face of banking as we know it. Financial institutions founded over a century ago need to adapt and make profound changes in their operating models or they will become irrelevant and even disappear. We have seen this occur in other industries, where companies such as Kodak and Blockbuster have been wiped off the map and financial institutions are not immune to this possibility.

3. What is your favourite memory of business school?

I was sitting in the cafeteria with another student called Re’em, whom I had just met. Then, by chance, my high school principal came over to discuss my final grade point average. When Re’em heard my GPA, his eyes lit up and he offered to be my study partner. Since that day he has partnered with me in every aspect of my life as he later became my husband.

4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

Know the facts. But do not be constrained by them.

5. What would you do if you were dean for one day?

First, I would send all faculty out into the field to experience first-hand the difference between theory and practice. Second, I would send senior managers from the field to the university, in order to lecture at the business school. In this way, everyone would benefit from the integrated exchange programme.

Even now, with over twenty years of business experience, I feel I would benefit from a course at one of the Ivy League business schools; I am waiting for an opportunity to take time out to do that.

6. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?

See yourself first and foremost as a business person and then as a woman. If you want to play in the major league, you must accept that challenges, tension, complexities and even failures along the way are an inherent part of business life.

7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

There is no doubt that the business world in general and the financial world in particular is still male-dominated. But throughout my entire career gender was a non-issue for me and I experienced no glass-ceiling effects.

Having said that, I am proud to lead a financial organisation in Israel where more than 60 per cent of the employees are women and a similar percentage hold managerial positions.

8. What is your favourite business book?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Israeli-born Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics (2002). This fascinating book explains the two systems that drive the way we think.

The first system is fast, intuitive and emotional, while the second system is slower, more deliberative and more logical. Kahneman shows us how the two systems shape our judgment and decisions. He writes: “The psychology of accurate intuition involves no magic. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition”.

9. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a business meeting?

Chancellor Angela Merkel. She is as an assertive leader, basing her decisions on a combination of pure logic (as a scientist) with the sensitivity of a person who overcame a repressive regime in Eastern Germany.

Steve Jobs, because of his brilliance, innovation and insight into the future and his leadership abilities, enabling him to lead a company that constantly reinvented itself.

And Piero Lissoni, the Italian contemporary architect. His design principle is never to design for a specific function or purpose but to design for human beings. I would love to spend time with him to gain further insights into this fascinating field.

10. What has been your best business trip?

My last trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos. I learnt many new and innovative approaches and concepts, which have affected my corporate strategy. I made important contacts and forged meaningful friendships. What I particularly like about these forums, attended by renowned leaders and economists across the globe, is that at the end of the day we are all flesh and blood, seeking that personal and direct connection.

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