Dr. Shmuel Harlap, one of the wealthiest people in Israel and the largest private shareholder in Mobileye(NYSE: MBLY) (other than Mobileye cofounders chairman Prof. Amnon Shashua and CEO Ziv Aviram), does not give many interviews. In the few he does give, however, one of them following the selection of Mobileye by "Globes" last September as the company of the decade, it is difficult to remain unaffected by the colorful way he expresses his opinions. It was that way yesterday, too, when I caught up with him for a chat after learning about the sales of Mobileye to Intel for $15.3 billion in cash.
Harlap, who owns a 7.2% stake in Mobileye, will get $1 billion to be added to the wealth he accumulated from Colmobil, Israel's largest auto importer (Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Smart).
"Globes": Are you a little disappointed that the company has been sold?
Harlap: "I have a few pangs, but all in all, I think that Amnon and Ziv did the right thing. You have to keep a cool head and your feet firmly on the ground. Mobileye, and you have interviewed me about this before, broke new ground. It was a captivating startup that became a captivating company, attracted attention the world over, and even drew fire from the short players. In the end, though, it's a software company from Har Hahotzvim in Jerusalem operating in the hottest of all hot and high-demand markets in the world. All the wolves, foxes, lions, and tigers are barging in to grab as big a share of this market as possible, because autonomous transportation is the future.
"Mobileye, with everything that's special about it, faces competition that no other Israeli company faces. So Amnon and Ziv did the right thing. They exercised very level-headed and objective judgment, with no hubris, and decided to join forces with Intel. This is a marriage made in heaven, because these two companies really need each other. Intel has missed quite a bit, such as the mobile market, and faces competition from other companies."
Aren't you worried that Mobileye's development could be moved out of Israel one day?
"Development will be where the brains are, and the brains will probably be everywhere in the world, and not just at Mobileye. No one company can have a monopoly of the brains for autonomous vehicles. The autonomous auto industry will be an industry of hundreds of millions of cars, so all the brains can't be in one place; they will be dispersed among all sorts of places. The market will be divided between quite a few players, but very big ones, and in my opinion, Mobileye, together with Intel, will be one of those leading players. We don't know yet how the other auto manufacturers, such as Ford and General Motors, will respond. It looks like the European auto manufacturers are going in Mobileye's direction, together with Intel, while the US auto manufacturers are trying to develop independent technologies. This deal, however, may change their strategy.
"In any case, the current situation highlights Mobileye's need to join a coalition with a very strong concern like Intel, rather than being by itself."
Are you personally satisfied that you didn't sell even a single share?
(laughs) "What do you think? Of course I'm satisfied, but I was lucky that I could afford not to sell. There are people who sold because they had to. I regard myself as lucky in this matter, not as especially smart."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 14, 2017
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