The Mobileye billionaires

Shmuel Harlap  picture: Eyal Yitzhar

Founders Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram of course, plus one immovable investor.

"$9 billion is when the share is weak. At the peak we were worth $14 billion," is what Amnon Shashua had to say about Mobileye's value on the US market when we interviewed him in January. It turns out that Shashua was right. $15.3 billion is what Mobileye is worth – at least according to Intel.

The story of Mobileye is the story of its two founders, Amnon Shashua, who serves as chairman and CTO, and CEO Ziv Aviram. They are two of the most successful Israeli entrepreneurs of all time. Shashua, who still teaches at the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, finished his secondary education at the ORT Technicom school in Givatayim, and took a first degree in mathematics and computer science at Tel Aviv University at age 25. Four years later he completed his second degree in the same subjects, at the Weizmann Institute of Science. He did his doctorate overseas, at MIT, and his post-doctoral studies in the center for biological and computational learning at that prestigious institution.

It was at MIT that he started thinking about the idea that would become Mobileye. Shashua has related in the past how during his doctoral studies he managed to excite one of his professors with the notion that a new picture from a different angle could be created from three existing pictures. The professor financed the registration of a patent, and the pair managed to sell the technology to a Japanese investor, who happened to be looking for a camera-based solution for a system to prevent road accidents.

Shashua did not rest content with that, and in 1995, while he was working as a senior lecturer at the computer science department of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, he translated his idea into his first startup, CogniTens. CogniTens developed vision and measurement systems for quality control in the vehicle and aircraft industries, but it was sold in 2007 for $20 million (less than had been invested in it) to Swedish company Hexagon.

During the failed attempt to make a success of CogniTens, Shashua planted the seeds of the Mobileye, after he crossed paths with Aviram, who advised him on CogniTens. Aviram, who holds a first degree in industrial engineering and management from Ben-Gurion University, had at the time more experience in retailing as CEO of the Keter (plastic products), Gali (footwear) and Attrakzia (clothing) retail chains. "I had never been employed at a company. I spent most of my time in academic institutions. I don't have much of a history in business, more of an academic background. I don’t think a genuine company can be built in two-three years. There are the cases of Google and Check Point, but they are exceptions. A company needs something unique," Shashua said in Mobileye's early days. And indeed, Mobileye has something very unique.

Even before the sale to Intel, Mobileye had made Shashua and Aviram billionaires, among the few Israelis in that category, but the sale consolidates the huge net worth they have amassed, since it is in cash, not stock. Each of them holds about 7% of the company (including options, which are now in the money) which means that each will receive about $1 billion cash. From Globes' tracking of insider sales, it emerges that each of them has so far sold shares to the tune of a little over $300 million, so that each has amassed $1.3 billion, before tax.

"It's not the money, it's the achievement," Shashua told "Globes" in January, referring to the fact that Mobileye's IPO was the largest ever by an Israeli company. "It's like a world record in the 100 meters, and your record is such that you know that if anyone breaks it, it might happen in another twenty years." Now Shashua can again be proud. He has another record, and it's doubtful whether anyone will break it in twenty years, or even more.

Apart from Shashua and Aviram, the big winner from the sale of Mobileye to Intel is Dr Shmuel Harlap, chairman and controlling shareholder of Colmobil, Israeli's leading auto importer, which imports Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Smart cars. Harlap, who was one of Israel's wealthiest people long before Mobileye, invested in the company in its early days, and did not sell a single share after it went public - not in the IPO, not in the secondary offering, and not in regular trading. In every interview with him, he took care to express his great faith in the company, and this faith has now paid off, big time. According to Mobileye's filings, Harlap owns 7.2% of Mobileye, making him the largest private shareholder who is not one of the founders. At the value of the deal with Intel, this holding is worth some $1 billion.

Who else gains? Many private investors and senior managers at the company. Mobileye distributed options to its employees, and according to its latest filings the employees hold 28.9 million options exercisable at $20.82 per share (the share price is currently over $61). At the share price in the deal with Intel, these options give a benefit of $1.2 billion. Shashua and Aviram are the main beneficiaries of the options program, but the other senior managers are undoubtedly also now seeing reward for their toil.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 13, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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Shmuel Harlap  picture: Eyal Yitzhar
Shmuel Harlap picture: Eyal Yitzhar
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