Eli Hurvitz, the former kibbutznik who built Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (TEVA) into the world’s biggest maker of generic drugs, has died. He was 79.
His death was confirmed by Denise Bradley, a spokeswoman at the company’s North American headquarters in North Wales, Pennsylvania. The cause of death was cancer, Shir Altay, a spokeswoman for the Petach Tikva, Israel-based company, said in an e-mail.
“Eli Hurvitz was one of Israel’s greatest industrialists,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today in a text message sent from his office. “He was a noble spirit and wholehearted patriot, who worked all his life for the development of Israel’s economy and society.”
Hurvitz began his career washing dishes in a laboratory at a predecessor to Teva. He took over after marrying the founder’s daughter.
Using rapid acquisitions and aggressive patent challenges, he built Teva (TEVA) from about $30 million in sales in 1976, when he became chief executive officer, to $13.9 billion in 2009, board member Dan Suesskind said in an interview. Hurvitz stepped down as chairman on March 9, 2010, following treatment for an undisclosed illness.
“Eli built Teva into the largest Israeli company with an international reputation, into the one Israeli company name that every investor in the world knows,” said Ben-Zion Zilberfarb, professor of economics at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, and former director-general of the country’s finance ministry, in a telephone interview. “He was able to do this because he developed a clear strategy for Teva and stuck to it.”
Hurvitz was born in Jerusalem on April 20, 1932, and earned an economics degree at Hebrew University, according to a statement from Teva. His family moved to Tel Aviv when he was a boy. As a young man, Hurvitz served in the Israeli army during the country’s war of independence and later lived in kibbutz Tel Katzir, Teva said. He served as CEO for more than 25 years before becoming chairman in 2002.
Suesskind recalled travelling incognito with Hurvitz in 1980 to look at a factory of Israeli drugmaker Ikapharm before buying the smaller company. The two were taken aback by Ikapharm’s expensively built guardhouse, Suesskind said.
Putting money into posh offices instead of manufacturing “didn’t fit our style,” said Suesskind, who served alongside Hurvitz as chief financial officer from 1977 to 2008.
Hurvitz pushed through about an acquisition a year starting in 1977, Suesskind said, starting with his Israeli competitors. In 1985, the company used a joint venture with W.R. Grace & Co. to buy Lemmon Pharmaceuticals and expand in the U.S.
Hurvitz also served as chairman of Protalix BioTherapeutics Inc. (PLX), a biotechnology company based in Carmiel, Israel, resigning on March 9, 2010. He was chairman of Bank Leumi Le- Israel Ltd. (LUMI) from 1986 to 1987, a member of the advisory committee of Bank of Israel from 1991 to 1995, a board member of the Weizman Institute from 1989 to 1995 and chairman of the Israel Democracy Institute from 2002 to 2008.
“He was always very involved in economic public affairs,” Zilberfarb said. “Eli had a special personality. He never spoke down to people and was always willing to listen. Over the years he was offered many times to be the finance minister, but he always preferred to remain at Teva.”
Hurvitz was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2002, Teva said in the statement.
Hurvitz and his wife, Dalia, had three children.
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