One saying in the high-tech industry is that sharp executives "don't take prisoners". The level of competition is intense, and there is a fine line between success and failure. Yet, many executives find themselves unfulfilled after a succesful exit or a solid career. So what to do if you want to do good while keep doing well?
Move from the high-tech to the water sector for example, like Booky Oren did twelve years ago, and have an impact on one of the greatest world's challenges. I first met with Booky Oren in Canada last year. I caught with him earlier this month on his way to the UK. He is traveling the world to enlist partners to not only compete with innovative technologies but to also collaborate to solve the water conendrum.
Mr. Oren is one of the architects behind the vibrant water technology market in Israel, which has spurred succesful companies like Takadu and leads the world in water re-use. He was the Chairman of the WATEC conference last November, which drew 28,000 visitors from 104 countries. His composure is not unlike the one of a general, and he clearly has a vision for the water industry.
"There are a few islands of innovation globably in the water sector" he reckons. The most cited are Australia, the Province of Ontario in Canada, the Western United States, the Netherlands in Europe and Singapore in Asia in addition to Israel in the Middle East. "Because of the structure of the water sector, there is a big problem in implemenation." Moving from innovation to implementation, and breaking the 'vicious circle', was the main theme of WATEC 2011(picture below - courtesy of WATEC).
Booky Oren had to deal with implementation issues first hand when he was appointed in 2003 as the Executive Chairman of Mekorot, the national utility providing 70% of Israel's water consumption. During that time, Mt. Oren initiated and implemented a process called WaTech that leveraged the utility's facilities as beta sites to test new technologies from external companies including start-ups.
Since the program started in 2004, more than 600 technological proposals have been submitted and, after a strict engineering evaluation, more than 20 have been implemented. Around that time, the Israeli government decided to place the water industry as an industry of national priority and created the NEWTech program (picture above). As a result, the export of the water technology industry increased from 850M USD in 2006 to about 2B USD in 2011.
Booky Oren leveraged his deep experience in business in various industries, at companies such as American Express, to think globally. At the end of 2006, Oren joined the Arison group and co-founded Miya, now a world leader in the field of urban water loss. As CEO and later Executive Chairman of the Board, Oren helped Miya define and implement a unique strategy by creating a multi-national company active in 5 continents.
According to Mr. Oren, countries active in water do not have a choice but to cooperate and modernize a water sector that many recognize as critical but few dare to fix. Water utilities are conservative by nature because of safety. Entrepreneurs play with new technologies but find difficult to get first deployment. And investors struggle to see a path to profitability in a market where Government intervention is the norm.
Booky Oren's vision has to do with partnerships (picture above - courtesy of WATEC). He is the Head of Israeli Water Technologies Group in the Bi-Lateral Canada-Israel Innovation Initiative, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He also serves at The World Bank as the Head of Facilitator for the Task Force for Innovation in the Water Sector.
Partnerships in water across stake-holders is not new, in Europe for example with the Netherlands Water Partnership. Booky Oren wants to go further... beyond borders. "Water is different from other industrial sectors." he explains. "The motivation is not to make money but to supply essential services without taking any risk." It is good to look at innovation in other sectors but it is challenging to apply it to the water sector.
Energy is probably the closest to the world of water because the customers are public servants in both cases. "Nobody will thank them if they have a success but people will make a lot of noise if they make any mistake". Nevertheless, Mr. Oren sees tremendous opportunities for innovation in the water industry.
"There isn't real competition in this industry. People like to cooperate. Engineers in water utilities like to listen other colleagues." Booky Oren encourages utility managers to learn from what is tested in Nevada, in Ontario, or in Victoria and scale the solutions that work more aggressively.
For example, the Province of Ontario learned a lot from the Walkerton tragedy. Key recommendations touched on source water protection, the training and certification of operators, and a quality management system for water suppliers as part of a comprehensive multi-barrier approach. In Ontario, these recommendations have been incorporated into new legislation. They could be implemented in other countries if there was more collaboration.
At this point I must ask Booky Oren about deregulation, separating for instance the ducts and the services. "Many times regulators talk about how to run a water crisis but I don't see a lot of shared experiences among regulators. They tend to reinvent the wheel. We try to promote best practices between Canada and Israel for example."
Taking clusters to a unified network of clusters where utilities collaborate and technologies compete in a healthy market seems the way to go. Traditionally, international standard bodies are used for that purpose. The lack of standards, which can help scale deployment of technology based solutions across utilities, is a big hurdle compared to the energy sector that is also heavily regulated but is seeing more standard activities to move to smart grid.
What about smart water? Booky Oren has been involved in two cross-border projects. One is between the municipalities of Akron, Ohio in the US and Mei-Netanya in Israel. The city of Guelph, Onatrio in Canada is also collaborating with the city of Mey Na in Israel. Mr. Oren is not driven by charity. He is a business man. But at one point, in his journey, he looked at a way to good and do well at the same time.
"When you create partnerships, whether it is among people or across countries, the main challenge is to identify their respective interests". The other key to unlock a situation is build up leaders and create processes to execute towards a shared goal. Booky Oren has seen this again and again. His passion today is to identify these leaders and connect them across borders to create positive changes in the water sector around the world. And do well for himself and his company.