HPs new CEO an expert on Israel, from hardware to hummus

Léo Apotheker, Hewlett-Packard’s new CEO, announced he will begin his tenure at the Palo Alto computer giant Nov. 1 with an “eavesdropping campaign” to familiarize himself with the company.

However, when Apotheker visits HP’s largest software development center, located in Yehud, Israel, or the company’s laboratories at the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, he will not need a translator to help him out — he is fluent in Hebrew (as well as in English, German, French and Dutch).

Apotheker, 57, made aliyah when he was 18 and has a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Apotheker’s parents escaped Poland after the Nazi invasion. At the end of the war, they settled in Germany, where Léo was born in 1953. Later, his family moved to Antwerp, Belgium.

Apotheker, who worked at the Bank of Israel after completing his studies, eventually returned to Europe, worked in several financial firms, and in 1988 joined software giant SAP, where he spent most of his career.

He set up company branches in France and Belgium, and later became SAP’s executive director in southwest Europe. In 1999 he was appointed director-general of SAP in Europe, the Middle East and Africa — including Israel.

In 2008 he was appointed co-director of SAP — a position he originally was to share with Shai Agassi, who decided to leave in favor of what would later become Better Place, Agassi’s electric-vehicles project.

In 2009, Apotheker became the sole CEO of SAP, and the first Jew to head the German company.

“I am a proud Jew, but I am still trying to understand the Israeli mentality, which is not a simple task,” Apotheker told Yediot Achronot during a 2007 interview.

“Throughout the years, Jews had the capability to understand and accept other cultures — otherwise the Jewish nation wouldn’t have survived. Therefore, I am also determined to fully understand the Israeli culture,” he said.

During the interview, Apotheker explained his decision to study in an Israeli university: “I was raised in a Zionist home, and learned Hebrew even before moving to Israel. I was the head of the Zionist youth movement, and believe that leadership should be attained by setting an example.

“When I finished my matriculation exams,” Apotheker recalled, “I decided to make aliyah. A family matter led me to leave Israel; otherwise I would have stayed here. I married my wife in Israel, and she is a Hebrew-speaking Belgian.

“When I am in Israel there are certain places I always visit. In Jerusalem there’s a place called Hummus Pinati, which I like very much. In my opinion, it is the best hummus in the Middle East,” he said.

Though Apotheker’s September appointment at HP surprised some in the company (previous CEO Mark Hurd was forced to resign in August following a sexual harassment complaint), he reportedly was pleasantly received.

Analysts think Apotheker’s appointment at HP signals the company’s intention to purchase SAP in the near future.

HP is paying Apotheker $4.6 million to cover his relocation expenses from France to the United States. In addition, he will receive a signing bonus of $4 million and his annual salary will total $1.2 million.

Apotheker will be eligible for a bonus of between 200 percent and 500 percent of his annual salary, and will also receive 76,000 company shares.