Another day and more shilling for Israeli electric car company Better Place

Here’s a classic example of how not to write business journalism stories. Pick a company, in this case Israeli firm Better Place, ignore any human rights questions that hang over the organisation (allegations of war crimes and complicity in the West Bank occupation, read here), and provide a glowing profile of the organisation’s head. Easy as that. Thank you Damon Kitney in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, you succeed brilliantly at tone-deaf writing:

Shai Agassi will never forget the moment. It was November 2007, only weeks after the launch of his electric car company, Better Place.

Agassi was on a trip with his chairman, Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, when he posed a tough hypothetical question.

“I said to him, ‘(General Electric boss) Jeff Immelt comes to you tomorrow and puts a blank page in front of you and says: `Put a number on it’ (a price to buy the business).

”What would you do?’ And he looks at me with anger and says, ‘We just started this company, and you are already selling it! We are not selling this company!’ And he ended with this: ‘If this company gets to be any less than a $100 billion valuation, you are a failure’! ” Agassi tells The Weekend Australian in a wide-ranging interview.

“And I said: ‘You gave me the right answer. I didn’t want to hear you say you would sell it for a profit.’ He said the right thing.

“We believe this one has got the makings of getting to be the biggest company ever.”

Agassi has always aimed big.

A proud Israeli, with an Iraqi father and Moroccan mother, the software whiz has been called part-scientist, part-visionary and part-salesman.

At age 36 he was named one of the top 20 “Global Influentials for 2003” by CNN-Time magazine. By 2007 he was president of global software giant SAP’s product and technology group and viewed as a successor to chief executive Henning Kagermann.

But in March that year, after missing out on the top job, he shocked corporate America by resigning to set up Better Place.

Two years later, he still made Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list and was dubbed “an environmental hero”.

Arguably he didn’t need to work after he and father Reuven had sold two software companies they co-founded to SAP for a cool $US410 million earlier in the decade. He had to wait less than a year for his first big break at Better Place, the Silicon Valley company created to lease car batteries to electric car customers and run a network of charge points and battery change stations to help foster the growth of cars that could potentially change the world.

Charge spots are strategically located in homes, offices and carparks and the swap stations are be modelled on petrol stations.

In January 2008, the Israeli government signed a joint venture with Better Place to develop a network in Israel, allowing Agassi to raise $US200m.

A year later, he raised another $US135m to roll out a network in Denmark, and during the next two years Better Place raised an additional $US550m, including a $US200m equity raising late last year for projects in western Europe that valued the company at $US2.25bn.

Its backers include Morgan Stanley, Lazard Asset Management and HSBC.

It is now targeting Australia, with a network in Canberra. Melbourne is next.

Last year, Better Place announced a strategic partnership with Renault Australia to bring the world’s first switchable battery car, the Fluence Z.E. (Z.E. stands for zero emissions) to Australia.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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