“My military experience left me with a toolkit that I see as a competitive advantage and something unique that I bring to the table, especially at a tech company” with Odelia Farkash and Marco Derhy.
“Military experience at multiple levels as a soldier, commander, and officer taught me to lead with authority, push individuals to achieve their full potential, and take responsibility for results. I became well-versed in training and managing others, and making split second decisions that affected dozens of people daily. My military experience left me with a toolkit that I see as a competitive advantage and something unique that I bring to the table, especially at a tech company.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Odelia Farkash, VP of Business Operations at Lightapp, a growth-stage Silicon Valley startup. She is responsible for strategic and tactical operations.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I grew up as the middle child of five siblings in a relatively disadvantaged part of Israel. Since my parents only had the means to provide the basics for us, I had to develop a sense of self sufficiency pretty early on, earning my own spending money from babysitting and waiting tables. As a teenager, I made the difficult decision to leave home to pursue a better education at a boarding school on a kibbutz. On the kibbutz, students were required to work on the farm a minimum of four hours a day. It was exhausting, manual work, especially when assigned to care for the animals, but I knew that staying in my town would not allow me to achieve the opportunities that a better education would offer me.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today, I am helping to lead a growth-stage startup called Lightapp that’s bringing significant advancements to resource management in the manufacturing industry. Our customers are large scale manufacturing enterprises and we help them run more efficiently and sustainably through advanced data acquisition and analytics. As VP of Business Operations, I am responsible for the strategic and tactical operations of our global organization. Our headquarters is in Silicon Valley, and our development team is based in Tel Aviv. In other words, I’m the bridge between our team’s ambitious goals and the realities of execution. As an example, I’m currently accelerating our time to market through what might be considered the non-traditional decision to acquire an early stage startup.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
When I joined the army in 1992, women typically did not hold positions in the field or serve more than 18 months. The status quo was not important to me, so I elected to take a special position in the field where I could leverage my unique experience and ability to connect with people. In this position, I helped young people that were unable to attain core positions in the army find a path to success. I was excited that my work touched so many people in positive ways so I decided to extend my service and reach the Lieutenant ranking. As an officer, I was responsible for the training of commanders in a special military unit called the ‘Assistance Center for Disadvantaged Youth.’ Our mission was to provide people from all walks of life with the resources and skills needed to have a meaningful and productive career path.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
During my first year of service I was stationed in Southern Israel at a desert base named “Sde Boker”. I helped prepare people for their upcoming careers in the IDF by guiding them on trips where they learned first-hand about the various positions they could hold in the army and encouraging them to fill meaningful roles. One year later, when I was an officer, I went back to visit Sde Boker and was surprised to see that a number of my previous mentees chose to take my original job. It was fulfilling to hear that my work had influenced their decision and that they wished to forge a similar path of leading and inspiring their peers. I left this feeling that we have tremendous potential, even through seemingly minor actions, to benefit the lives of those around us.
I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
The usual thing that comes to mind when you think of a hero, especially in the context of the military, is a warrior who fights under enemy fire. But, when I think of a hero, I think of someone that’s able to push forward and advance against all odds in any context. During my army service I met many such heroes; people that stayed in the army even if it was easier to stay home, those that kept serving even when they felt the army had given up on them, those who struggled to quickly find their place and the value they could bring, and those that could put in little effort but chose to grind and work hard. Some of them became the heroes you usually think of, the ones that later become fighters and officers and serve in special units, but I still think of their initial breakthrough as heroic.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain it?
I think a hero is someone who has every reason to give up but doesn’t. Like the heroes I mentioned from my army service, they are people who embrace opportunity and change their life’s trajectory.
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
Most heroes never face a life or death situation. For me, a hero is anyone that exhibits courage, is willing to try and overcome an obvious predicament, and gets back up to try again even if they fail.
Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience “(Please share a story or example for each.)
Setting an example
Creative problem solving
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
Military experience at multiple levels as a soldier, commander, and officer taught me to lead with authority, push individuals to achieve their full potential, and take responsibility for results. I became well-versed in training and managing others, and making split second decisions that affected dozens of people daily. My military experience left me with a toolkit that I see as a competitive advantage and something unique that I bring to the table, especially at a tech company.
As a mother whose daughter is about to finish high school and join the army, I am excited that she too will be able to have these experiences and build her own toolkit, which will serve her well wherever she chooses to go in life.
As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civil life that others may want to emulate?
For me personally, I didn’t have these experiences.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Lightapp is currently the center of an exciting research project funded by the California Energy Commision with UC Berkeley, MIT and the University of Chicago that is focused on the efficiency of industrial energy optimization software. Through the project, we are currently installed at over 100 manufacturing facilities throughout California and while I can’t discuss the results just yet, we are beyond thrilled with the changes we’ve seen in energy usage and emissions. Beyond the savings themselves, this study has significant environmental implications for the disadvantaged communities in which these factories are located.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
The startup environment is an environment of constant change. I believe it’s imperative to provide employees three essentials that can motivate and allow them to achieve their full potential: a strong belief in the company mission, the use of innovation and technology to overcome obstacles, and the provision of a safe and nurturing working environment.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Every team will be more effective and efficient if their goals are clear and there is trust and full transparency. Providing trust and transparency as a manager encourages teams to trust and be transparent with one another, leading to healthy teams and productive collaboration.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people around me to whom I owe my thanks. But, when you work at a startup, it’s your family that pays the price — the work never ends, especially at a company in two very different time zones. I feel lucky that both my husband and I work together and share the same goal and beliefs. We relocated our family to the San Francisco Bay Area (Silicon Valley) three years ago from Tel Aviv. The transition with four children (ages 10 to 17) was, and continues to be challenging, but they understand that here we are achieving our life’s mission.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My time in the army showed me that every person has the ability to positively impact the lives of others. It has always been paramount to me to help others that are not as fortunate, so, together with my husband, we decided to foster a child. Within a year, he became a permanent member of our family. Israel has more than 8,000 children waiting to find their forever home. It was not a question of ‘do we,’ but rather ‘when’. I believe we all possess the power to positively influence a person’s trajectory no matter where they’ve come from or where they are in that moment.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am passionate about helping disadvantaged communities and specifically young people that grow up in those communities. Helping people build prosperous businesses and becoming more sustainable are not mutually exclusive. Business plans can be made that turn a profit and have a positive social impact. I am encouraged every day as young entrepreneurs recognize that we now live in a world where it is more profitable to build a business that supports their community, rather than ignoring them.
I see this movement reflected in Lightapp’s work within manufacturing communities where we help factories become competitive, while simultaneously sustaining and adding jobs and reducing environmental impact. Though we are still small, Lightapp is rapidly expanding to positively impact factories and people throughout the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You have to maintain a flexible spirit.” from Akiva’s Orchard by Yochi Brandes, an Israeli writer that I admire greatly.
Between the ages of 6 and 18, and during my military service, I was a global citizen. I have lived in a variety of places: Small town, kibbutz, Canada, Tel Aviv, St. Louis, and California. There was a time when I thought that this lack of continuity was not particularly healthy and not what I wanted for my own children. Today, these passages really resonate with me and I am grateful that I’ve been able to provide a global perspective to my own children. Maintaining a flexible spirit has been crucial as my family and I make new homes in new places and tackle new opportunities.
Some of the largest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or the US with what would you love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Safra is tough as they come. Been there. Done that. Super sharp. She helped grow Oracle by inspiring innovation from within and by acquisition. She is a tenacious dealmaker with an incredible knack for understanding business operations. In my opinion, she is one of the most powerful women, not just in tech, but in the history of global business. I have a huge admiration for Safra. And, she is also a fellow Israeli. :)
Thank you for joining us!