March 9, 2017
Jerry Specht, Customer Support Analyst, Ex Libris
In 1998, the trajectory of my own career intersected with the Ex Libris attempt to break into the North American library software market. Notre Dame had bought and implemented Aleph early in 1998. Their courage and foresight in being the first major North American library to do this was a critical first step in the Ex Libris success in North America. A number of Ex Libris staff were in South Bend working with Notre Dame, but it was clear that there would be a need for an office in the U.S. to accommodate other hoped-for future customers. A location on Wells St. in the Oldtown section of Chicago was chosen: not a high-rent, high-tech location in those days. Let’s just say Ex Libris didn’t pull into the U.S. in some fancy Cadillac. It was more like a VW bus.
Our office was here, just to the right of the CLEANERS sign, on the second floor. The green thermometer was on the right-hand side of the entrance to our offices. The establishment immediately below our office was a bar: Tequila Roadhouse.
There were nine or ten desks, in two offices and the general open space. There was no furniture in our offices when we had our first meeting. We (all seven of us, I think?) sat on the floor — or maybe some cardboard boxes.
It was a risky venture for all of us. Ex Libris was investing time and money in trying to get things star
ted, without any real assurance that it would work, and we, new American employees were throwing in our lot with a non-North-American company which had only a single major customer in North America.
Why were we willing to take this risk? I’d done my homework. I’d researched Ex Libris. Certain people whose opinions I valued felt it could work. But the main thing was the people. A “company” is not a bunch of offices, a bunch of desks and computers. A company is people. I’d met Azriel (Morag, the founder and chairman of Ex Libris) and Udi (Arad, his brother-in-law and president of the company at that time), and had been favorably impressed with their intelligence and enthusiasm, and then I met this guy (Oren Beit-Arie), the “Vice President of Operations,” for lunch at Walker Brothers in Evanston. If I was hired, he would be my boss. I was completely blown away by this bright, cosmopolitan guy, with his quiet confidence and determination and his deep understanding of libraries and of information systems. I left Walker Brothers telling myself that not only did I want to work for this company; I had to work for this company.
I believe that there is a very simple formula for success in business: really good employees attract other really good employees; really good customers attract other really good customers. But there has to be something at the core, something as a starting point. To me, that something was Yohanan and Judy Levi in 1980; Azriel and Udi in 1986; and then in 1988 and 1991, Oren and Barbara Rad-El. It has been the good fortune of Ex Libris that our strong customer community has grown along with this dedicated team, and that the Ex Libris community continues to grow today.