Ravid Butz was born in Israel; he grew up in Israel; he never expected to leave Israel.
But as a teenager, he did. His father had business in South Africa, and the family followed him there. Then the businessman, whose company made packaging machinery, went to a trade show in Philadelphia and got more orders, so his family followed him there, too.
And Philadelphia is where they stayed, and where Butz went to college at Temple University, and where he eventually met his wife, Sibyl Weidner. The couple started a photo lab, PhotoLounge, in Center City in 1997 and built it into a successful company. They also moved to Bucks County and raised three kids.
Butz thought his story would be an Israeli story, but it blossomed into an American one. Except now, for the first time since his childhood, he’s going back.
Butz, 52, was named executive director of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce. The PICC connects business people in the Philadelphia region and the Jewish homeland, according to Butz. The organization announced the Philadelphian and Israeli as its new executive director in an Oct. 14 email, succeeding longtime leader Vered Nohi.
The new executive director said the position combines Israel, Philadelphia and business, perhaps the three things he cares most about outside of his family.
“I’ve never had a career in Israel or with an Israeli company,” he added. “Just experiencing working with Israeli firms is very exciting to me.”
Mike Krupit, the chamber of commerce president, said “the match between the PICC and Ravid could not have been more perfect.”
“We are thrilled to be working with him and looking forward to his engaging with the community,” he added.
Butz was born in 1970, just a generation after the founding of modern Israel as the Jewish state. As he explained it, “Israel and the story of how it came to be was everything to me.” He said he was “really absorbed in the miracle of Israel’s creation.” He studied the history, the literature, everything, and found it to be “a very romantic period of history.”
After his family left his homeland, the boy was sure that he was going back. He dreamed about joining the Israel Defense Forces. Every stage of his life in South Africa and the United States was about getting to the next stage, he explained. That way he would be closer to returning.
But then, “I realized I wasn’t going back,” Butz said.
Instead of serving in the Israeli army in his early 20s, he met his wife. Butz worked with someone who knew Weidner, and after a night when they all hung out, he missed his train home. It got too late, Butz recalled, and he just had to stay.
He thought she was cute; she thought he was arrogant; they’ve been together ever since.
“We just connected,” Butz said.
As he started a family with Weidner, the young man also ended up managing a camera shop. He always had a passion for photography, so it was a good fit. And after the owner closed the shop, Butz opened his own. PhotoLounge was born.
As time went on, Butz started to network with people who were founding other companies in the area. Then he launched a startup with a digital technology product that he developed at PhotoLounge. In the late 2000s, the couple raised money to sell the product to other retailers and made a profit for a couple of years.
After the 2007-’08 financial crisis, though, they sold part of that business, and Butz started a master’s program in technology management at the University of Pennsylvania. He completed his degree in 2012 and came out with a new mission: coaching.
“I’m very interested in the personal development of the leader of the company before we even tackle the product side of things,” Butz said.
Butz began working as a consultant and met the people involved with the PICC in 2017. He also started a consulting firm to help founders in their 30s and 40s clarify their missions.
“They are not sure why they are doing it,” he said.
The consultant has helped bring a series of life science labs to Philadelphia. He also has worked with Grovara, a Philadelphia company that serves as “the world’s first marketplace for food distributors in the wellness category,” he explained.
And pretty soon, he will work with Israeli companies, too.
“Israel is a leader in tech. Philadelphia also has an active startup culture,” Butz said. “Merging this leader in tech in Israel and this hotbed in Philadelphia is very exciting.” JE