Alum of the Month – Ben Barokas
By Yael Tamar
I was very excited about the opportunity to speak with Ben, who besides being an AMHSI alumnus is also a successful entrepreneur, angel investor, and a General Manager of Google’s Global Marketplace Development team.
Ben attributes his entrepreneurial zeal to being a global citizen and a son of Turkish-born father, Rifat Barokas, who Ben describes as ’a man in motion.’ “Growing up idolizing my dad, who always believed that you have to move closer to your customers in order to provide the best service to the people who truly need it, was definitely one of the driving factors in my life and career,” said Ben. “[My dad] worked and played in over sixty countries and loved the experience of new cultures, new foods, new people, new languages and new philosophies,” writes Ben in his heartfelt eulogy.
Because of his father’s business, Ben was a globetrotter since an early age. He was born in Colombia, subsequently moving to Nicaragua before his family settled in Miami only to move again to Washington DC after a couple of years. As a teenager, he was attending a military school in Virginia when he believes his mother, who at around that time founded a local synagogue, heard about AMHSI and suggested that he travel to Israel for his next adventure.
“AMHSI definitely reinforced my connection to Israel and Judaism,” says Ben. “You know how most Jewish teens have this ephemeral connection to their Jewish identity, and once they actually see Israel for themselves and experience the history of the Jewish people, this connection is reinforced 1,000 times over. That’s what AMHSI has done for me.”
After his return to the U.S., Ben studied at Virginia Tech, spending a semester abroad in Hungary, where he studied at the University of Economic Sciences. Upon his return, he worked at the US Department of Agriculture, where he also co-authored a book. Post graduation, Ben held several sales positions, and soon thereafter, he went back to school at the University of Hawaii for his graduate degree.
After grad school, Ben realized it was time to go back to Israel. He first lived at Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev, and subsequently started an Internet Cafe in Tel Aviv.
Upon returning to the U.S., Ben started working for AOL, where he remained for 7 years, where he most likely caught the entrepreneurial bug. Post AOL, Ben was involved in a number of startups until he reconnected with his former AOL colleague forming what would eventually become AdMeld, an exchange platform for advertisers and publishers, similar to the stock market in operation.
In the course of 4-5 years, Ben’s company turned from a two-person show into a corporation with over 150 offices all over the world and an annual revenue of $450 million. AdMeld was acquired by Google for $400 million, integrating AdMeld’s “best features into [a Google’s product,] DoubleClick Ad Exchange,” according to a Google blog.
Since then Ben has been working at Google; he holds the position of GM of the Global Marketplace Development team. He still comes to Israel 3-4 times a year, and he credits his bond with Israel to the time he spent at AMHSI.
“Anyone who wants to have an understanding of his or her roots and identity as a Jew should come to AMHSI,” adds Ben. “Not only that; the fun, the excitement and the experience of being on this special program will stay with you forever.”