Instead of having a messenger take an X-ray from one end of the hospital to the other earlier this month, technicians at Soroka University Medical Center of the Negev used an internal computer network to effect the transfer.
“We are one of the most advanced hospitals in Israel because of this,” said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the hospital’s director general. “Our whole hospital is wired — 1,000 beds spread over 75 acres. Every departments is now connected.”
He said the American company 3Com Corp. was hired to do some initial wiring. That was increased after the center’s executives became better acquainted with the firm’s chairman and chief executive officer, Eric Benhamou.
Benhamou and his wife, Illeana, were honored this month with Soroka’s Spirit of Achievement Award at a dinner here. In an interview prior to the event, Benhamou spoke about his career, his involvement with Soroka and the future of his company, which created the popular Palm Pilot.
An Algerian Jew, his family moved to France in 1960 when he was 5. Benhamou married Illeana, a 19-year-old Moroccan Jew who had moved to France when she was 3, in that country.
Benhamou moved to the United States in 1975, where he attended Stanford University.
“I was expecting to go into biomedical engineering,” Benhamou recalled. “But by the time I got to Stanford, the main classes I wanted had been canceled because the professor who taught them had transferred to another university. So I looked around and chose another program that used completely new technology. I had a sense that it would be big. Sending an e-mail in 1976 was exciting.”
From 1977 until 1981, Benhamou worked as an engineer at one of the country’s first microprocessor companies, Zilog. The Silicon Valley firm was involved in making chips for the networking of computers — a scaled-down, slower version of what’s happening today.
“At the time, we were neck and neck with Intel,” said Benhamou.
But Benhamou said he and three friends at Zilog left in 1980 to build networks, not chips, and they founded Bridge. By 1987, the friends had left and Benhamou merged Bridge with 3Com, a high-tech networking company.
“The two companies were the same size and Bridge connected networks for big computers, not personal computers, and 3Com worked with PC networks,” he said. “We figured the combination of the two companies would be complimentary.”
Although both Benhamou and his wife have relatives in Israel, neither had heard of the Soroka University Medical Center until a few years ago, when a friend in France mentioned her volunteer work with the hospital.
“She was so passionate about it,” recalled Benhamou, the father of two sons. “I said the next time I went to Israel I would visit it.”
It happened in 1997 when Benhamou traveled to Israel to see one of 3Com’s research and development divisions. While in the country, he made a side trip to the Negev and toured Soroka, learning that it provided medical care to Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Bedouins and immigrants from around the world.
“Like all hospitals, Soroka needed an internal network to connect its computers and send around medical images,” he said. “So we helped it acquire the network.”
Dr. Mor-Yosef, the hospital’s director-general, pointed out that the pediatric wing has an area for patients to use computers. The computers are connected to an education center in Jerusalem that allows the youngsters to keep up with their studies.
Benhamou noted that when he was there, an educator in Jerusalem spoke to the children through video-conferencing. That enabled the children and the teacher to see each other.
Since that visit, Benhamou said he and his wife, who live in Santa Clara, Calif., have been hooked on Soroka. They hosted a fund-raiser at 3Com.
“We invited Silicon Valley leaders who have the means and the interest to help Soroka, and it was well attended,” he said. “This was the first time Soroka had any visibility in that community. There is a strong Israeli community there, and we are trying to increase relations between Silicon Valley and Israel because of Israel’s strong high-tech industry.”
Regarding the future of 3Com, Benhamou said the company plans this year to spin off its popular Palm Pilot and give shareholders 1.5 shares of Palm stock.
“We’re going to focus on small and medium-size businesses, as opposed to large companies, because they are under-networked,” he said. “The future of 3 Com is in networking. Only 20 to 25 percent of small businesses are networked.
“We’re trying to create products and solutions that don’t require any technical support. We don’t build the servers or the computers, but we connect them by building switchers and routers — network connection hardware and software.”
Benhamou said there are more than 18 million households with more than two computers, and those would justify having a small network.
He also said he was sure 3Com would acquire more companies. “Companies today are global and they create jobs everywhere. Where their headquarters is located is just an administrative issue,” he said.
Benhamou said 3Com has invested in dozens of Israeli companies and an Israeli high-tech investment fund. He observed that “most of the Israeli GNP growth is from high-tech.”
“Israel is second only to the U.S. as far as high-tech venture investments,” he added.