Top Consultant Will Pursue His Dream of Life in Israel

The prominent banking consultant Stephen J. Kohn started this week in typical fashion, flying on Monday to Paris for three days of business meetings. They would be his last.

Mr. Kohn, who built Ernst & Young's financial consulting practice in the 1970s and became one of the most respected experts in the field, is saying good-bye to all that at the end of the month.

It is not for a new job. Mr. Kohn is starting a new life in another country -- Israel.

Mr. Kohn, who said he was raised in an Orthodox Jewish, Zionist household, said he is fulfilling a lifelong dream shared by his wife of five years, Margaret. Concerned for Israel before and during the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Kohn made two trips there, worked as a "grease monkey" on an army base in March, and finally put his new life plan into action.

"You can't sit home and be uninvolved in life," Mr. Kohn said in an interview.

Having negotiated an early-retirement package at the age of 52, Mr. Kohn intends to move his family -- including a 16-month-old son -- to Israel by the fall and set himself up as an independent consultant.

|Enough Hebrew to Get Along'

"I'd like for it not to be the proverbial 9-to-5 job," he said. "I love Israel, enjoy the people, and philosophically I am in tune with what it stands for." He speaks "enough Hebrew to get along," and expects to improve that skill.

"I'd like to work with exporting industries," he said. "Exports are Israel's lifeblood, and the growth in the economy and population creates enormous opportunities."

Whatever he does will be far removed from the Park Avenue office and West Side apartment that served as the base for his globe-trotting.

"It might be a rougher, more difficult life, but it should be safer than living in New York," Mr. Kohn said. In 10 previous visits to Israel, "I have never felt in any danger."

He was at the peak of a 25-year career working with financial institutions. He worked earlier with Booz-Allen & Hamilton and as an internal bank consultant. He achieved some public-sector prominence between 1972 and 1974 as the Ohio state banking superintendent.

In 1976 he started the financial services consulting practice for what was then Ernst & Ernst. The unit has grown to 200 consultants and systems experts. Mr. Kohn headed that practice in New York from 1979 to 1984, and more recently managed the firm's national and international consulting activities for financial companies.

Clients Ran the Gamut

Mr. Kohn's clients included money-center and regional banks and nonbank financial companies. He said he most enjoyed working closely with chief executive officers, identifying problems and helping implement solutions in such areas as finance, operations, marketing, management structure, and strategic planning.

"I liked the counselor role, working with organizations over an extended period of time, as opposed to being the abstract consultant," Mr. Kohn said.

He was a frequent speaker to industry groups, testified before Congress, and wrote influential articles on banking management, structure, and regulation. He has a book in progress on 21st-century banking trends.

An Uncommon Opportunity

He announced his departure in a letter this month to friends and associates that began, "We all have dreams, but rarely do we have the capability to see them materialize."

His story has evoked praise -- and envy -- among colleagues.

Michael Grobstein, vice chairman of Ernst & Young, issued a statement calling Mr. Kohn "an intellectual leader with an exceptional ability to express himself" in speeches and writings. "We will miss Steve and his many contributions."

"He's doing what he really wants to do," said Patrice Ingrassia, a public relations official at Ernst & Young. "So many of us never get that chance."

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