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Leonid Shtilman


Languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, Hebrew

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Leonid Shtilman, born on March 15th, 1950 in Kiev, Ukraine, is an Israeli-American scientist and entrepreneur. His father was a civil engineer and a former battalion commander during World War II. His mother was a food industry engineer. For the first 13 years of his life, Leonid lived with his sister, parents, and grandparents in one bedroom apartment of a 19th century building in the center of Kiev, where they shared a kitchen and bathroom with four other families. He studied in school 33. Growing up in the anti-Semitic environment of Ukraine drove Leonid to plan his escape to Finland via a hot air balloon in the second grade. Almost half of his classmates were Jewish and most of them, upon their high school graduation, had to look for college to attend outside of Ukraine. Leonid attempted to pass the entrance examination of the Moscow Physical Technical Institute in 1967, but failed the oral exam. Even today, after receiving two PhDs in mathematics and mechanical engineering, he cannot solve the math and physics problems that were given to him during that exam.
In 1967 Leonid matriculated to Gorky State University (today N. I. Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod). He graduated in 1972 with Ms.Sc.  in “radiophysics”. The term “radiophysics” was introduced by Soviets  during the  Cold War. The vague definition of “radiophysics” is that it is a branch of physics focused on the study of certain kinds of radiation: its emission, propagation, and interaction with matter. It also includes physics of laser (quantum radiophysics) and other related topics. During his years in university, Leonid went through mandatory training as officer of GRU (military intelligence). Leonid conducted his master thesis on nonlinear wave propagation under the supervision of Professor M.I. Rabinovich, who was a student of a great scientist academician, A.V. Gaponov. Rabinovich’s other student, Y.I. Sankin, served as a KGB (Soviet secret service) officer and tried to recruit Leonid.  During his college years Leonid met in Moscow with V.Slepak, V. Prestin, D.Beilina, A. Sharansky and become involved in Zionist activity.

Leonid started his scientific career at NIRFI (Radiophysics Research Institute). During his first year there he published his first scientific papers about nonlinear waves in atmospheric plasma. Since his work required security clearance and he had decided to move to Israel, he had to resign from NIRFI. Moreover, as Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) was a “forbidden city” for any foreigners, Leonid had to move to Kiev before starting the emigration process.

Between the years 1973 to 1976, Leonid fought against the Soviets for his right to emigrate. During those years he was detained and interrogated by the KGB many times. While most of the other activists had not been able to get any sort of decent job, Leonid was lucky to find a job as an IT engineer in a municipal computational facility. At the time, the Soviets made the computer Dnepr, which had 128KB (not giga and not mega!) memory and occupied a room of 2000 sq.ft.  In 1976 Leonid, his first wife Anna and daughter Miriam were granted an exit visa and settled in Israel.

In Israel, Leonid enrolled into graduate school for chemical physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science under supervision of Prof. Shneior Lifson. Scientific dispute led to the release of Leonid from graduate school. Leonid published the results of that research, which was about current instability in ion exchange membranes, and it became his most quoted paper ever. After serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, Leonid enrolled as a graduate student in mathematics in Technion in Haifa. His thesis was devoted to the mathematical analysis of Pedlosky model of atmospheric motion. After the completion of his Ph.D., Leonid understood that mathematics, even in the field of “applied mathematics,” is not a subject in which he could truly be successful. As such, he completed another Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in Tel Aviv University under supervision of Prof. A. Tsinober. He married his second wife Irina and move to the USA.

Leonid conducted his postdoctoral research in the Departments of Mathematics of both MIT and Princeton University, where he worked with Prof. S. Orszag. He held a faculty position at the City College of CUNY where he worked in the Institute of Chemical Physics. The main subject of his research was numerical simulation of turbulent flows. In 1988, Leonid moved back to Israel and joined the Faculty of Engineering in Tel Aviv University as a professor. He continued his research in turbulence while also spending one month per year in the combat unit on reserve duty for the Israeli Defense Forces.
At some point, Leonid became interested in the commercialization of his scientific work. In 1995 L.Shtilman, A.Belostocky and L. Zaydenberg founded MuTek Solutions. Looking for an investor, Leonid met Arieh Feingold, a founder of Daisy Systems, Mercury Interactive and several other companies. By that time, Leonid was a 45 year old professor and Arieh was 48 experienced businessman. “Do you really need startup? Isn’t it better to stay at the university?” said Arie. There is no clear answer to this question – even today. At some stage, Leonid left Mutek along with D. Barboy and the two started a new company called XOsoft, which developed high availability software for servers and databases at different geographical locations. It was too difficult to be both a CEO of a substantial company and continue academic life, so in 2004 Leonid resigned from his tenured position in Tel Aviv University and moved to Boston. In 2006, both XOsoft and Mutek (renamed to Identify Software) were acquired for total $230M. In 2007, together with two other employees of XOsoft – D. Barboy and G. Rapaport– Leonid founded Viewfinity, a computer security company. The company provided solutions to manage administrator rights on Windows based computers and was installed on millions of computers worldwide. It was acquired by CyberArk in 2015.

Leonid and Irina now reside in both Lexington, MA and Tel Aviv. Leonid enjoys publishing essays in various Russian journals and has appeared on Israeli TV entertainment programs several times.  Irina and Leonid travel the world – from Alaska and Galapagos Islands to Patagonia; from Zambia and Keya to Iceland and Greenland; from New Zealand to Bhutan, China and Kamchatka. Their daughter Michaela is a software engineer in Boston. Ariel, Leonid’s son, is an entrepreneur and sold his company to Avaya in 2013. Miriam, Leonid’s first born daughter, is COO of a software company. Both Miriam and Ariel reside in Tel Aviv.

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