Mihail (“Misha”) Rotenberg is just a normal man, travelling between a mango garden in Tel Aviv and a vineyard in Ceptura, Romania. He has the kind of fortune others can’t wait to expose in tabloid newspapers. As a founder of the 802.11 standard (later to be nicknamed WiFi), inventor of the first Ethernet switch and of the Wireless Broadband Access, as well as founder of several important telecomm companies, Misha Rotenberg is a lot more than those “week-end millionaires” who spend their spare time hunting down paparazzi,, hoping for a front-page photo along with news about their latest blonde conquest or the latest sport car or limousine.
Unlike those “VIPs”, Rotenberg knows that having a lot of cash doesn’t build you a reputation as an analyst of international relations, doesn’t buy you authority in politics, nor does it qualify as an argument in favor of your football training skills. Even though his intellectual skills would offer him priority in front of other wealthy Romanians, and surely in front of the new generation of TV stars.
Rotenberg is everything these people are not: discreet, reasonable, modest and far from the public stage. He retired from most of his businesses, keeping a seat in just one company board, but he’s still available to invest some time and know-how in a start-up business, here and there. He invested in the Dealu Mare region, in Ceptura, in a small, 25-hectares vineyard, with a flooded and abandoned gravitational winemaking complex. He quickly put things in their right place and managed to produce a wine that was proclaimed by a jury of experts as “the best Merlot in Romania”.
Although he produces a luxury wine (considering the average price of wines in Romania), his attitude towards luxury comes as a surprise: he doesn’t fancy designer clothes, expensive timepieces, jewels and he doesn’t even enjoy travelling the world anymore. He prefers art and old musical instruments, both as hobby and investment. He still enjoys a good meal and, even then, he’s more concerned with the quality of the people around him than with the food and wine on the table.
“I never worn a Versace suit. I wouldn’t event recognize one. It was simply never one of my concerns. A lot of things in this area – of the luxury market – that represent nothing more than self-oriented eroticism, a public exposure of a financial statute, aiming at obtaining some kind of recognition. It’s symbol trafficking, and it may provide a false image of the symbol-bearer. I never bought – and I would never buy – a timepiece worth tens of thousands of Euros. I prefer a digital watch worth a few hundreds, synchronized with the most exact watches in the world, those of the orbiting satellites, with GPS capabilities – a watch offering me the instruments I need. I understand a passionate man who buys a luxury timepiece in order to open it, to turn it to pieces and make it back into a movement, a man who reads about watches, who knows what a tourbillion is and what it does. But I’ll never have a trace of respect for those who cut their suit sleeves short just so that anybody would see their platinum watch.
I prefer to spend on art. I loved art as an young man and a managed to put up quite a collection in all these years. Romanian impressionist painters, post-impressionists and a lot of avant-garde artists. Along with the paintings, I have a deep passion for old musical instruments. They have a special place in my mind: I feel that the entire history, the evolution of the humankind itself finds its landmarks in the development of these instruments. It’s both about technological evolution and the air of passed times”, says Rotenberg.
Misha spent a lot of his years travelling, from one company to another, from one conference to the next, so he really doesn’t feel the need to see the world these days. He’d rather take at least one year off, to catch his breath. Still, all that travelling helped him become a wine connoisseur. Today, his first passion is for the wine. He experimented with terroirs, yeasts, grapes and oak barrels until he managed to manufacture an exceptional wine, unprecedented in Romania. At least not from a producer who just made his first wine ever.
He just as scrupulous and meticulous with his wine as he was his entire life with the engineering businesses. He watches over the wine each and every day, wearing his rain boots in the vineyard, doing everything one could ever do to make sure his wine is ready to meet the highest demands. His only with is to put a smile on the face of the people who get to taste the wine. “This is the only business I ever had that bears my name – the Rotenberg Wine”, he says.
In a word, Misha is the kind of millionaire we’d multiply. No bling, no “faux glamour”, just a finely tuned balance between what he offers the world and what he expects in return.
Interview by Radu Rizea
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