WHILE FORBES Magazine is widely regarded as the most expert and accurate in the field of collating information about the fortunes of the affluent, in Israel, Maariv's business section "Asakim" has also built a reputation with regard to its annual list of Israel's 100 richest people. The Ma'ariv assessment may not always jive with those of The Marker, Globes or Yediot Aharonot, but since it came out with its list just two days prior to the Forbes publication of the Middle East's 20 richest people, it is interesting to note the discrepancies. Five of the six Israelis on the Forbes list were featured in a block beginning with Stef Wertheimer and family in 10th place with a net worth of $4.4 billion; Shari Arison 11th with $4.3b.; Lev Leviev 12th with $4.1b., Yitzhak Tshuva 13th with $4b. and Sammy Ofer and family 14th with $3.9b.
Maariv's figures were in shekels, which given the fluctuations in the rate of exchange between the shekel and the US dollar would not have coincided with those of Forbes. Ma'ariv ranked Leviev numero uno (up from 3rd place last year), Wertheimer second, Arison 3rd (down from 1st last year), Idan Ofer 4th (up from 7th last year), Tshuva 5th (same ranking as last year), Arkadi Gaydamak 6th (up from 8th last year), Haim Saban 7th (down from 4th last year), Poju Zabludowicz 8th (down from 6th last year), Morris Kahn 9th (up from 10th place last year) and Benny Steinmetz 10th (up from 11th place last year). Arnon Milchan, who was 20th on the Forbes list, doesn't rate a mention on the Ma'ariv list, nor does the Nimrodi family, which is the major shareholder in Ma'ariv.
Zabludowicz, who was born in Finland, raised in Israel and is based in London , was ranked 24th in The Sunday Times Rich List. The Marker, which in June published its list of Israel's 500 Richest People, in its 1-10 ranking, placed Leviev first, Wertheimer second, Arison third, Idan Ofer 4th, Tshuva 5th, Zabludowicz 6th, Steinmetz 7th, Kahn 8th, Gaydamak 9th and Teddy Saguy 10th.
Possibly mindful of the upcoming annual Maala conference on business leadership and social responsibility to be held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on October 15, Yediot published a list of the biggest givers. It was headed by Sammy Ofer, who last year gave away NIS 514 million, followed by Nochi Dankner, who gave away NIS 270m.; Leviev NIS 220m.; Arison NIS 180m., Gaydamak NIS 140m.; and Eitan Wertheimer more than NIS 100m.
WHILE THOUSANDS of tourists from abroad flocked to Israel for the Succot holiday period, Tshuva was in New York celebrating the centennial of the famed Plaza Hotel, his purchase of which caused great controversy two years ago. Reporting on the gala replete with fireworks event in The New York Times, Louise Kramer observed that at the lavish party, Peter Ward, president of New York's hotel workers' union, and Tshuva, whose company Elad Properties owns the hotel, seemed like best friends. "It was a big change from early 2005, when Mr. Ward vowed to block Mr. Tshuva's plans to convert most of the hotel into luxury condos and reconfigure some of its Edwardian public spaces into upscale shops, moves he contended would force union members out of work. Mr. Ward stopped protesting after intense negotiations, held at the behest of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, resulted in saving some rooms and jobs," she wrote. "From a podium outside the hotel, which is nearing the end of a $400m. overhaul, Mr. Tshuva thanked his wife, Haya, as well as the mayor and then Mr. Ward: 'Dear Peter Ward, on our teamwork, I thank you very much for being understanding and for your help.'" One can understand that Ward was upset not only from a union standpoint when Tshuva initially announced his plans for the Plaza. There was also a big slice of nostalgia involved in his opposition. Elad chairwoman Orly Daniell, who is Tshuva's daughter, hired a professional events organizer, but supervised every detail of the Manhattan happening, which included Paul Anka, one of Tshuva's favorite singers doing a reworked version of "I did it my way."
For Tshuva, who grew up in a family of 11 in a cramped apartment in Netanya, no song could be more appropriate. As a boy, he had always dreamed of building a palace. With the restructuring of the Plaza for which Elad paid $675m., he got his wish. Also performing was Israeli singer Shalva Berti, who is one of Tshuva's relatives. Gal Nauer, Tshuva's other daughter, who is an architect and interior decorator, coordinated the Plaza's renovations.
Aside from the hundreds of VIP invitees, New Yorkers came out in droves to stand behind the barricades to watch the procession of the rich and the famous as they entered the hotel. For his part, Tshuva, perhaps remembering what it was like to be on the other side of the fence, came out of the hotel and walked along Fifth Avenue, shaking hands with people in the crowd - almost as if he was standing for election.
CLOSER TO home, another Plaza was inaugurated in Beersheba. Completion of the first phase of One Plaza in the City, an ultra modern shopping mall and leisure time center, believed to be the largest in the south of the country, was celebrated with a huge happening which attracted some 12,000 residents of Beersheba and surrounds including Mayor Yaacov Terner and a large representation from City Hall. The project which sits on 56 dunams of land is jointly owned by multi-faceted investor Eliezer Fishman and Mike and Asher Oknin. The Oknin family is well known in Beersheba business circles. The first phase of the project is a floor of shops, eateries and entertainment outlets covering an area of 17,000 square meters. Another floor which will include 12 movie houses belonging to the Globus Group plus a fast food court is projected to open in the first half of 2008. The investment in the project to date has been NIS 200m.
SPEAKERS AT the annual meeting of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce at the Tel Aviv Hilton on Wednesday will include President Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On and FICC President Uriel Lynn. Peres, who has spent most of the past year advocating the importance of advancing economic relations between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority through the setting up of industrial zones in common border areas, is unlikely to miss the opportunity to once again urge Israel's business community to seize the moment and to create new economic facts on the ground that will help to bring peace just that much closer. The meeting will ratify Lynn's appointment for a further four-year term. There will be no elections because no one in the Federation's 22-member presidium was prepared to stand against him.
TRADITION AND banking somehow go hand in hand. Thus it was no surprise this past Succot when the Bank of Jerusalem hosted its annual breakfast at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem. Invitees included resident and non-resident clients of the bank, many of whom have real estate investments in the capital and/or in other parts of Israel. Branch manager and manager of International Private Banking Hillel Suna reminded his guests of the first recorded Jewish real estate transaction when Abraham purchased a burial plot for Sarah in Hebron. Suna noted that in the Biblical account of the transaction, the seller's identity is mentioned ten times, which was perhaps a prescient warning for generations to come to ascertain who actually has the right to sell an asset. Since that first purchase, Suna observed, real estate transactions in Israel have developed considerably, not only in terms of property changing hands but in conditions that help people to make acquisitions. For one thing, said Suna, Abraham used 100 percent of his own equity. Today, he could rely on mortgages.
Israeli real estate sales continue to increase, said Suna, and current indications point to a continuation of this trend. Foreign buyers, he said, are motivated by both strong Zionist feelings and by anti-Semitism. Americans continue to lead the foreign purchasers, followed by France and England. British buyers are prompted not only by Zionism and anti-Semitism but also by a steady rise in wealth and the continued strengthening of the pound sterling. Bank of Jerusalem owner Zalman Shoval, reviewing the past year, said the economy "was perhaps the only ray of light" in the Second Lebanon War. He attributed this to the economic reforms initiated by Binyamin Netanyahu during his stint as finance minister, and said that these reforms are still the basis for the present growth in the Israel economy. Despite political volatility, Shoval observed that economies are learning to function. He recalled that Israel used to believe that "unless we had peace our economy wouldn't take off." Yet notwithstanding the political upheavals, even in the last month of the Second intifada, the Israel economy did begin to take off.
COFFEE AND cake in the Succa of the Dan Panorama Hotel, Jerusalem, were provided by the Jerusalem office of Anglo-Saxon Real Estate and Leumi Mortgage Bank which also entertained resident and non-resident clients. Anglo-Saxon Jerusalem founder and managing director Werner Loval confirmed the local real estate boom. In the 50 years he has been living in Jerusalem, he said, "there have never been so many building projects as there are today."
When Anglo Saxon initially introduced its "Have a Foothold ion Israel" slogan, said Loval, it didn't realize quite how far that would go with regard to non-resident buyers. What happened was that couples bought a holiday home in which to vacation on Pessah and Succot, and didn't necessarily rent it out over the rest of the year. Thus, when their children came on study courses they availed themselves of the apartment. Then, after the children were gone and the parents' parents decided to retire they made the apartment their base while looking for a permanent residence of their own. In other words, buying an apartment in Israel creates a sense of belonging for at least three generations of a family.
With ever-spiraling prices, and buyers willing to pay them, some attendees wondered whether there were any real estate bargains left in Jerusalem. They were assured that there are, because there are always sellers who are in urgent need of cash and will sell at considerably less than market value if they have to close a deal in a hurry.
MORE THAN 30 company representatives from the East Midlands attended a special breakfast meeting in Nottingham, England, that enabled their participation in a video conference with the UKTI team in Israel broadcasting live from Jerusalem. This innovative event, which was promoted by Costa Philippou, manager from East Midlands International Trade Association (EMITA), gained the attention of many companies that are interested in expanding their businesses and entering into relationships with Israeli companies. Led by Richard Salt, director of Trade and Investment with the active participation of his deputy, Barry Grossman, and Yigal Levine, the UKTI team presented an overview of the current political and economic situation and what is involved in doing business with Israel. They then fielded some challenging questions regarding the business atmosphere, the peace process and more. The UKTI team was candid in its replies to even the toughest questions. Positive feedback received in the aftermath of the event, indicates that an increase in bilateral trade and joint ventures can be anticipated.
DIPLOMATS SERVING in Israel like to acquaint themselves with the Israel operations of companies and institutions from their home countries. Case in point was the visit to Medtronic Israel by US Ambassador Richard Jones and US Commercial Counselor John Harris. Medtronic, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, is a global leader in medical technology. Jones evinced particular interest in how Medtronic's new advanced technologies are contributing to health care in Israel through treatments for heart diseases, diabetes, Parkinson's, chronic pain and spinal disorders. Jones commented that hi-tech is one of the most dominant characteristics of America's bilateral trade with Israel. Medtronic Israel CEO Judith Gal noted that that the company operates in accordance with the world Medtronic mission, which is to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life.
MAGNOLIA SILVER Jewelry Limited has been acquired by the Markstone Capital Partners Group for a reported $30m. Magnolia has 51 retail outlets in Israel and 11 abroad. Markstone intends to enlarge the company and expand its operations to the US and Europe. Ehud Cohen, Magnolia's founder and CEO, will continue to run the company within the Markstone framework. Magnolia Silver, which was established in 1996, is one of the larger Israeli manufacturers of silver jewelry and has 350 employees.