The stockmarket moves forward even when times are tough

TASE's Levanon won't give up on her vision for the exchange's future.

esther levanon 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
esther levanon 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you have a vision, go on with it. Adapt it to reality, but don't give up on that vision. Ester Levanon is a woman with a vision. Even in the midst of a global economic crisis, she believes that besides dealing with the crisis, she has to continue pursuing her vision. "The world goes on; you can't stop and wait for better times," says the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's CEO, a graduate of the Israeli security services, who has gained a reputation for knowing what she wants and how to achieve it. "If you have a vision, go on with it; adapt it to reality, but don't forget your vision." "We need to go on globalizing; we need to go on telling the Israeli story - which is a very good story to tell. We signed a memorandum of understanding with the Shanghai Stock Exchange last month after one of the worst weeks of the crisis. They thought it should go ahead and we thought so too. Even in bad times you have to go on." The 62-year-old former mathematician's dream is to make the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange a regional center for high-tech companies and high-tech investors. "We should find an area of expertise for the TASE and concentrate on it," she says when asked how a small exchange can stay alive and stay independent in a world of alliances between the major exchanges. "The thing Israel is best known for is high-tech. We have a lot of high-tech companies here and we have the infrastructure for high-tech - entrepreneurs, venture capital, lawyers, and all the people that specialize in high-tech. We believe we can find a way to make the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange a center for high-tech companies for our time zone, in other words for Europe." "We want companies from other countries to list here. The idea is that in addition to the "classical" companies listed on TASE, we will also be a hub for high-tech companies. For that we need to create critical mass. Once we have enough high tech companies listed on TASE, European high-tech companies will prefer to list in Tel Aviv because investors interested in high-tech will focus in Israel. It's not an easy task; in a way it's a dream, but I hope we will be able to achieve it." Asked about mergers and acquisitions between exchanges all over the world, Levanon says that she once believed that the TASE should be part of an alliance, but that since then she has come to the understanding that the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange should buck the trend and stay independent, forging relationships with several exchanges rather than committing to one. "If you look back over the past few years, a lot has gone on in the world of stock markets. We have seen mergers between the Nasdaq-OMX, New York Stock Exchange-Euronext, and an alliance between the London Stock Exchange and Milan. Six years ago, I thought that we should be part of an alliance, but then I realized that we are in no position to commit ourselves to one alliance, because once you are part of one alliance that means you gave up your relationship with other alliances. "We should do what is best for our companies and for our investors. We realized that we had to find a way to be able to stay alive in the crossfire between the "mega" exchanges, and that we had to find a way to cooperate with all those big exchanges that have a mutual interest with the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange or with Israeli companies. "That's why we started looking at things differently and decided that instead of looking for an alliance we would cooperate closely with all the exchanges." The TASE's agreements with other exchanges are part of Levanon's vision of globalization and her philosophy regarding the role of the exchange, which she sees as an ambassador for the Israeli economy. "I think it would be a huge mistake if we were to confine ourselves to Israel and to Israeli investors," says Levanon. "We live in a globalized world now; if someone wakes up in New York and decide to sell all their stocks that sends ripples around the world. "We need to provide the best service we can for our companies. If a company wants to be dual-listed somewhere else we have to acknowledge the fact that we are a small country and that it might make sense for a company, after it has been listed in Tel Aviv and grown and matured, for it to be listed on the Nasdaq, NYSE or in London, depending on its area of interest. "That's part of the reason why we signed agreements with other exchanges. We make it a point to sign agreements with the leading exchanges that are of interest to Israeli investors and Israeli companies." Levanon's eye is now trained on the East. "We are probably going to concentrate next on the East, because in a way we have covered most of Europe and the United States. We have Nasdaq and the NYSE, we have London and Euronext. That doesn't mean that there isn't more that we can do in Europe, but there is a lot of interest from the Far East. "We have a Japanese brokerage that has decided to disseminate information about the companies included in the TA-25 stock index to Japanese and Singaporean investors. They are not doing it because they are Zionists; they are doing it because they believe that there is a lot of interest in Israel and that we have a lot to offer."