Drilling and diving with Israel’s Top 10

Sammy Ofer and family, Arnon Milchan, Shari Arison, Stef Wertheimer and family, Alexander Mashkevich, Yitzhak Tshuva, Benny Steinmetz, Lev Leviev, Michael Federmann and Morris Kahn

yitzhak tshuva311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yitzhak tshuva311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel’s rich may not all have become much richer in the past year, but they’ve not all suffered too much either. Our local billionaires have long understood that you can’t put all your eggs into one basket, and they have expanded and diversified their business activities, the better to take advantage of opportunities in good and in bad times.
Some have made names for themselves for daring to take a calculated risk. Others have been burnt by the global economic crisis and the collapse of global capital markets. But Israel’s 10 richest men and women, who have built empires from bricks, knives, gems and more, are in generally robust shape, with eyes peeled for opportunities to recover lost fortunes and build new ones.
1. Sammy Ofer and family
Age: 88. Net worth: $6.5 billion. (Forbes No. 109)
Starting out as a delivery boy and then a shipping agent, Romanian-born, Haifa-raised shipping magnate Sammy Ofer, together with his brother Yuli Ofer, built up a global empire, the Ofer Brothers Group, with holdings in banking and real estate. Last September, though, he announced his formal retirement, handing over to his two sons. Eyal runs the real estate business.
Israel-based Idan is chairman of Israel Corp., which holds strategic stakes in chemicals, energy, technology and shipping through the Zim Shipping Group.
Ofer, whose family moved to Palestine in 1924 and who served in the Royal Navy during World War II, later served in the Israel Sea Corps in the War of Independence. Two years ago, he was awarded a knighthood for his services to UK maritime heritage. He has donated £20 million to Britain’s National Maritime Museum and $25 million to Haifa’s Rambam Hospital. Ofer, who spends much of his time in Monte Carlo, owns an extensive collection of impressionist, post-impressionist and modern paintings.
2. Arnon Milchan
Age: 65. Net worth: $3.6 billion. (Forbes No. 249)
An 11th-generation sabra, Milchan was born in Rehovot during the British Mandate. As a young man he played for Maccabi Tel Aviv and the national soccer team, and served both in the Lakam intelligence unit, under Rafi Eitan, and in the Mossad. Later, Milchan attended the London School of Economics and the University of Geneva. Milchan’s business career took off when he was able to turn his father’s debt-ridden fertilizer company into one of Israel’s largest agro-chemical companies.
In 1991 Milchan started a movie production company called New Regency Productions and has since become a major Hollywood producer, with such movies as Fight Club, Pretty Woman, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Once Upon a Time in America and Natural Born Killers.
Milchan has donated $1 million to the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv and pledged $100m. for a university in Galilee, should the project ever get off the ground
3. Stef Wertheimer and family
Age 84 . Net Worth: $3.5 billion. (Forbes No. 258)
German-born industrialist Stef Wertheimer is the founder of metal cutting tool manufacturer Iscar, which he started in his Nahariya backyard and for which Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway paid $4 billion (for an 80% stake) in 2006. The business is situated at Tefen industrial park in Galilee, the model of four industrial parks he has founded to foster economic growth and job creation.
Wertheimer, who fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1937 to Palestine, dropped out of high school and served in the RAF in World War II and then in the Palmah in the War of Independence. A centrist Knesset member for four years from the late 1970s to the early 1980s and a recipient of the Israel Prize, Wertheimer has over the past 30 years sought to solve socio-economic and political conflicts via education and entrepreneurship.
A strong backer of Israeli-Palestinian business partnerships, he advocates a new “Marshall Plan” for American investment in the Middle East to foster stability. A supporter of Israel’s first joint Jewish-Arab industrial park, in Nazareth, he had planned a similar park in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, that was doomed by the outbreak of the second intifada.
4. Shari Arison
Age: 52. Net Worth $3.4 billion. (Forbes No. 277)
New York-born, Tel Aviv-based Shari Arison is Israel’s (and reportedly the Middle East’s) richest woman, having inherited two of the country’s largest companies – Bank Hapoalim and real-estate and infrastructure company Housing & Construction – in addition to cruise operator Carnival Cruise Lines from her father Ted Arison. She launched her first start-up, Miya, a $100 million venture, which audits and advises on how to reduce leakage from underground water pipes, in 2006.
In 2008, Arison published Birth: When the Spiritual and the Material Come Together, in which she presents her spiritual journey and describes her vision for how to save the planet by connecting business with spirituality. The book made headlines as Arison claimed to have the ability to see into the future, and to have premonitions of global crises.
Last March, her “Ruah Tova” nonprofit group sponsored “Good Deeds Day” to encourage Israelis to get involved in volunteering. A Palestinian youth orchestra that played a concert in honor of Holocaust survivors as part of the event was condemned by Palestinian authorities on its return to Jenin.
5. Alexander Mashkevich
Age: 56. Net worth: $3.3 billion. (Forbes No. 287)
Born in Kyrgyzstan, Alexander Mashkevich built up a metals and mining empire in Kazakhstan after working as a clinical psychology lecturer until 1987.
Known for traveling around the globe on his Israeli passport, Mashkevich is the head of the London- listed Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. with interests in metallurgy, mining and banking.
The group purchased Central African Mining & Exploration Co.
(Camec) and is reportedly in discussions to purchase assets of International Mining Corp.
In recent years, Mashkevich has been active in support of Jewish life in Kazakhstan and has funded the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, which he helped establish. The group unites Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union, Asia and the Pacific.
6. Yitzhak Tshuva
Age: 61. Net worth: $2.1 billion. (Forbes No. 463)
Yitzhak Tshuva is a self-made real-estate tycoon who grew up in a one-room Netanya apartment with 10 family members after their immigration from Libya in 1948, quit formal education at the age of 12 for jobs in construction and agriculture to help support his family, and gradually amassed a fortune in real estate, construction and most recently in energy.
Through his Delek Group, which operates 232 gas stations and has interests in insurance, car dealerships and cable television in Israel, Tshuva is behind a potentially major gas find offshore north of Haifa, which is set to turn Israel into a gas exporter.
The owner of New York’s Plaza Hotel and other prime properties and condos in Las Vegas, Tshuva’s assets have suffered in the US real-estate crisis, but shares of his Delek Group are up by more than 100% over last year. He drives to work in an old Cadillac and famously chooses not to wear a watch, since his parents couldn’t afford to buy him one for his bar mitzva.
7. Benny Steinmetz
Age: 53. Net worth: $2 billion. (Forbes No. 488)
Netanya-based diamond magnate Benny Steinmetz chairs the Geneva-headquartered Steinmetz Diamond Group, which he inherited from his father at the end of the 1970s and has expanded to become the largest buyer of rough diamonds in the De Beers syndicate. Steinmetz has also invested in real estate in Kazakhstan, Russia and eastern Europe, and in the energy sector, over the past decade. His mining assets include the privately held Cunico and publicly traded Katanga Mining.
Steinmetz is chairman of the Agnes & Benny Steinmetz Foundation, which funds education and children’s welfare programs.
He is also a director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
8. Lev Leviev
Age: 54. Net worth: $1.5 billion. (Forbes No. 655)
Uzbekistan-born, London-based father of nine Lev Leviev is a diamond and real estate tycoon who has been grappling with heavy losses amid the global economic recession but may now be bouncing back amid renewed demand in the diamond sector. The world’s largest cutter and polisher of diamonds, he turned Africa Israel Investments into a multibillion-dollar empire but was hard hit by the sharp devaluation of high-end real-estate investments in the US, and had to reach an agreement with creditors to avoid having to seek bankruptcy protection.
Born into a Lubavitcher family which fled to Israel in 1971, Leviev is a major Chabad philanthropist and a supporter of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the former Soviet Union.
9. Michael Federmann
Age: 66. Net worth: $1.4 billion. (Forbes No. 721)
German-born, Tel Aviv-based Michael Federmann has built up the Federmann Enterprise conglomerate, which was started by his late father and uncle, and which has major holdings in defense electronics maker Elbit Systems and hotel operator Dan Hotels Corp. Federmann serves as chairman of the board of directors of Eurofund L.P., Elbit Systems and Dan Hotels.
Deputy chairman of the board of governors of the Hebrew University and a governor at the Weizmann Institute, his philanthropic interests cover the fields of education, culture and health care.
10. Morris Kahn
Age: 80. Net worth: $1 billion. (Forbes No. 937)
Entrepreneur Morris Kahn was the founder and one of the first investors in Amdocs, a customer-relationship managementand- billing software firm for large telecom outfits, which went public in 1998. Since making his fortune selling off his Amdocs shares, Kahn has been focusing on venture capital and philanthropy in Israel through the Aurec group, a private equity firm with holdings in cable and telecom, and Aurem Ventures, which is invested in emerging life-science and tech companies.
A strong supporter of Ben-Gurion University and the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev, former diver Kahn lives on a beachfront at Beit Yanai, north of Tel Aviv, and owns or part-owns aquariums in Eilat, Maui, the Bahamas and Australia.