"Who's Moti Ben-Moshe? It's me, a private entrepreneur who built up his businesses with his own two hands, from a first software company that I founded after my army service, with a $5,000 loan against my demobilization grant, to the telecommunications businesses that I developed in Europe. I started in Germany, where my main activity still is, and from there I carried on."
Last week, Ben-Moshe (39) spent a day in meetings with teams from the Israel Securities Authority and the Official Receiver. Files, details of group structures and company ownership, letters from German banks, reports of consultants appointed by Hagai Ullman and Eyal Gabbai, the observer and expert on behalf of the court, were all handed over. "I don't wish to comment on those conversations, except to say that I stressed that whatever else they might require, they would receive." After that, the evening news editions on the television channels came out with this item: the man to whom the IDB creditors recently chose to sell the business, a transfer that the court confirmed, has a mortgage on his house in Modi'in and a car with an attachment order on it. That's how a billionaire lives?
Patiently, and with understanding, he explains: "We bought the house in 2006, the mortgage is at 1.25%, so why should we rush to repay it? The car is registered in the name of an inactive company." It then turns out that he himself had told the mortgage story with a smile in conversation two days ago.
Who's the owner of your businesses, who are the partners?
Just you? By yourself?
You went to Germany after the army. Did you try to make it in Israel first?
"It was impossible to do it in Israel. You have to understand: the telecommunications and energy markets in Europe were opened up to competition in 1998. The EU forced competition on the markets, chiefly energy and communications. At the time, to obtain a telecommunications operator license in Germany cost €4,000 or deutschemarks. Today it's less. You didn't need to have your own transmission infrastructure, you could lease infrastructure from wholesale providers. We hooked up to Telefonica Deutschland. That's how we began."
A young Israeli, straight out of the army, from Yeshivat Nehalim, living in Lod, understands developments in the EU telecommunications market?
"We live in a sophisticated world. The information was published in the press and media at the time around the world and in Israel too. The recommendation to open up the market was known."
That's how you got the idea?
"I'm not the only one, I didn't invent the wheel. Plenty of other people, beginners like me, were at work at that time in various fields in the EU. Two years later, in 2003, we set up the first telecommunications company. Telefonica Deutschland managed the network, I sold the packages to the German consumer. Within a fairly short time of 6-8 months I reached a market share of between 4% and 5% of total fixed-line call minutes in Germany."
"I sold the cheapest packages there were. We, the companies I own, are rated the leading discounters in every field in which we operate, in communications, energy, insurance and tourism. Our brands are well recognized: Extraenergie, Prioenergie, Hitenergie. They are in first place on price comparison websites. Our response time to any change in tariff or package in any field in which we operate is measured in hours, if not minutes."
You’re a discount seller.
"One that tries to put together as many products and services as possible that my customer base can benefit from, and also tries to make a profit along the way."
You talk about 'we', a sensitive word in your case.
"Yes, that's what comes naturally to me. I'm a believing Jew. Everything I have, I received from the Almighty. I have no flesh and blood partner. My wife and I lead modest lives, and that's how we educate our children. I don't believe in being just out for myself, or that everything is down to me, and in all humility I say that it would do no harm if other people too learned to behave a little more modestly."
The question is, how long will the modesty last as a billionaire?
"I'm one already and I haven't changed, the house hasn't changed, my life hasn't changed."
You live in Germany?
"We returned to Israel in 2002. During the week, I'm in Germany, my wife and children are in Modi'in. I generally travel on Sunday or Monday and return on Friday. I have nine centers of operations, six in Germany, one in Vienna, one in Delhi, and one in Birmingham, England. My apartment is in the group headquarters in Neuss, two minutes from Dusseldorf. It's a 50 square meter loft apartment in an office building. Sure it's adequate. I leave the office at 2-3 am and return there at 9 am. I travel about between the centers, but I try to do that less today. In the past I did it more."
And if you gain control of IDB?
"Certainly I'll be here more."
Why are your companies registered in the Virgin Islands, a tax haven, and not necessarily respectable?
"With the scale of businesses that I run, it's a standard structure."
Why didn't you reveal your businesses at the start?
"All my businesses are private, wholly owned by me. I didn't think that I needed to declare or report all the activity outside Israel except to the proper authorities when the time came."
Does it embarrass you that now you have to do that by order of the court?
"Absolutely not. I unambiguously declared in court that I would do it, and even before that in all the documents submitted in the weeks before the improved bid was filed."
I have plans for every company in the group
What do you need IDB for?
"The challenge of running this group is amazing; the potential I see in the group's assets it's extraordinary. Many people said to me that there was no room for enhancing IDB's assets, that the bid we made was too high, and that the chances of us recovering the money was were investing were slim. I, unlike other people, am not a financial investor but a strategic investor. Everyone who knows me on the Israeli capital market, and I have met everyone I could on the market in the past few months, has come to realize that the degree of my involvement in the details of each and every one of the companies in the group is something they themselves described as extraordinary."
A diligent student then.
"I'm self-taught. I study and analyze businesses, financial statements, and operating methods. I know that there is plenty of room for creating value."
An asset sell-off?
"I haven't gone into the group in order to sell assets. I can tell you that I have already received countless approaches to sell various group assets, and I rejected them all. In general, anyone who examines my business history will find that I have never sold an asset in my life. That doesn't mean that I won't do so in the future, but it's not what characterizes my style of activity."
Clal Insurance is in the process of being sold. If you take over the business before the deal is signed, will you cancel it?
"I think that there is massive potential in Clal Insurance. I think that Izzy Cohen is doing excellent work. I think it's a mistake to sell the company."
Can you pull out?
"Agreements must be honored, but if the sale deal that Nochi Dankner hatched under pressure does not go ahead, I certainly won't be sorry.
"Unfortunately at this time I am prevented from detailing my future plans because of confidentiality agreements that I signed with the companies in the course of carrying out due diligence. But I have an orderly plan for every single one of the companies in the group."
Will the managers whom Nochi Dankner appointed remain?
"I don't want to comment about specific people. But I say clearly: Anyone who puts the good of the company before his own personal benefit and can enhance the value of the company on the basis of our vision, that of my partner and me, is invited to stay."
What is the division of the partnership between you?
"I agreed with my partner Eduardo Elsztain on a 50-50 division. It’s true that at the time that we transferred the cash I transferred more than him, but his group is now working on evening up the amounts, so we are half-half in everything."
Are you capable of working with a partner?
"I think that I'm an open person who knows how to listen. I'm happy with the partnership."
In early November you said, 'Elsztain is a financial investor who fell in love with the position. I'm not looking to make a killing on IDB like Elsztain.'
"I must point out that that was said on the basis of information given to me by people involved in the deal, but when I got to know the man I was glad to find that we have a vision in common. We sat for hours, went over each company, how it's managed, its aims, its vision, and we realized that there's a basis for working together."
How far do you intend to be involved in management?
"I intend to devote to IDB's business activity all the time that is required."
Will you be chairman?
"I'm not looking for positions, I've come to work."
Chairman carries a good salary.
"I have already declared that one of the changes that I intend to introduce for a start is to draw a salary of one shekel."
"I hope that a role will be found for me."
Who will be group CEO?
"We are in negotiations with senior managers in the market, some of whom hold active posts in the economy's leading companies."
The salary will Dankner-style? That is, many millions a year?
"I don't intend to comment on that, or to conduct negotiations via a newspaper."
You consider yourself a modest man. Will you run a modest operation?
"A great deal more modest."
You spoke before about the great challenge of leading IDB. Isn't there a personal angle here too, to prove something to someone?
"First of all, I'm in this to make money. Secondly, in the past decade, in every sector that the companies I own have entered, we have brought high added value to European consumers. I should point out that in Europe competition is far stronger than in Israel, and regulation is no less strict. I believe that we will also be able to do this in the Israeli market in the areas in which IDB is active, and in additional areas."
As a country we are on the cusp of a consumer revolution, in competition and prices that at least is the hope.
"The fact that we are the biggest discounter in Europe and generate competition in every industry in which we operate will also have a significant effect on the Israeli consumer. I have absolutely no doubt about that."
What's the nature of your energy business in Europe?
"We provide power and gas to private and business consumers."
What will you do with that here?
"The Israeli regulator has been talking for a long time about structural separation in the power industry, and I believe that this will happen in the coming years. This will open up the supply market. Just as at one time there was only Bezeq, and now there are all kinds of telecommunications companies, so with energy, additional providers will arise. Given the current consumer price of energy in Israel, I have no doubt that it's possible to save thousands of shekels on energy expenses for every family in Israel."
You know, we are pretty fed up of promises. You talk very ambitiously, and we develop expectations, and we are not especially tolerant of those who fail to meet them.
"I haven't yet started to make promises. Besides, I am one of those who keeps promises. I have demonstrated this unequivocally."
"They were scared of Dankner"
The closed club of the business elite worked against you.
"That was the case until a week ago, until the vote in the bondholders meeting. And lo and behold, at that moment it was as though a dam broke, and I realized how much Nochi Dankner held the Israeli capital market in a vise and how scared they were of him."
"People in the capital market, and I admire their candor, came up to me and said that they were afraid to vote for my bid, because of the fear that if we didn't win, Nochi would know about it and would settle accounts with them. The moment I left a meeting with a manager in a financial institution, and sometimes during the meeting, he would receive a call from someone, someone in IDB, who said to him: I know you have met with Ben-Moshe this or that amount of time and you spent less time with us. Sometimes it was Nochi himself, I heard his voice on the phone from the other side of the desk. For me, this made it obvious how much panic there was."
You know that we're in a trauma here over the leverage of which Dankner is one of the main engineers. To what extent do you like to leverage your businesses?
"As I have stated: to this day I have never leveraged any of the companies I control. Everything is financed from regular activity. What's more, all the companies under my control today, and there are a lot of them, currently have zero debt."
Did you consult rabbis over the deal? Do you take advice from rabbis?
"I'm a religious person. I respect rabbis very much, but I don't consult them on matters that are not to do with religious law."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 23, 2013
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