Ericsson, Lucent and Nortel are courting him aggressively. Cisco wants to involve him in setting up the world's first operating system consisting entirely of Internet telephony. ECI Telecom is slavering for a slice of the pie. The man of the moment is Shaul Shani, general manager of GVT, which is about to establish an inland communications network over one third of the territory of Brazil. The network, which will serve will 40 million inhabitants, will consist exclusively of optic fibres, wireless technologies and Internet telephony.
Shani commenced his high-tech career at age 28. Today, seventeen years later, he controls holdings in various companies worldwide, with an aggregate market value of more than $1.5 billion and an annual turnover of several hundreds of millions of dollars. Even so, his fame was confined to a small circle of old acquaintances, mainly in the software sector. Now, since GVT has won the Brazilian tender for setting up a $550 million network, he is about to become one of the best-known Israelis in the international communications market.
Shani is not prepared to talk about the pre-1982 era. In that year, he established and managed Oshap Technologies together with Shlomo Dovrat and Oded Poleg (the company was sold this past year). In 1984 he established and managed both Tecnomatix and Tovna, which was sold to an Italian concern.
In 1986, Shani relocated, electing to live mainly in the US and Britain. That same year, he and Ron Zuckerman set up Eurosoft, and in 1990, he established and started to manage software company Sapiens. He returned to Israel in 1994. Acting through a partnership in Limon, together with Zvika Limon and Danny Tokatli, and while representing a large European group of investors named Magnum, he invested in various companies. The two best known of these investments are DSPG, in which Magnum hold the controlling interest, and GVT, also controlled by the company.
GVT was founded in April 1998, as a satellite communications operator based on the VSAT technology developed by Gilat Satellite Networks. Magnum currently holds 55% of the company. Shareholders of US investment bank Merrill Lynch hold 20%, Clal Information Technologies 10%, Discount Investments and PEC 10%, and Gilat Satellite Networks 5%. Gilat is shortly expected to convert $7.5 million worth of debentures, which will be injected into the company, increasing its shareholders' equity to $50 million. Gilat's stake will increase to 20%, at the expense of the Magnum group, which will be down to 40%. The founders' agreement gives Gilat an additional option to further increase its holdings.
GVT was founded as an Israeli company. Until recently, it worked out of the offices of Gilat Satellite Networks in Petah Tikva, but company management recently relocated to the US, and now operates out of offices in Florida.
The new network in Brazil is scheduled to go into operation in June 2000. ECI Telecom, of course, has still not become an Israeli Nokia, but we do seem to have an Israeli communications operating firm playing in the same field as Baby Bells of the United States, Bell Canada, AT&T, Telecom Italia, France Telecom, NTT and Deutsche Telekom. No little credit for this success goes to Shaul Shani.
Published by Israel's Business Arena December 28, 1999