Nochi Dankner the businessman, one of the most prominent in the Israeli economy, charmed everybody. When he entered a room, tall and upright, heads would turn to look at him almost involuntarily. Sometimes he would shoot a half-smile or a wink in the direction of one of those present, making that person feel special. Important.
Dankner was the perfect charmer. Everything matched. The handsome appearance, the smiling eyes, the style, the baritone voice, the fluent chat, everything worked in his favor in the business world, as in his private life. A sharp mind, an ability to spot business opportunities and take risks, also worked in his favor, up to a certain point. It wasn't for nothing that he reached the top. Nochi was borne along by a wave of self-confidence - occasionally excessive, some would say - all the way to the helm of the largest concern in Israel. From there, the slide to a prison cell is especially sharp and tough, and in his case it goes via a highly publicized business collapse.
Thirteen years ago, Dankner seated himself at the top of the strongest group in the economy, the IDB group. Within a short time, he took it to new peaks of power and reach, until he wrecked it with a series of mistaken decisions.
Until he was in his forties, Dankner was no more than well-to-do. Before he went into business, he was a lawyer, and not one of Israel's most prominent ones. Once he turned to business, however, his star rose. He was among the first rank of Israeli businesspeople.
Dankner is the son of Yitzhak and Zahava Dankner, a wealthy family that owned Dankner Investments. Among other things, it controlled Salt Industries, via which it owned land in Atlit that became the launch pad for Nochi and his cousin Danny Dankner, to the heights of the Israeli business world.
Nochi went to high school at the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. He served in the Israel Air Force, and on his discharge, he turned to business. The first business he set up was a wine and cheese boutique in Jaffa, which he sold after a year. In the second half of the 1970s, he studied law and political science at Tel Aviv University, and after he graduated he began as a trainee lawyer at the firm of Yigal Arnon & Co. After a few years with the well-known firm he left together with Adv. Moshe Lusky to form an independent firm. Dankner-Lusky took on many of the Dankner family businesses as clients. At that time, the "sheriff" of the family was Nochi's uncle, Shmuel Dankner (his father's brother), and relations between uncle and nephew were then excellent. Later, differences of opinion would arise between Nochi and Shmuel over the purchase of shares in Bank Hapoalim. In the mid-1990s, Nochi's cousin Danny (son of Avraham Dankner) managed to achieve rezoning of the Salt Industries land at Atlit to residential, and the value of the land became collateral for a loan by means of which Salt Industries bought its stake (about 10%) in Bank Hapoalim for NIS 1.4 billion. The loan was provided by Bank Leumi.
At this stage the cousins Nochi and Danny took the reins into their own hands. Because of the methods by which the desired agreement with the Israel Land Administration was obtained, Danny would eventually be tried and jailed for bribery in a sideshow of the Holyland affair. At this point, however, the rezoned land did what was necessary, and the Dankners bought their entry ticket to the playing field of the mighty. Danny became a director (and eventually chairman) of Bank Hapoalim, which also opened doors for Nochi, who at this time turned to business.
While still practicing as a lawyer, Dankner founded Ganden Tourism and Aviation, the private company through which he set up airline Israir, which he eventually sold to IDB in a controversial deal. There followed several real estate deals, and then came the jewel in the crown: the acquisition of the IDB group, together with the Manor and Livnat families, from the Recanati family, for $840 million.
Nochi Dankner himself brought only a few tens of millions of dollars to the deal from his own pocket, plus a great deal of finance, and in the years following the huge acquisition he enriched the concern under his control as well as his own bank account. His self-confidence in charge was at its height. Then began the business gambles and the mistakes, among them an investment in a hotel and residential project in Las Vegas that failed; the purchase of shares in Credit Suisse to the tune if billions, which caused cash flow pressure in the company; and the purchase of the Ma'ariv newspaper, which collapsed. All these things, together with the tent protest that was aimed at, among other things, several companies in the IDB group, had their share in Dankner's business crash, that turned him overnight from a highly-regarded businessman and philanthropist into a "tycoon", a term of abuse. Reforms in the mobile telephony market that hit Cellcom Israel Ltd. (NYSE:CEL; TASE:CEL), which was in the IDB group, also took their toll. These and other misfortunes brought the prosperous group to the brink of bankruptcy, and led its controlling shareholder to turn to criminal ways, in order to save the concern he headed, as the court found in convicting him. Nochi Dankner lost the concern, lost the money, and, in today's sentence, lost his freedom. Along the way, he lost the charm as well.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 5, 2016
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