Yitzhak Tshuva may be the most intriguing businessman in Israel, and he's certainly been one of the most creative and successful, creating value for shareholders while about it. He's a Cinderella story: a nobody hailing from a one-room apartment shared with 12 souls, whose parents didn't have the money to buy him a watch for his bar mitzvah, becomes a billionaire household name.
This has been a year of value destruction and Tshuva was not spared. He's lost billions of shekels as the value of his properties crashed and the market began to worry about debt repayment.
Specifically, they worried about Delek Real Estate, which owes more than NIS 20 billion. But the real blow was when the company suggested investors trade their bonds for others with better collateral - but at a loss of 40%. That made Tshuva the first local tycoon to hint that his company might actually not repay its debt in full.
The market's reaction was venomous. Other tycoons were sure to take his lead and write off debt, snarled players. Anybody with any long-term savings would hurt. Tshuva's offer was offensive, they said.
Yesterday Tshuva realized as much, and withdrew the proposal.
Well done, Mr. Tshuva. Instead of leading the market into the chasm, Tshuva has led it toward responsibility and integrity, just as he did when he repaid the Green debt out of his own pocket six years ago. But there's a lesson here: don't try the little man too hard. Tycoons take heed: Don't try to roll over your losses onto the man in the street.
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