Few foreign investors have done as well on an investment in Israel as the seven Canadian Jewish families who founded a small Kiryat Gat factory under the odd name of Cham. With an original $12,000 investment and a $500,000 loan in 1970, Cham has since distributed $12-14 million, and trades at a value of NIS 220 million.
The company has done well by its public investors too since it first turned to the stock market to raise funds (NIS 13 million) in 1992. This must be because the company put the money where it counted, parlaying what was then $12 million in annual sales up to its current figure, $113 million a year.
Cham is engaged in the manufacture of raw materials for the foodstuff industry as well as providing technology and services to the sector, and is now one of the three largest companies in the U.S. in the manufacture of powdered eggs and is the second largest tomato powder producer in the world. Cham can boast foodstuffs titans like Unilever, Nestle and Pillsbury among its clients.
Cham managers are currently conducting a road show among financial market players. The company seeks to issue NIS 100 million in convertible corporate bonds.
Cham may have started out in Kiryat Gat, and trade in Tel Aviv, where its share price jumped 200 percent in the past half year, but it found its real business potential much closer to home for its founders - in the U.S. Despite years of profits, its business growth came in the past three years through a series of acquisitions and a substantial restructuring led by 34-year-old CEO Shai Shabi. Shabi is in Israel to join the door-to-door roadshow among institutionals with underwriter Hapoalim-IBI. Shabi replaced his father Michael, who ran Cham for 30 years until December 2002, and who now serves as an outside consultant.
"When he was 12 years old, he went with me on business trips to Japan and the U.S., so he's been learning the business for a long time," the proud father recalls. The pair, along with other family members, hold 32 percent of Cham, which they bought up over the years, making them the second largest shareholder after the Canadians.
This week Cham reported NIS 150 million in revenue and NIS 12 million in profits for the first quarter 2004, up from NIS 106 million in revenue and NIS 1.8 million in net profits for the parallel period last year. Shai Shabi attributes the leap to the maturation of certain acquisitions and business moves, although some institutional investors say that unusual business performance before a bond issue is suspicious.
Michael Shabi has an alternate explanation: the Americans' fickle relationship with the components of the food pyramid. Egg prices have skyrocketed, he says, riding the resurgence of the low-carb Atkins diet.
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