Shlomo Shmeltzer, Who Built an Empire Around His Car Leasing Business, Dies at 67

Shmeltzer, a hands-on manager, was also known as a tough bargainer who loved to acquire failing businesses.

Tomer Noyberg

Shlomo Shmeltzer, who began his career repairing cars but eventually became a key figure in Israeli business, died suddenly on Tuesday. He was 67.

He was the controlling shareholder and chairman — and the brains — behind S. Shlomo Holdings, a car rental, leasing and service company that over the years branched out into other sectors. In one of his last major transactions, Shmeltzer three weeks ago agreed to acquire Sonol, one of Israel’s biggest energy companies, from the Azrieli Group for 450 million shekels ($131 million).

Born in Haifa in 1947, Shmeltzer began his business career at his father-in-law’s Haifa car repair business in the 1970s. At the time of his death, he lived in Savion. His two sons and a son-in-law work in his business.

Shmeltzer was known as a hands-on manager who was involved in all aspects of his businesses. Over the years, his closely held Shlomo Group evolved from a auto-leasing company, known as Shlomo Sixt, to a conglomerate holding a diversified portfolio of investments and employing more than 5,000 people in fields including contracting, energy, real estate, infrastructure, shipping and hotels. It has annual revenues estimated at more than 5.5 billion shekels and is valued at about 2.5 billion shekels. Although stock in S. Shlomo Holdings is not publicly traded, its bonds are.

Shmeltzer enjoyed an outstanding reputation in the capital markets and in the banking sector, working primarily with Leumi Partners, the investment banking affiliate of Bank Leumi.

At the time of his death, he had been wrapping up the financing to buy Sonol. The thinking in the market was that Shmeltzer would not encounter any difficulties securing the capital due to his reputation in the business community and the fact that his assets are not encumbered for the most part.

Shmeltzer was known as a tough bargainer who loved to acquire failing businesses. One example was Tadiran Telecom, which he bought after it ran into liquidity problems. Another was Afcon Industries, now known as Afcon Holdings, which he bought in 2003 after it went into receivership.

“That’s how you get the best price,” he explained in a 2009 interview with TheMarker, explaining his penchant for buying companies in bankruptcy.