Buffett Expands Abroad

$4 billion takeover of Iscar is the third-largest deal the Oracle from Omaha ever made

Guy Rolnik
Guy Rolnik
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Guy Rolnik
Guy Rolnik

OMAHA, Nebraska - U.S. tycoon Warren Buffett, who is acquiring 80% of Galilee-based Iscar Metalworking for $4 billion in his first significant deal outside the United States, hinted in an interview with TheMarker that he may buy additional Israeli companies.

The move is the third largest deal Buffet has ever made.

"We are investing $4 billion in an amazing band of people from Israel," Buffett told TheMarker on Saturday. "If your readers know a company that resembles Iscar, even a little, have them call me immediately. I want to buy. Let them call me collect."

The deal values Iscar, a leading private manufacturer of advanced cutting tools, at $5 billion and will make its owners, Stef and Eitan Wertheimer, the richest family in Israel. Iscar has its factories concentrated in the Tefen industrial zone and has additional plants around the world.

Buffett, the chairman and CEO of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, told TheMarker that in five or ten years, he could look back and say it: the Iscar takeover is one of the most significant things Berkshire Hathaway has ever done.

Iscar will be a very large and important company, Buffett predicted.

Asked what he intended to do with management after acquiring the blades maker, Buffett responded, "We'll let them be. This is why we bought the company."

Berkshire consists of all of 16 people, though the companies in its investment portfolio employ 200,000 people, he added. The job of those 16 people is to choose the best players: usually, like in Iscar's case, the players are there when we buy the companies. He wouldn't dream of changing Iscar's management, he said.

Buffett noted he expects the entire Iscar management to remain in place, including President Jacob Harpaz. Iscar President Eitan Wertheimer said: "As members of the Berkshire family, we'll be able to enjoy a stable platform committed to ongoing success."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Eitan Wertheimer last night to congratulate him on the sale. "It's terrific tidings and a great gift to the State of Israel", Olmert said. "We tip our hat to you, personally and in the name of the whole country." The Prime Minister's Office commented that Wertheimer "thanked the prime minister."

Eitan Wertheimer said selling the company for him is "lighting an economic torch," just as his father Stef lit a torch on Independence Day. According to him, Buffett's expression of faith is an important declaration for the country, "and just as they talked about the Balfour Declaration, now they'll talk about the Buffett Declaration." Olmert will speak with Buffett today. A government source said Olmert was indirectly involved in the deal.

Buffett told the annual meeting yesterday that he plans to visit Israel this year.