Saban Hires a Macher

Bezeq (TASE: BZEQ) has a brand new chairman. At the end of last week, the company announced that it would be naming Dov Weisglass, formerly the bureau chief for Ariel Sharon, to chair its board of directors.

Weisglass is close not only to Sharon. The energetic, astute lawyer is a general favorite, being equally talented at telling jokes and at networking with the powers of the nation, the uppermost party hacks and businessmen and the media stars.

At the Prime Minister's Office, Weisglass made hay, and not only because of the former prime minister's frequent need for his man's advice on legal and criminal matters. His natural amiability and his talent at making friends bridged many a gap and dissolved dissensions. He also served Sharon faithfully in foreign missions, softening Israel's foreign relations with the U.S.

But Bezeq is not the Prime Minister's Office. It is a giant company whose management deals day in and day out with questions of cutting-edge technology, of its gigantic reserves of hundreds of millions of shekels, of its nationwide logistics, the routine management of thousands of workers, mass marketing and business strategies.

What it takes to chair a company

If Bezeq had remained a government company (it was privatized in September 2005), Weisglass would probably not be considered to have the qualifications to head its board of directors.

Under the law, the chairman of a government company must have five years' experience at least in managing a company of comparable magnitude. Without some business experience, the legislators felt, the chairman would have difficulty properly overseeing the management.

But Bezeq's buyers - Haim Saban, the Apax investment fund, and Mori Arkin (of Agis Industries fame) don't need a person with business experience. They can provide that. what they need is what Weisglass has in spades: charm and network.

It has been said that one fruitful meeting with the communications minister can do more than any clever business plan, or investment in some smart new service.

A chairman like Dov Weisglass is worth his weight in gold (or stock options). He can ring up the prime minister (now Ehud Olmert) at any time and ask him to intervene on Bezeq's behalf in any conflict with the Communications Ministry.

Warren Buffett invested in Iscar based on the belief that Israel is a normal western sort of country. But Weisglass and the Bezeq buyers know the truth: real business in Israel gets done through machers. Fixers. People who know people, the latter people being the regulators. A wink here, a nudge there, a chat in the corridor and phone bills rise through the land. Rivals get crushed like cockroaches and the telecommunications monopoly sails on.