New Israel Chemicals CEO: Big Shoes to Fill

Stefan Borgas, its first foreign boss, takes over a company whose sales quadrupled under his predecessor, Akiva Mozes .

Yoram Gabison
Yoram Gabison
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Yoram Gabison
Yoram Gabison

"It wasn't easy finding someone to fill the large shoes of an accomplished executive like Akiva Mozes, to take us to the next step," said Israel Chemicals Chairman Nir Gilad on Friday, summing up the selection process of his designated replacement as president and CEO, Stefan Borgas.

Accolades like this are regularly heard on such occasions, yet the dry figures best convey just how high Mozes set the bar for whoever follows him: ICL's sales turnover quadrupled during his tenure to $7 billion while its workforce grew just 13%, such that sales per employee more than tripled.

Net income increased 14-fold and the company's market value soared from NIS 5 billion to NIS 61 billion - and all this was after distributing NIS 22 billion, which provided shareholders with 3.5% to 7.0% in dividend yields during the past five years.

His successor,. age 48, served as CEO of the Swiss pharamceutucals company Lonza AG, until he was dismised last January, and has been a director of Syngenta AG. He will assume his new post September 20.

The directors approved his appintment after an eight-month search.It will be first time that ICL, which under Mozes became a mutlinational, is headed by a foreigner.

Gilad, who is also CEO of The israel Corporation, ICL's parent, said about half the foreign candidates who presented themselves dropped out when they were informed they would ahve to reside in Israel if the won the post.

Those who are less generous with Mozes' legacy say it was the sharp rise in potash prices that was really behind ICL's profits and takeoff in share price, but while that idea contains a grain of truth it ignores several facts: Potash output at the Dead Sea grew by 1.15 million tons during Mozes' term, not including another 500,000-ton expansion to be completed in 2015, and also two European producers were acquired - raising potash output by another 2 million tons.

During Mozes' tenure, ICL's two other cornerstones - bromine-based products and performance products - were also strengthened, with the operating profits of these divisions tripling and increasing 16-fold, respectively.

These achievements, his ticket into the select pantheon of Israel's finest all-time business executives, stand out in sharp contrast to any signs Mozes showed in his youth. His parents ran a newsstand in Haifa's central train station, and when he wasn't busy helping them by chasing away encroaching newspaper hawkers or catching filchers, Mozes spent most of his time at matinees or at the district courthouse. Not surprisingly, he was considered a troublesome and poor student at Bialik High School in Hadar Hacarmel.

His ambition began to take hold later in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's economics department, where he completed his undergraduate degree with honors and went on to a master's degree while serving as teaching assistant to Prof. Marshall Sarnat. Following the Yom Kippur War Mozes received offers from insurance companies and Israel Shipyards, but instead chose an economist position at the then-recently established, government-owned Arad Chemical Industries.

Arad Chemical gambled on a costly production process that turned out to be one of the most traumatic fiascoes in the annals of the chemicals industry. In 1976 what was left of the company merged into Negev Phosphates, also government owned. Expecting a pink slip, Mozes was astonished to be promoted as manager of the merged company's economic department, and soon afterward advanced to the position of CFO.

Mozes got his first shot at displaying his managerial talents when appointed CEO of Negev Do Brasil in 1979. On discovering the difficulties of selling phosphates without an import license enabling use of a Brazilian cargo ship, he came up with the idea of leasing ships from Negev Star - a shipping company jointly owned by Negev Phosphates and Zim Integrated Shipping Services - to the Brazilian shipping company Lloyd Brasileiro on a cost-plus basis.

Brought back home

The maneuver not only turned Negev Do Brasil into Brazil's largest phosphate rock importer, but was so successful that it was also appointed Lloyd Brasileiro's exclusive agent for bulk shipments from Mediterranean ports, thus providing it with a sideline for additional income.

In 1982, Mozes was offered the position of managing Amfert, a Dutch fertilizers producer that had just been acquired by ICL. Under his care Amfert doubled its production capacity and went from being inefficient and over-staffed to profitable. Amfert today is one of the Europe's few surviving producers of fertilizers and also serves as a distribution channel for Israeli fertilizers in the European market.

In 1989, after 10 years abroad, Mozes was finally brought back to Israel where he merged Amfert and Rotem, ICL's local fertilizer company. A year later he merged Negev Phosphates into Rotem Amfert, a necessary but painful move that saw many employees let go. Within just a few years Rotem Amfert Negev became a key profit center for ICL, in general.

Mozes might have remained relatively obscure in the dusty Mishor Rotem industrial zone had the Israeli government not decided to go public with ICL shares in 1992 and to sell its controlling stake in 1995 to Shaul Eisenberg's Israel Corporation, which won out over Koor Industries and Arison Investments. Eisenberg's death in 1997 and the expiration of a special tax exemption enjoyed by Israel Corporation led to the sale of its controlling stake to the Ofer family.

ICL at the time was an unfocused and inefficient holding company with little influence over its three main concerns and five publicly traded companies, all operating autonomously. On his appointment as CEO in April 1999, Mozes immediately reversed the strategy, turning ICL from a holding company into an operational enterprise by buying up all outstanding publicly held shares of subsidiaries, unleashing all their operational synergies, and putting an end to conflicting interests.

Israel chemicals plant in HaifaCredit: Hagai Fried
Stefan Borgas.Credit: Lonza Cologne GmbH
MOZES' LEGACY: Changes in ICL's key operational figures on Akiva Mozes' watch.



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