The Real Monopolies

Where does the real power lie? Not where you thought

"Journalists like Guy Rolnik, Meirav Arlosoroff, Nehemia Shtrasler and Sever Plotzker have more influence over policy makers than do businesspeople like Shlomo Nehama and Galia Maor.  Policymakers are only concerned with how they appear in the media," griped attorney Ram Caspi in his famous speech delivered last month in support of cozy relations between wealth and government.

After that ringing compliment, we have no choice but to return the favor by letting Caspi know that while journalists might have a good degree of influence, his is greater. 

In fact, his influence is so tremendous that it presents a dilemma: where should he wield it first?

Take last month, for example. Caspi's hands were full as he represented Delek Group (TASE: DLEKG) in its bid for the Ashdod refinery, a bid lost to Zadik Bino's Paz Oil Company. 

"As soon as the bid was finalized, I phoned Zadik Bino to congratulate him," Caspi, who describes Bino as a personal friend, says. 

Generally Caspi supports Paz and Bino, who are key clients.  In the acquisition deal for Bank Otsar Hahayal, for example, Caspi represented Bino's bank, Beinleumi (First International).

Their friendship, however, didn't stop Caspi from representing the competition in the Ashdod refinery race. Nor did it stand in the way when another of Caspi and Co's clients, The Israel Corporation (TASE: ILCO)  expressed interest in joining forces with Paz on the bid. Two of the firm's biggest clients on either side of the business barricade at the same time.  Who to choose?

Caspi doesn't hesitate. "Proper disclosure," he says.  "I tell all my clients who I represent within the firm and I decide on representation based upon request order.  It doesn't matter if the client is large or small.  It's about who asks first."

Trust Caspi to know where this crucifying inquiry is headed.  "(Antitrust commissioner) Ronit Kan is welcome to declare me as anticompetitive," he laughs.  "I have already publicly stated that it's the regulators running the country. But don't forget that most of the major clients in Israel don't practice exclusivity. They simultaneously work with a number of firms and that is a very good thing.  Everyone competes against everyone."

Caspi isn't the only one who can afford to joke about Kan imposing antitrust measures. Several other prominent names share his illustrious spotlight. Attorney Pini Rubin, for example, who represents Shari Arison in her legal battle for control of Bank Hapoalim (TASE: POLI), simultaneously represents Bank Hapoalim and its management. Gad Somekh appeared once again as everyone's accountant during last month's storm:  Bank Hapoalim, IDB Development Corporation (TASE: IDBD), and the Arison Holdings group - as well as The Israel Corporation's. (He?s also a close friend of Zadik Bino's).  And of course, the country's PR Man, Rani Rahav, who last month succeeded in outdoing even himself.

 Rahav (bottom left) and some of his clients.

To wit, Rahav does PR for both IDB Holdings and Shari Arison - two sides that collided head to head over buying controlling shares in Bank Hapoalim.  Rahav also serves Bank Hapoalim's Platinum Club headed by Shlomo Nehama, who is the bank's chairman and also heads up the bank's community charity fund overseen by Dan Dankner and as mentioned, serves as PR person to Shari Arison.  Now there's three clients one wouldn't want to set sail in the same boat.

How does Rahav so successfully manage to juggle such seemingly conflicted interests?  With the same ease as do Caspi, Rubin, Somekh and the other upper echelon  brokers within Israel's top tier business sector:  With relish and pride. 

They are enormously proud of having become the address for leading business figures in need of advice. They relish that being essential renders them untouchable and immune to dilemmas of conflict of interest.  Quite the opposite:  Such conflicts serve to boost their strength.

In tiny, congested Israel, the most important quality elite brokers can offer alongside objectivity is a potent personal network.  That network, made up of both government and capital investors, is what separates them from other talented attorneys, accountants and public PR people. 

That is why Caspi doesn't fret over the long arm of Kan:  His clients want him because of his borderline dealings, not despite them.