Izzy Borovich Slams Bonus for Knafaim CEO, Still Wants to Sell

Borovich used to work hand-in-glove with Knafaim, which owns 39% of El Al Israel Airlines. Now he's criticizing Knafaim's management.

"A company that is losing money should not give bonuses," says Israel (Izzy) Borovich, the sole director at Knafaim-Arkia Holdings, in objecting to a NIS 200,000 bonus for company CEO Shlomo Hanael. "If anyone deserves a bonus, it is the executives of the subsidiaries, and only those who turned a profit."

The bonus was approved despite Borovich's opposition.

Borovich used to work hand-in-glove with Knafaim, which owns 39% of El Al Israel Airlines. Now he's criticizing Knafaim's management. Ever since his failed attempt to sell his 17% stake in the company to his twin brother Dedi, who owns 27% of the company with his wife, Tami Mozes, the brothers have been at odds, and this has affected the company's management.

Dedi had agreed to buy out Izzy in May 2008, at a company value of $145 million, but backed down four months later, after the company's value plummeted.

"I'm willing to sell my Knafaim shares to anyone who offers me a fair price that reflects my 22 years of work in the company," said Izzy in an interview with TheMarker last weekend, adding that he is waiting for either an attractive buy-out offer or for the company's market cap (currently $75 million) to increase.

Borovich said that if the price was right, he would even sell his shares to Poju Zabludowicz, who had expressed interest in enlarging his 17% stake in the company.

Borovich and Zabludowicz first discussed a deal in 2007, but nothing was signed, although fears of a power struggle at El Al created tensions between Borovich-Mozes and Zabludowicz. Those tensions were smoothed over and now the parties hope that any major changes at El Al will be undertaken with all the partners' agreement.

"When I look at the share [price], I feel like crying," said Borovich, "so I have stopped looking. It went down because of the market and all sorts of other reasons. I have no potential buyers right now, but the time will come. Many people are talking to me, but there are no serious offers. Maybe I'll sell to one person, or to a few investors. I hope that one of the current partners in Knafaim will buy my stake."

Borovich bought into Arkia in 1988 and worked tirelessly for many years, building that company into Knafaim-Arkia and leading the purchase of El Al, despite his board's objections. Ever since he stopped working full time at Knafaim, and reduced his involvement to a seat on the board, he has slept better at night, he said.

"No one bothers me. Wherever I used to go, people would ask me about flights and airplane meals. Now things are quiet and I don't miss it. I am finding I have more friends now," said Borovich.

Although Borovich is no longer board chairman, he still worries about civil aviation in Israel and El Al, which he believes is not set up to handle the changes in global aviation.

"[El Al] can't hide behind the government anymore, and the company has to get used to that," he said.

One of the changes is the merging of companies into mammoth "global airlines," with only coincidental national affiliations.

"Apart from Israel, the flag is one of the last factors in a passenger's choice of an airline," said Borovich. "The schedule and the price come before the nationality, because people are looking for convenience, especially businessmen. To say we are a national airline so Israelis should fly El Al is not the right policy."

Borovich recalled his biggest move as Knafaim's chairman, in response to global changes - a code-sharing agreement with American Airlines.

"That made El Al into a global airline that travelers could fly to 240 destinations a day, instead of [the previous] 40," he said.

Borovich said El Al should promote similar agreements with other airlines, although he recognizes that El Al's additional security checks deter the other airlines, which feel they impede their speed of service.

"The economic crisis in the aviation sector will last for years. Businessmen see they can solve problems remotely and are flying less. I was in New York and the hotels were empty," said Borovich.

El Al declined to comment.