Taking Stock / The Chance of Bachar's Lifetime

Joseph (Yossi) Bachar was in Mexico when the call arrived, telling him the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen had collapsed. He went into shock.

Joseph (Yossi) Bachar was in Mexico when the call arrived, telling him the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen had collapsed. He went into shock. Just a few months earlier, Andersen had been one of the strongest, proudest brands in the accounting world, a mammoth, a world leader, with 85,000 employees.

Yet, poof! Gone. Evaporated, disappeared. And the accounting firm of Luboshitz, Kasierer & Co, which Bachar led, not only represented Andersen in Israel, but was also part of the great global partnership. Andersen's fall not only left Luboshitz, Kasierer without an international partner, but with unnerved customers jumping ship in droves and facing a towering pile of lawsuits.

Tough times like that test the mettle of a manager, and Bachar passed the test. He guided Luboshitz, Kasierer to safe harbor, into a partnership with Kost, Forer & Gabbay. Some of Bachar's partners may have expected better, but they also knew the firm could have foundered entirely.

Open doors

After concluding the merger with Kost et al, Bachar was open to suggestions. He politely turned down the first offer, to become the next Supervisor of Banks at the Bank of Israel. But when Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that he take over as director-general of the Finance Ministry, he decided to accept.

He'd been warned time and again. He had been told the job was a showpiece devoid of power, that the true clout lay with the department chiefs, and that the only decision a treasury director-general could make on his own, apparently, was where to have lunch.

But Bachar bit. I'll find ways to wield influence, he vowed, certainly in areas where I have expertise, such as the capital market, taxation, or encouraging investments.

And he found ways. Two months ago Netanyahu appointed him head of a team setting guidelines for reforming the capital market. A team, not a committee. Enough committees had sat endlessly, discussing every last comma; it was time for action.

Vague, hazy and stuttering

Bachar's team has been working for weeks and yesterday Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found that it means to submit its first recommendations within a month.

Bachar meanwhile has been very vague, hazy and mainly hesitant when talking about the team's conclusions. Somehow the spirit of revolution, or at least great change, is not in evidence.

It may be a matter of style. Bachar is known for his courtesy and caution, not for tub-thumping. The treasury has no shortage of bureaucrats with inflated egos who would do anything for a headline about reforms; that isn't his way.

But a nasty feeling lurks that Bachar is feeling stressed, that he hasn't decided if he wants to, or can, spearhead fundamental reform of the capital market and banking system.

It would be a great pity. This is a rare window of opportunity to reform the capital market and release the banks' chokehold on investors and savers. There is a feeling that things that have been talked about for the past 20 years now could actually be done.

There is sweeping public support. There is a Knesset whose populism is actually stronger than its cowering before the banks and tycoons. There is wholehearted support by the Bank of Israel and the macro-, and micro-, economic conditions are stable.

No walk in the park

Of course it won't be easy for Bachar. They're all his friends - the bankers, the controlling shareholders, the accountants, the lawyers. He is flesh of their flesh, he has lived and broken bread with them, they are his milieu. And when his contract at the treasury ends, he'll be back in bed with them, too.

But Bachar has to put that aside. He, more than any other bureaucrat in Jerusalem, could rise above his friendships and natural tendency to identify with his old partners, customers and cronies. That is because unlike the rest of the Jerusalemocrats, Bachar is set up. He doesn't need anybody to arrange a job for him. His protracted stint as leader of a major accounting firm in Israel has made him a very wealthy man. For him, the job at the treasury isn't a springboard to a pile of cash in the business sector.

Sometimes a person encounters the chance of a lifetime to make a mark, to lead, to change, to do the right thing. Bachar now has that chance.

It would be regrettable if he settles for some emasculated version stuffed with petty little suggestions such as abolishing stamp tax, or allowing short-selling of shekel bonds or tax tweaks. All that is nice enough, but it misses the point and one doesn't need a treasury team for that, or a reform either.

Yossi Bachar, this is the chance of your lifetime. The window of opportunity is open. The hearts and minds around you are willing, the minister wants it. Put all those interests aside and do the right thing, the thing you believe in.