Taking Stock / The King of Keshet

Almost every paper worth its salt in Israel ran an in-depth interview with Uri Shenar last weekend. The deposed president of Channel 2 franchisee Keshet gladly seized the opportunity to share his claims and complaints against the Keshet shareholders who showed him the door.

Shenar is convinced he has been reamed and steamed, actually duped and defrauded, that he is a unique person of higher principles who has fallen victim to brutal, cynical corporate owners.

The fact that he received NIS 20 million in pay from Keshet over the years - NIS 9 million in the last year alone - is not pertinent to the issue at hand, in his eyes. It's just a petty little detail, a personal element unworthy of inclusion in the debate.

Shenar thinks his mistake was placing his trust in Keshet Chairman Mozi Wertheim, who had been a close friend, a real father figure; and in the promises of Haim Saban and Bank Leumi, run by chief executive Galia Maor, who actually own Keshet.

But Shenar's real mistake was something else entirely. Shenar committed the oldest sin of them all, one that has cost more managers their heads than any other mistake. The more successful Keshet became, the more he believed what the press wrote about him and what the sycophants said about him - that he was the best, that he was one of a kind.

Way beyond business norms

No question about it, Shenar had a very successful career at Keshet. The company was far more profitable than Reshet and Telad, the other two franchisees sharing Channel 2. It did well by its shareholders. Moreover, Shenar proved to have striking skill at maneuvering among regulators, politicians, shareholders and the press.

But Keshet became less and less dependent on him in recent years. Chief executive Avi Nir was the one who handled the actual television work, while Shenar concentrated mainly on higher politics, public relations and handling the shareholders.

Even though Shenar became less and less crucial to Keshet's affairs, he continued to be paid hand over fist. The share he carved from the company's profits each year was way, way beyond the norms in the business sector.

Shenar's luck was that the chairman and main shareholder, Mozi Wertheim, was fond of him. Through Shenar, Wertheim controlled Keshet and was prepared to pay the young man enormous salaries, as long as Shenar continued to supply him with the special perquisites that go with owning the strongest broadcast company on Channel 2.

His protracted run of success and his relations with Wertheim skewed Shenar's concept of economic and corporate reality. He sincerely believed he was the best of the best, that however outrageous his pay, he was worth every penny, and that even though he operated in a competitive marketplace, he didn't have to prove his worth day in and day out.

When Haim Saban stepped into the picture, and Keshet had to fork over an enormous sum to the state treasury to win the Channel 2 tender and keep its franchise, it was clear that the challenge the company faced - vis-a-vis returning the massive investment - was greater than ever, and that the shareholders would be more demanding.

Writing was on the wall

Shenar should have read the writing on the wall. He should have realized that the gauzy days of his friendship with Mozi, and everybody at Keshet obeying his every word, were over.

But Shenar insisted on understanding nothing. Instead of adapting to the changing reality, he tried to impose his will on everybody. Instead of coming to terms with Avi Nir's growing independence, deriving from his talent and success, he tried to have Nir fired. Instead of accepting the suggestion that he be named a somewhat less active chairman, Shenar insisted on remaining the King of Keshet.

He had an opportunity to make it right and reconnect with reality when the board offered him the job of business development overseas. But then he made an even bigger mistake: He took the dispute public. He started tarring the company that had supported him for 10 years, and dragged the parties into an ugly, mud-slinging match.

The only loser in this war was Shenar, a man who will go down in history as letting his ego rule his life. The shareholders - Wertheim, Saban, Maor and their representatives - have not lost one single hair from their heads or one second of sleep over the affair.

The story of Uri Shenar, the deposed King of Keshet, should serve - for all those brash, young uber-managers on the business scene - as a warning of the dangers that lurk. Nobody can afford to assume that what lifted them high will last forever; nobody can afford to simply ignore changes in reality, or to assume that solid, long-term friends will stand by their side in a collision with economic reality.