Taking Stock / Who's Sorry Now, Shmuel?

You'll be sorry.

The mythology behind the wide Dankner family relates how on a winter's day back in 1999, the grand family gathered at the fourth floor offices of Bank Leumi's management to sign the first massive deal whose aim was to begin the breakup of the family power. In one corner, Nochi Dankner, the young rebel, and in the other, Shmuel Dankner, family leader.

Nochi was happy to break off from the rest of the clan, get some independence. He loathed the joint family management. Oddly, the question of whether he would buy out the others or sell out bothered him less. The main point was to take a new road, alone.

At first, Nochi was to have bought out the other households from their major family holding, Dankner Investments. These were the hey days in the telecom and media worlds, the Internet bubble period, and Dankner Investments had its fingers in Matav cable and Barak international dialing, while the cellular operator Partner was the flagship of the family.

But Shmuel didn't want to sell. We'll buy you out, he told Nochi. The young Dankner agreed. Even today, he can't forget that moment when only he and his uncle Shmuel were left alone in Leumi offices, and his uncle shot out at him: "You'll regret this."

Only a year later it was clear that it wasn't Nochi who would regret the deal. The telecom bubble had burst, and Dankner Investments shares collapsed. While Nochi, his father Yitzhak and sister Shelly took $70 million home in cash, the others in the family were left with personal large debts to Leumi and a bundle of shares worth barely a quarter of the amount of the loan.

This $70 million sent the family in different directions; Nochi used the money to buy control of the IDB group two years ago at a bargain price.

The rest of the clan that had bought him out were forced two years ago to start cashing in their assets to improve their financial situation. A year ago, they were forced to sell control in Dankner Investments to Yitzhak Tshuva for $58 million, less than a quarter the price they paid Nochi, and last week they were compelled to take an additional step, selling 30 percent of Israel Salt Industries (which holds joint control of Bank Hapoalim) to Meir Shamir for $54 million.

Shmuel Dankner's decision not to sell Dankner Investments to Nochi paved the way to turn Nochi into one of the country's five strongest businessmen. But he wasn't the only one who was saved, by chance, from Dankner Investments.

There was another investor back in 1999 in advanced talks with Shmuel Dankner over buying Dankner Investments. Like the others, he was charmed by the enormous potential of the telecom world, and he was bowled over by the possibility of buying control of a company that then typified all that was best on offer in the field.

At the very last moment, though, Shmuel Dankner got cold feet and decided not to sell, and the investor was forced to drop his plans. Instead, he had to make do with an investment that seemed far less glamorous and glittering; a plant that produced communication devices, which he had bought from the Koor concern.

This anonymous investor, who is unveiled here for the first time, has no regrets. Within four years, he has become Israel's most successful investor - his investment fund has recorded annual returns of 35 percent, a large part of which stems from the investment it chose instead of Dankner Investments.

Of course, we are talking about Ishay Davidi, the managing partner of FIMI, the most successful fund in Israel in the past seven years. Like Nochi, he also wanted to buy out Dankner Investments.

Both Nochi and Davidi admit even today that it was a matter of luck; they wanted to buy, they were wild about it, they believed in it - and it was Shmuel in the end who disappointed them.

If only Shmuel had decided to sell. Then Nochi Dankner wouldn't be king of the economy, Ishay Davidi wouldn't be king of investments, and also apparently Meir Shamir wouldn't have ended up, this week, as a partner in the biggest bank in the country.