Since becoming the new chairman of El Al Israel Airlines on Jan. 9, professor Israel "Izzy" Borovich – he's a full professor at Tel Aviv University – has set his and the airline's sights on a series of lofty goals.
These include positioning El Al as both a global carrier and niche airline, one that, in time, will expand to offer other tourism services.
While Borovich declined to reveal what those products might be – choosing not to dull a finely-honed competitive edge – he did shed some light on a general strategy.
"I believe El Al should be engaged in marketing tourism products, short of owning hotels and the like," he explained.
"El Al should be the biggest platform to market these products in Israel and around the world because aviation is a very important part of the leisure industry, and … we should use this advantage to increase our visibility and revenues."
He is confident, he continued, that this will be achieved in the next two to three years.
Among long-term plans, about which Borovich was more specific – saying they would occur "as soon as possible" without saying exactly by when – is the hope of transforming Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport into a major hub that will connect the Western and Eastern parts of the world, with increased El Al flights to Asia.
Keeping the Peace
Borovich also is a firm believer that El Al has a role to play in the peace of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East: "Achieving peace means people speak to each other and keeping it means the same, so it makes sense and it's more economical, as well, if there are flights between countries and not around them, as is the case now, for instance, with the route Royal Jordanian Airline takes to fly around Israel.
"And if you take just one flight and multiply it by all other such cases, then you see there is much work to be done to get cooperation and understanding among nations in the region."
Borovich had taken the reins of El Al following selection of a new board of directors by Knafaim Arkia Holdings, for which he had served as president and CEO since 1993. The firm operates a conglomerate of aviation/ transportation/tourism companies that includes Arkia Israeli Airlines, formerly known as Arkia-Israel Inland Airlines, of which Borovich had served as president and CEO since 1989.
"In 1988, I was the only candidate for the position of dean of the faculty of management at Tel Aviv University. However, at the same time, I was asked to become the CEO of Arkia, a position which I accepted – and I am not sorry," he said.
Knafaim is now the controlling shareholder of El Al since increasing its holdings of the airline from 22 percent to 40 percent in December 2004.
Also, Borovich announced that Knafaim intends to fully exercise its option to purchase the additional 12 percent of shares needed to raise its El Al ownership to 52 percent.
What will the ongoing privatization of El Al mean? "Well, first of all, it will still be known as Israel's national carrier. It carries the Israeli flag all over the world. That will not change," he said.
"El Al was privatized as part of Israeli government policy that the government should not control and manage companies – [which is] particularly the case with the present government, one that pays much attention to the Israeli economy. Completion of the privatization process releases the government from being responsible for El Al's results, so the 'new' El Al will have to become much more competitive and efficient."
If past performance is any indicator, the airline is in capable hands. During his tenure at Arkia, Borovich transformed the company from a domestic airline into an inclusive travel company, offering a wider array of destinations and air/hotel packages, as well as aircraft-leasing contracts with leading carriers in North America.
As a result, the company's annual revenue increased dramatically, nearly 400 percent to more than $260 million. So, in Israel, he earned the name "Mr. Aviation."
What does Borovich think of the title? "I still like to be called Izzy, not 'Mr. Aviation,' a name I really don't like. I didn't invent the aviation concept or industry; however, over the years, I have accumulated much experience in this very complex industry," he explained.
"Also, I work very closely with my twin brother David [also a prominent figure in Israel's airline industry]. We operate as one person, so a team cannot be named Mr. Aviation.
"I think because I come from the academic world, and specifically from the information technology field" – he taught information systems at Tel Aviv University from 1971 to 2002, starting the program that has become one of the world's best – "that helped to form my practice of continuously exploring and studying the aviation industry for ways to advance it.
"This helps me to always see a few steps ahead of the industry as a whole."