Benny Shabtai (Hebrew: בני שבתאי) is an Israeli American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He was the president and founder of Raymond Weil USA until 2009 when he sold his company. During those years, he helped develop the Swiss luxury watchmaker into a recognized global brand. In 2014, he and other members of the Shabtai family earned some $500 million from the sale of Viber, an Israeli instant messaging, voice and video calling app in which they owned a controlling stake.
In philanthropy, he regularly chaired the national gala dinners of the American charity, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), and is credited with bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars of donations for the cause under his leadership. Shabtai, the global Jewish leadership society based at Yale University, is eponymously named after him due to his support.
Shabtai was born in Tel Aviv and raised on a kibbutz. He has two siblings. He served for three years in the Israeli army, after which he worked as a bodyguard for the Israeli ambassador in Paris, France, where his father was stationed as an envoy. After two years living in Paris, he traveled to South Africa, which led him to working as a croupier at a casino in Swaziland. Less than two years later, he returned to Israel to rejoin the army during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
After completing his reserve duty in the war and being discharged, Shabtai relocated to the U.S. He began working at the now defunct Eastman Watch Company, an importer of inexpensive watches from Hong Kong. Shabtai soon struck out on his own. At the industry's International Watch and Jewellery Fair in Basel, Switzerland, he met Raymond Weil, the eponymous head of the Swiss luxury watchmaker. Shabtai persuaded Weil to sell him 400 Raymond Weil Watches, which he then promptly sold to two clients in the U.S. As president and founder of Raymond Weil USA, Shabtai was the exclusive distributor of Raymond Weil watches in the U.S. until 2009 when he sold the company after 33 years of working with the Swiss luxury watchmaker. Through his marketing acumen, Shabtai is credited with developing Raymond Weil into a recognized global brand.
Shabtai's entrepreneurship extended to other sectors, as he became an investor in real estate, industry, and technology. In February 2014, the $900 million sale of Viber, an Israeli instant messaging, voice and video calling app, to Japanese company Rakuten earned the Shabtai family (Benny, his brother Gilad, and Gilad's son Ofer) some $500 million from their 55.2% stake in Viber.
Shabtai is a board member of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), an American charity that supports Israeli soldiers. From 1996 to 2012, he chaired the FIDF National New York Gala Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria New York. In 2011, his fifteenth consecutive year of chairing the gala dinner, $23 million was raised at the event, to only be surpassed by the $26 million raised at the following year's gala. Shabtai is credited with transforming the FIDF national gala dinner into a star-studded event that brought in millions of dollars in donations for the cause every year. Shabtai calls his involvement with FIDF in educating the American people on the sacrifices of young Israeli soldiers and the dangers they experience as his "greatest success," adding, "It's the best thing I've done in my life. The issue is very close to me."
Shabtai, the global Jewish leadership society based at Yale University, is eponymously named after Shabtai, who began the endowment process of the organization and facilitated the purchase of its new residence, the 1882 Anderson Mansion in New Haven, Connecticut.
He is divorced from Lori (nee Weitz) Shabtai; they had three children: Nicole, Danielle and David Shabtai. In 2015, he married Stacey Cooper.