Johnson MBA students discover Israel’s many gems
Israel is a country full of contradictions; the lush heights of Jerusalem stand in stark contrast to the nearby bone-dry Nagev desert. Old narrow streets of Jerusalem have little in common with modern glitzy night-life of Tel Aviv. Optimism in the business community differs greatly from political disarray that weighs on the minds of Israel’s many people.
To the 30 Johnson students who attended the school’s first-ever academic trek to Israel in March, the country was a fascinating amalgamation of history, politics, culture, biodiversity, and yes, even business. In a matter of hours, we zipped from Tel Aviv’s hot startups and night clubs to a remote Bedouin camp in the Nagev desert. In one instance we were driving in the most sophisticated electric cars ever designed; in the next we were riding camels into the sunset, reflecting on how so much diversity and complexity could be jammed into such a small country.
Within hours of landing we anxiously awaited the arrival of President Shimon Peres to a Q&A session co-hosted between Johnson, MIT, and Stanford in a magnificent ballroom at the famous King David Hotel in Jerusalem. When Adnane Meziane, MBA ’11, asked President Peres how he envisioned Israel’s economy taking shape, he answered: “I see Israel with an economy as old as the Ten Commandments but as modern as nanotechnology.” He argued that Israel doesn’t have a choice but to pursue science and technology, saying: “We have superior technology and are prepared to share it with the world.”
Johnson students also enjoyed several fascinating corporate visits. Johnson alumnus Amit Nisenbaum, MBA ’03, gave us a personal introduction to Better Place, an exciting startup working to establish country-wide infrastructure to support electric vehicles in Israel and elsewhere. Soon, new owners of the all-electric Renault Fluence ZE will be able to charge their cars at home, at work, at select public locations, and will be able to drive across the country using battery-switching stations, all part of a comprehensive solution that Better Place hopes will one day make combustion engines passé.
Johnson students also fortified cross-cultural ties with Tel Aviv University business students, who graciously hosted a Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship panel to showcase Israel’s startup spirit. Key note speaker Ed Mlavsky, founding partner and Chairman Emeritus of Gemini Israel Funds, discussed how Israel has successfully transformed itself into an entrepreneurial powerhouse. He is quoted in the book Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer — a must-read for anyone interested in the topic. Other business visits included an Intel plant, where we were able to tour a microchip production facility, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, where we saw the ins and outs of how drugs are produced using state-of-the-art technology. We also stopped at Unilever, where the Chairman of Unilever Israel and his team provided rich insights into Israeli minds and culture.
At plastics firm Keter, we learned about the company’s successful university-partnered innovation team while we were entertained with a phenomenal Mediterranean meal at its stunning sea-side corporate facility.
Johnson’s inaugural Israel trek owes its enormous success to a team of five dedicated second-years: Vitaly Shter, Ben Buch, Irene Tenenbaum, Jonathan Lewis, and Matt Ronen. Ori Heffetz, professor of economics at Johnson, currently on sabbatical at the Bank of Israel (another of our many fascinating stops on the trip), successfully spearheaded the academic and educational aspects of the trip. He will be looking to continue the momentum of the Israel trek in the years to come.
In addition to all of the experiences above, we met with Johnson Alumni, floated in the Dead Sea, hiked to the top of Masada, touched the Western Wall, and were exposed to innumerable experiences that no classroom could ever afford. For those of us who attended, we can only hope that future students have the good fortune to discover Israel’s many gems.