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Sunday, December 28, 2014

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Ben-Gurion MBA grads excel at case competition

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Israeli Consul Alon Melchior, right, greets Ben-Gurion University competitors, from left, Mor Rahimi, Ayelet Shachar-Epstein and Amos Efrony.

MONTREAL — Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) had its best showing ever in its fourth year at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business MBA International Case Competition, just missing the semifinals.

BGU is the first and only Israeli university to take part in the competition (and only one of two ever from the Middle East), which bills itself as the oldest, largest and most international MBA case competition of its kind in the world.

This was BGU’s fourth consecutive year at the meet, which began in 1981.

BGU’s five-member team finished 11th out of the 36 teams from different business schools throughout Canada and the United States, and 11 other countries, which were divided into six divisions.

It won four of the five cases (only the University of Kaiserlautern of Germany and Nanyang Technologicial University of Singapore won all five of their cases).

BGU racked up a total of 130 points, allowing it to place third in its division behind the University of Minnesota (154 points), the eventual champion, and HEC Montréal (144 points) and ahead of Concordia’s JMSB, Aalto University of Finland, and Germany’s Paderborn University.

The 33rd edition of the competition was held Jan. 5-10 at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The first-place winner earned a $10,000 prize.

BGU’s sole loss was the first case on opening day against HEC, then roared back to win both cases on the second day of competition, beating Aalto and Paderborn.

Team coach David Brock said that at that point, “After a slow start” – which he attributed to jet lag and a lack of local knowledge—“they were so good… actually back to their level, the level at which we saw them perform at training competitions.”

The judges, drawn from a pool of 270 mainly Montreal-area business executives, said the Israelis were well-prepared, defending their answers with agility and contingency strategies in place.

Four of the five cases were hypothetical business conundrums that are solved as a team and defended orally. One – the fourth – is a “live” case, a highlight usually presented by an unannounced firm and involving a real-life current problem.

This year, former governor general Michaëlle Jean, now UNESCO special envoy for Haiti, and the country’s minister delegate for energy security René Jean-Jumeau challenged the competitors to propose ways to privatize and modernize Haiti’s inadequate electrical power system. The state-owned utility is currently able to provide regular power to only about 12 per cent of the population.

BGU triumphed over Minnesota in that round, then whipped the host JMSB in the fifth and final case.

Robert Elman, Montreal president of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University, which raised funds to help make the team’s participation possible and keenly followed its progress, said, “They are energetic, smart, confident, strategic… This is the best BGU team I’ve seen and this is my third year as an observer.”

The team members were all recent graduates of BGU’s English-language honours MBA program.

One team member Ayelet Shachar-Epstein has a strong connection to Montreal. The Lubarsky side of her family immigrated to Montreal in the early 20th century, and her grandmother started a small business here helping newcomers get established, which was the forerunner of today’s huge Investors Group, she said.

Over the past 12 years, she has built a career in sales and marketing, working with multinational customers. She’s now on the boards of two public companies with global activities.

Their coach, South African native Brock, making his debut at the competition, teaches strategy and international management at BGU’s Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.

Brock and assistant Meital Mundrian, a BGU MBA graduate and private consultant who works with startups and small- and medium-sized businesses, began prepping the team a year in advance. It included three-hour workshops with guest judges to get them used to the cases they might face and the pressure they could expect in competition.

Win or lose, the Canadian Associates, which initiated the team’s participation in 2011, believes the competition provides a valuable educational experience for the next generation of Israeli business leaders and opportunity to network with peers from around the world.

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