MONTREAL — Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) finished in 20th place at Concordia University’s John Molson MBA International Case Competition out of a field of 36 top business schools from around the globe.
This was the third consecutive year that the Israeli university took part in the annual competition, in its 32nd year and billed as the longest running and largest of its kind.
BGU was the first and only Middle Eastern participant, until American University at Cairo became the second this year. It finished 26th.
The competition, held from Jan. 6 to 11 at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Fairmount Hotel, saw master of business administration students given five realistic business dilemmas to solve in the initial round. The judges were from local businesses.
The five-member BGU team, comprising four women, two Canadian natives among them, had two wins, two losses and a tie.
While it had hoped to do better than the middle rank, BGU took solace in racking up more points than such prestigious schools as Pepperdine and Purdue from the United States, as well as Queen’s University and the host John Molson School of Business (JMSB), which ended second to last.
The top two winners were from Australia – which was competing for the first time – respectively, Sydney’s University of Technology and Queensland University of Technology, with McMaster University of Hamilton, Ont., coming in third.
The BGU students were a little unnerved by having to face off against Université Laval, last year’s champion, in the first case, and the Israelis did lose that one.
They rallied in case No. 2 for a draw against University College Dublin, then scored their first win in the third case against the University of Vermont, and were victorious once more over Queen’s.
BGU conceded its fifth and final case to Queensland, the runner-up champion.
The team members: Einav Arviv, Raz Atias, Adena Goldberger from Toronto, Leanne Gur-esh from Montreal and alternate Tamar Lehman all graduated from BGU’s intensive 13-month English-language MBA program a couple of weeks before the competition.
The BGU students felt they were working under a slight handicap because their coach, management professor Dov Dvir, who coached BGU in the past at the meet, was unable to accompany them after falling ill a few days before departure. He was replaced by professor David Brock.
The BGU teams in the previous two years finished in the 10th and 11th spots.
They also think their typically Israeli innovative approach to problem-solving may have cost them points. The teams that were successful tended to be those that intuited what the judges wanted to hear, they found.
“Some people said we were the best presenters, very original, out of the box, but that also may have hurt us,” said Lehman, the associate coach.
“The toughest part was figuring out what the judges wanted,” said Arviv. “It was a learning curve… Some schools have been coming for 20 years, and know what the judges are looking for and train for it for half a year.”
Nevertheless, all agreed it was a valuable experience and that they learned much, enough to perhaps prepare a handbook for next year’s team, which BGU hopes to send.
The Israelis were also grateful to the Canadian Associates of BGU, which helped sponsor their visit to Montreal and also provided them with enthusiastic moral support.
“The other competitors were jealous that we had our own cheerleaders who came out for every case,” said Goldberger, who made aliyah eight years ago and graduated in international relations from Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Centre before getting her MBA. She is going back to Toronto to launch a career.
“My chest was bursting with pride as our BGU team was introduced, and that pride only swelled… They are bright indeed, outgoing, friendly, focused, full of life and self-esteem,” said Canadian Associates, Montreal region, president Robert Elman, at a farewell reception.
Participating was especially sweet for Gur-esh, who is a JMSB graduate. She emigrated to Israel just before beginning the MBA program and is staying in the country, having lined up a job in business development at an elevator company in Ashdod.
Atias, who also holds a BA in economics and philosophy from BGU, is headed to China to expand his knowledge of international trade. Arviv, whose undergraduate degree is in biomedical engineering, is weighing her varied options.
Lehman, originally from Jerusalem, is now living at Kibbutz Hatzerim, near Be’er Sheva, known for its enterprise in irrigation and thinking of starting her own business.
The competition was not only about poring over corporate conundrums. There were social events and organized activities, including ice-skating, which was a hit with the Israelis.
Another tradition is a scavenger hunt around the city, and the BGU students are happy to have come out fourth overall.
Canadian Associates board member Reuben Croll, a BGU supporter for more than 30 years, said it should be remembered that the campus, just 40 kilometres from Gaza, was closed for two weeks this past fall due to the conflict.
Israeli Consul General Joel Lion said BGU’s participation these past three years is further evidence that Israel is the “can-do nation.”
“We should be proud that in just 65 years, an Israeli university, in the middle of a desert, which is now flourishing, is able to send students abroad to compete with the elite of the world,” he said.
D’Arcy McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman added that the students were “great ambassadors” who have probably given their peers from around the world a favourable impression of Israel.