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Israeli MBA students up against the best at Concordia meet

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Members of the Ben-Gurion University team that participated in the 2018 John Molson MBA International Case Competition gather at the home of Mark and Edna Mendelson for a meet-and-greet. JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO

Even though they didn’t make it to the semi-finals, the Israeli students participating in Concordia University’s annual John Molson MBA International Case Competition say it was an invaluable learning experience.

It was also a chance to present a positive image of their country to other young people from around the globe.

This was the eighth consecutive year that Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) took part in the six-day competition, which concluded on Jan. 6 at the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel in Montreal. BGU is the first and only Israeli school to participate in the student-run event, now in its 37th year, which is billed as the largest and oldest of its kind in the world.

It’s considered one of the most rigorous, as well, demanding creative thinking, teamwork and the ability to execute under pressure.

Team members formulate solutions to business management dilemmas that are presented orally before a panel of judges. One of the five cases, known as the “live” case, entails a company, whose identity is kept secret until the last minute, presenting an actual problem it is facing.

Thirty-six schools from 19 countries were in the hunt for the $10,000 Concordia Cup prize this year. The four-member (and one alternate) teams are divided into six divisions.

READ: BEN-GURION MBA GRADS EXCEL AT CASE COMPETITION

The BGU students, all nearing graduation from the Guilford Glazer faculty of business and management, won just one case in their division’s round-robin tournament, besting the University of Calgary in the fourth case.

They lost to the University of Arizona, Finland’s Aalto University, Heinrich Heine University of Duesseldorf and Wilfrid Laurier University.

Unfortunately for the students who travelled all the way from Israel, BGU finished in the sixth and last place in its division, based on accumulated points. Nine teams advanced to the semi-finals, from which three finalists emerged. The first-place finisher was University College Dublin.

The competition’s organizers stressed that just making it into the roster is an accomplishment and competitors are highly sought after by employment recruiters.

There were 270 judges, all senior-level business professionals, who came mainly from Quebec, but also from Toronto, New York and Boston.

Competitors were also invited to networking and social events.

Students walk past the student centre at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. YEHUDIT GARINKOL PHOTO

BGU’s participation was initiated and sponsored by the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University. The organization takes pride in “its” team, whose members they see as worthy ambassadors of Israel and of the desert university.

The Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University hosted some extra activities for the team, including a trek on Mount Royal, which took place despite the -30 C temperature. Rather than a deterrent, the extreme cold was a source of fascination for the young Israelis.

The Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University’s Montreal president, Larry Nachshen, even returned from his winter home in Florida for the week to attend the event. He also gave up his seventh-row tickets, so the team could go see the Montreal Canadiens play the San Jose Sharks.

At a pre-competition reception held at his home, the group’s executive director called the team “the finest representatives of Israeli youth.”

Added Nachshen: “Win or lose, you do us proud.”

The team was coached by Meital Magid, who, as a student, was a member of the first BGU team to compete at the event in 2011. This was actually her fifth time here, as she previously served as an assistant coach. Now head of her own consulting firm, Magid prepped the team for six months.

Win or lose, you do us proud.
– Larry Nachshen

The team members expect to graduate in February from the one-year Mandel social leadership program. Unique in Israel, the program provides training in the management of non-profit organizations and social entrepreneurship.

All of them returned to school to do an MBA, after completing their undergraduate studies in other disciplines and beginning their careers in fields aimed at helping others and bringing about social change.

Yonatan Arnon, who holds a BA in Judaic studies and theatre from Hebrew University, was the Jewish Agency emissary to Columbia/Barnard Hillel for three years. He wants to use his new business skills to further his interest in developing young adult communities that are inclusive and foster creativity.

Klil Nevo, an Open University graduate, spent more than three years working with at-risk youth in the southern Israeli city of Netivot, after spending two years working for an NGO in Nepal.

As she puts it, the Mandel program has taught her how to “combine the worlds of business and social work.”

Noga Pfeffermann, who holds a BA in political science and communications from Hebrew University, is a former army officer who served near the Gaza border. She also worked at the Israeli consulate in New York for a year and is now developing a program to encourage girls to get involved in politics.

Ittai Trifman, who has lived in Be’er Sheva for the past five years, worked at a centre for victims of violence, including sexual assault, and gives lectures on the topic in schools and workplaces.

From the moment of our arrival, we have felt at home.
– Ittai Trifman

A former air force commando unit weapons instructor, Eran Rozen has a BA in physical therapy from BGU. In 2016, he founded Bkind, a startup that provides a platform for acts of kindness, based on the notion of “paying it forward.” He earlier created Bike for the Fight, which raised money for cancer research in Israel by holding cycling events throughout Canada and the United States.

Trifman was bowled over by the warmth the team received from their Montreal hosts. “From the moment of our arrival, we have felt at home, like we are part of a huge family, the family of Jews who share the same story all over the world,” said Trifman.

Nevo added that, “Being at this competition has been the opportunity of a lifetime; it’s priceless.”

Magid is satisfied that, whatever the results, the BGU teams are getting “better and better every year,” but more importantly, “are learning skills they can put into practice for life.”