‘Business in Israel’ class gets first-hand experience

Washington University Professor Steve Malter’s ‘Business in Israel’ class at IBM Israel.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Nine students in a unique “Business in Israel” class at the Olin Business School at Washington University, along with their professor, Steve Malter, recently spent 10 days in the Jewish State for a first-hand experience of many subjects covered in the course. 

Malter and the students shared their impressions of the trip in an interview in their classroom at the business school on their return.


“The class was structured for students to spend the first part of the semester learning about Israel, its economy, culture, politics and different industries prior to the trip,” said Malter. “While there was a tremendous amount of learning that transpired, the immersion piece of the trip really allowed the students to experience firsthand all they had researched, read and discussed. The students read ‘Start-Up Nation’ (by Dan Senor and Saul Singer) in addition to many other texts, which provided a wonderful context for the trip and told the story of Israel’s economic success.”

Malter added that the visits on the trip, “really brought to life the story of Israel’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.” Some of the highlights of the week included the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, where the CEO, chairman emeritus and head researcher greeted and visited with the group and spoke about Israel’s economic growth and a briefing by the head of the Economic Council for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to learn more about the government and its involvement in Israel’s economic prosperity.

The trip also included a visit to Rafael Advanced Defense to the Israel Systems to learn about the technology and innovation that it provides to the Israel Defense Forces and how civilians can use military technology through the invention of the Pill Camera by Given Imaging. The Pill Camera, which is a camera that can literally be swallowed for procedures such as non-intrusive colonoscopies, was developed within the Israel Defense Forces. It was of special interest to student Amanda Baranick of Westchester, N.Y., who has sought examples of how the IDF inventions positively impact the private sector in Israel. “I was impressed by the degree to which Israel’s defense needs have contributed to other important areas of Israel’s economy, health care and other fields,” she said.

Briefings at the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate, “provided the group with the viewpoint of the United States on both economic development in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories,” said Malter.

Student Kurt Rohrbeck of Philadelphia, who had never been to Israel before, said the trip exceeded his expectations. “Part of what made this so interesting for me was that other than the advance research we did, I really didn’t know what to expect. I tried to go into everything with an open mind, having never been in that culture before. Hearing what the Israelis had to say was truly incredible.”

Baranick found the meeting with Saul Singer, who co-authored “Start-Up Nation,” to be of special interest. “It was great to be able to talk to him and kind of pick his brain about where he gathered his information and who he talked to in preparing the book. When he and Dan started on the book project, they realized that no one else had written about Israel’s business successes, start-up companies and the like. They were in the right place at the right time, and we have the benefit of that book not only for this class, but for what it contributes to the knowledge of its readers about these aspects of Israel.”

St. Louis student Jake Lewis found the visit to the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems near Haifa, to be especially impressive. “Rafael was originally just for Israel, but recently it has begun to sell to other countries. We met with some of the upper echelons of the company. They walked us through their business model and their different technologies. One thing that I found interesting is that they can only sell technology to other countries after they have been in Israel for at least 10 years. They want to be sure that such knowledge will not be used against Israel.”

Another student was impressed with Israel’s ability to respond to medical emergencies and the teams of volunteers who are highly trained to immediately go to scenes of medical trauma to triage the wounded. Some of those skills were in evidence when Israel sent rescue medical teams into Haiti after its devastating earthquake.

Several of the students pointed out that when Netanyahu served as finance minister in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he introduced free market reforms that helped spur the economic turnaround in the Jewish State. Much of the red tape that inhibited business innovation and start-ups has been eliminated, which has helped Israel achieve its impressive economic growth as outlined in “Start-Up Nation.”

Malter expressed appreciation to the local Jewish community for its support of the “Business in Israel” class, including philanthropist businessman Sam Fox, and Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, who helped find speakers and other resource people and places visited during the trip. Several of the students said the trip opened their eyes to many positive aspects of life in Israel in contrast to much of the media coverage which concentrates of combating terrorism, problems with the peace process and political turmoil.

Students also had an opportunity to visit the Palestinian Territories, and expressed surprise at how prosperous the West Bank areas have become in recent years.

Malter took note of the various American and Israeli companies, as well as joint ventures, which the group was able to visit. “A visit to the Procter & Gamble operations in Israel illustrated how a global company operates within a region of the world, and how it adapts to be very local as well. The visit to IBM showcased innovation, research and development as well as strategic partnerships,” he said.

IBM Israel topped the list of all Israeli companies that received patents in 2009, according to a recent company announcement. Within the global entity of IBM, the Israeli division filed 50 patents, the sixth largest amount of patents, outdoing IBM units in China, France and Japan and other research laboratories. IBM Israel also announced that last year it applied for a total of 135 patents worldwide.

Malter added, “A visit with Saul Singer, co-author with Dan Senor of ‘Start-Up Nation,’ allowed the students to learn more about the companies and stories featured in the book. Through a visit to Better Place, the students were able to see how Israel might succeed at developing a countrywide grid to support electric cars and remove their dependence on foreign oil.” The group also learned about many different start-ups and projects in the social entrepreneurship/social change arena, including visits to Yokneam and Megiddo, the Partnership 2000 Projects funded by the St. Louis Jewish Federation, along with those sponsored by PresenTense and United Hatzalah.

Malter said the trip was meaningful to him on a personal level as well. “I had been in Israel in the summer of 1990, and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to visit again because so much has changed. It allowed me to see Israel through a new lens. While the group was able to see many of the sights, having a focus on business gave the group the opportunity to appreciate Israel from the cultural and business side, and to see how they are intertwined and have contributed to Israel’s economic success despite the challenges it faces.”