“Wait, Samir, you’re going where?! Israel?!? What for? But isn’t it… dangerous…? Is Ohio State making you do that to get your MBA? No? Well, what do you hope to learn there?”
I wanted to learn how it is possible for a country less than half a century old and roughly the size of New Jersey to, despite all odds, thrive in a global economic context and at the same time presume to teach Americans the meaning of ‘audacity’.” Still, I found it equally true—and easier to explain—that I wanted to challenge myself and blend my central Ohio education with a true World View of business.
My trip to Israel was as revelatory as it was astounding. Truthfully, I had never paid much attention to happenings in the Middle East because of the stark cultural and geographic divide between our climes. My decision to go on the Global Business Expedition to Israel was partly a leap of faith—“do something extraordinary before you graduate”—and partly because it aligned perfectly with my professional aspirations in innovation and technology. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask “how” and “why” to leaders of multi-billion dollar firms, as well as entrepreneurs not much older than myself at red hot startups.
Each day we woke up early to attend early business meetings in virtually every corner of the country, and each night we stayed up late to experience Israeli nightlife. We visited places and touched things whose names are capitalized in holy texts. We pressed our tour guide and Professor Shenkar to explain the at times exasperating inconsistencies between cultural factions in the region. Why do they mask Made in Israel labels? Why are parts of the country so segregated along ethnic and religious lines? What are the Gaza Strip and the Iron Dome? Indeed, I experienced first-hand the extreme emphasis on security; however, it did not take long for the sight of armed guards to become “the new normal” for most of our group.
I could at once see a platoon of hardy female IDF soldiers guarding Jerusalem’s Dung Gate and a group of Hasidic Jews rocking back and forth in kinetic prayer at the Wailing Wall. We toured the construction site of a state-of-the-art public and private sector research megaplex in the Negev Desert, and peered through smoked glass as lasers cut medical stents with micrometer precision in Jerusalem. An Israeli VC’s CEO described his firm’s multi-million dollar investments in Israeli startups over the past decades as I ogled his achingly beautiful wristwatch and wondered if I had some semblance of his chutzpah—audacity.
I travelled 7000 miles from home armed only with an open mind and a handful of case analyses on companies in the Startup Nation. What I observed there and ruminated on while floating on my back in the Dead Sea at the end of the trip, was Israel’s incomparable duality of worldwide cultural historical significance and modern day business relevance.