Friday, 27. January 2012

Tel-Aviv in January 2012 – Just Unforgettable

From January 3rd to January 9th we, a small group of 7 EMBA WHU KW14 students, joined the international elective “The Behavioral Finance Sequence” at Kellogg Recanati business school in Tel-Aviv.

Did you ever hear about the “4 Ts” of an international module in the Kellogg School of Management EMBA program? The Tel-Aviv module was a perfect match ;-)! Whether it was the Topic of the lecture, the Team, the Town or the Time of the year, all of these added up to a unique experience and learning that will remain unforgettable.

Let’s talk about Israel and in particular about the Town of Tel-Aviv first: With a foundation in 1909 the city is still young with Bauhaus and Jugendstil architecture widely visible in the old parts of the city. During the evening events we had the opportunity to get a feeling of the livelihood and the relaxed party culture of the city. What a huge difference to the expectations created during the interrogations by security staff and the detailed screening of my luggage during a 2 hour long security check at Frankfurt airport!

Directly located at the Mediterranean Sea, Tel-Aviv is the center of business activities in Israel. Many foreign companies and many more startups are located in and around Tel-Aviv. Did you know that Israel has the highest density of tech start-ups in the world? More importantly, these start-ups attract more venture capital dollars per person than in any other country — 2.5 times the U.S., 30 times Europe, 80 times India, and 300 times China. Israel has more companies on the tech-oriented NASDAQ than any country outside the U.S., more than all of Europe, Japan, Korea, India, and China combined. You’ll also find large companies like Microsoft, Google, Cisco or Intel. Apple is now opening an R&D centre in Herzliya (district Tel-Aviv), Israel's version of Silicon Valley - it is their first R&D centre outside of California.

Contrast this with Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), which means “The City of Piece”. We had a chance to visit Jerusalem during our lecture free day on Saturday. Jerusalem is just 70km or 1 hour by car from Tel-Aviv and is the largest city in Israel with about twice the population of  Tel-Aviv. With more than 6000 years of age it is one of the oldest cities on earth and a holy city for  Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Where in the world are such deep differences between the old and the new, between spirit and science so geographically close? Just imagine the views on that Saturday morning in early January when we visited the city,  the fresh mountain air 750m above sea level, the clear and dark blue sky above us and the Dome of the Rock with its famous golden roof in front of us. Imagine our feelings when walking through the garden of Gethsemane and its 1500 years old olive trees, when visiting Golgotha and its dark churches built into each other and when strolling through the Arabic market with its plethora of offered goods from artistic work to the butcher’s sheep skulls. What a difference after walking in the narrow alleys of the Arabic quarter and then stepping out into a huge open space filled with bright sunlight -- and the Western Wall in the distance. What an impressive experience!

Our Topic of the Tel-Aviv module was Behavioural Finance.  Both from the content and the teaching style the class was clearly special: Prof. Lys is specializing on accounting at Northwestern University and Prof. Neale is teaching organizational behaviour and negotiation at Stanford University. For this module they merged their expertise and formed one single homogeneous learning experience combining financial analyses with the behavioral aspects of decision making.  It was refreshing to see both professors in front of class arguing with each other about their different perspectives on a given business situation, exploring the economic and psychological influences on financial decision making.

With 42 students attending the class there was plenty of room for challenging debate and thought provoking “detours” from the planned teaching flow – a great learning experience.

Different to other modules with more participants everybody was together for the full 7 days of the program in one class room, bringing the team together very closely.

With 7 people from the US program, 9 from Hongkong, 3 from Canada and 7 from WHU, the non-Israeli part of the Team accounted for more than 50% of the students. With the small size of the class the bonds between the individuals grew very strong. As an example, the Palestinian members of the Israeli program invited us to visit the Palestinian territory one afternoon and evening after class. So a small group of 5 people headed out to Bethlehem in the car driven by one of the Palestinian students, passing by Israeli settlements and exiting Israel through one of the checkpoints into Palestinian territory. Imagine a Christian woman from Korea, a state-less Muslim from Jerusalem, a Hindu from India working in Singapore, a Christian from India working in the US and a Christian German arriving in Bethlehem on the evening of January 6th and all together attending a mass celebrating the birth of Jesus. Even the Palestinian President was expected to attend the service later that evening in that church. We experienced tolerance and peaceful celebration and an unforgettable team experience rather than violence and protests that we hear about in the news so often.

Which leads me to the last “T”, the Time of  the year, which was extremely well chosen: Not only that we could attend a Christmas celebration in Bethlehem in early January, we could also take a relaxing bath in the Dead Sea less than 24 hours later. With 422m below sea level the shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest point on earth not covered by water or ice and the desert climate and sunshine allowed us to enjoy floating in the extremely salty water. With a salt concentration of 30% compared to about 4% in the oceans the water feels a bit like oil in one’s hands. And it was very interesting and strange to notice that the water becomes warmer as you enter the more deeper parts of the sea…

Many thanks to the staff at Recanati to make this possible and many thanks to our fellow KR15 students from the Israeli program for their friendliness and hospitality. And many thanks to Annette for the wonderful photos!

All in all it was an extremely impressive experience both intellectually and spiritually which will remain unforgettable for me.

Article by: Klaus Dechet, EMBA 2012
Photos by: Annette Mann, EMBA 2012

Bethlehem - The World United

Dead Sea - Floating in January

Jerusalem - Facing Heaven

Jerusalem - Tomb on the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem - Symbol city