Senior executives in Israeli companies are getting a lesson in managerial strategy with the hope of bolstering Israel's standing in the world market
By Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer
Ron Heifetz sat complacently in a Ramat Gan conference room, watching two dozen Israeli high-tech company executives argue. Surprisingly, Heifetz did not bother to intercede to stop such a common scene of Israeli verbal ping-pong, even as they critiqued his reticence. But Heifetz, author of "Leadership Without Easy Answers," and director of the Leadership Education Project at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, knew that he was conveying to the high-tech moguls an important concept for leaders -- adaptive change -- a process that requires business leaders and managers to improvise and shift their way of thinking.
In this case, the executives had to creatively adapt to the withdrawal of their leader, who came to Israel to teach them tools for executive leadership and management. It was just one of the topics that brought the representatives of five Israeli companies and one German company to the Tel Aviv-based Technion Institute of Management (TIM), a novel executive education program designed to impart senior executives with the "secrets" of international management and marketing.
"We have serious concerns that Israelis have tremendous innovation but their management skills are still in the 19th century," said Yoram Yahav, founding director of TIM.
Armed with the technical know-how they receive from Israel's universities and defense industry, and the entrepreneurial guts they get from army training, many Israelis create successful high-tech companies with meager managerial experience. Currently, at least 3,000 start-up companies dot the small map of Israel, many potentially bound for failure due to poor management.
"It's natural," said Orna Berry, chief scientist of Israel, explaining the gap between technical prowess and poor managerial skills. "This is an intensive know-how based industry and start-ups arise from know-how, not experience."
Pure know-how, however, is not enough to turn a highly innovative and creative product into global success. Even though 70 percent of Israel's exports are generated by technology, with many Israeli companies traded on Wall Street, Israel ranked only 26th in global competitiveness in 1997. Few Israeli high-tech companies have income past the billion dollar mark.
TIM is one of the programs under the umbrella of the Technion Institute of Technology aimed to increase those figures.
"This has to be a company, market-driven program," said Lester Thurow, former dean of MIT's Sloan management school and renowned economist, now chairman and instructor at TIM.
The companies currently participating in the program -- Checkpoint, TEVA Pharmaceuticals, GE-Diasonics, Ormat, Siemens and the Israeli Defense Force -- have six months to initiate and complete company projects utilizing the vast resources offered by TIM, which include workshops that draw some of the most well-known business leaders and educators, a business coach, a company mentor (usually the company's CEO) and an educational trip to the small yet successful Singapore.
"[The program] is opening our eyes to the world of global management," said TIM participant Alex Silberklang, general manager of GE-Diasonics, a diasonic ultrasound company that was recently acquired by General Electric Co.
"We are all hard-core engineers and we've been assigned to take on management positions," said Silberklang's colleague Ilan Lifshitz, systems group manager in research and development at Diasonics.
Even though TIM is presently geared toward high-tech companies whose managers do not possess hard-core business education, the Technion's Davidson School of Management is currently being established to prevent such an occurrence from the outset. One feature of the Davidson school, named after CEO of Guardian Industries Corp. William Davidson, who donated $30 million to make this much- needed school possible, is the "Fast Track MBA," which allows students with a bachelor's degree in science to receive their MBAs within one concentrated year and a summer internship.
In addition to the Technion's programs, Tel Aviv University offers unique management programs for high-tech as well as more general Israeli companies. The Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration offers a Management of Technology concentration, which attracts about 20 percent of Recanati's student body. Recanati and Northwestern University's Kellogg Business School of Management offer a joint two-year, general management program for mid-career executives. Unlike the current program at the Technion Institute of Management, participants come from a wide variety of sponsors and graduate the program with an MBA. The first module of the second year courses are conducted at Northwestern, where participants are exposed to the U.S. business community. Various types of schedules are offered to meet the needs of busy executives. Another program implemented to improve globalization is the Dosberg Recanati-Wharton Partnership. During the course of one year, students from both Recanati and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania assist Israeli companies with research and marketing strategies to help them break into the global markets.
Upgrading management skills, however, may require more than just a state-of-the-art management education. Members of the Israeli business community will have to upgrade a more ingrained, harmful idea about business infrastructure.
"You try to give them direction and each person thinks they are better than the CEO," said Tal Shamir, business coach to TIM participants. "It's a great burden on Israeli management and a great burden on the Israeli economy."
Humbled by the adverse affects of their notoriously slack organizational discipline, Israeli business leaders are now arguing for guidance and leadership. It's a sign, say those involved, that Israelis may be on their way to generating prosperous companies and a more prosperous Israel.
Israeli scientists locate a protein that helps identify mental illnesses
A Mindful Discovery
Whoever said that science conflicts with Torah may be shocked to learn that a medical discovery may actually substantiate the phrase from Leviticus that reads, in part, "because the soul of all flesh is his blood..." (17:14).
Israeli scientists Gavriel Schreiber and Soffia Avissar have discovered that a protein found most abundantly in white blood cells could be a useful tool in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.
According to their discoveries, several mental disorders, such as manic depression, panic and schizophrenia, correspond to specific levels of this protein (termed G-protein), which serves as a principal channel for information transduction to and from the human cell.
Mindsense, an Israeli company founded by Schreiber and several Israeli businessmen, has produced a kit that would allow doctors to diagnose and monitor mental disorders by measuring the levels of this G-protein found in blood samples. The kit's biological approach ensures a more accurate and expedient appraisal of a person's mental health, thereby saving the psychiatric community millions of dollars spent on the more costly and time consuming trial-and-error methods of diagnosis and treatment.
The kit is still undergoing FDA and clinical trials, but Mindsense, which uses the phrase from Leviticus as its slogan, plans to make the kit available to the international medical community by the year 2000. -- Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer