February 16, 2011
The business of a balanced life
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She said that last year former Los Angeles Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt was the conference’s keynote speaker, and Judy Olian, dean of UCLA Anderson School of Management, appeared as a panelist. Wolf said she was encouraged by the number of women attending the conference. “The scales are tipping,” she said, vowing a concerted effort to include more women presenters next year. “For me, it sends an important message that when we [women] get to that level, it’s that much more important for us to represent women in executive audiences.”
Moseying about the lobby, Newmark, the conference’s most famous speaker, offered his reason for flying in from San Francisco to attend: “This sounded like a really good event to talk about how one might operate by some of the stuff I learned in Hebrew school.” The somewhat eccentric Newmark, who tends to speak in aphorisms uttered in musical cadence, said the most important Jewish value he learned was to “treat people like you want to be treated.”
“It’s the only way I know how to be,” he said. “As well as being Jewish, I’m also a nerd American, and we take this literally.” Newmark was raised going to a Conservative New Jersey synagogue but said he now gets his spiritual fill from an unlikely source. “I do follow many of the dictates of my rabbi, Leonard Cohen,” he said. “That may sound like a joke, but I’m serious.”
Most attendees are secular Jews, and Sorani, who is Orthodox, said the focus is not to encourage religious observance. “My end goal is to get these students involved in Jewish community leadership,” he said. Just 28, Sorani did a brief stint in law school before dropping out to become a rabbi (“My mom’s gonna kill me if she finds out I talked about that”), which is where he discovered that campus Jewish associations were “pretty weak.”
“The last things these kids need is another class on Jewish ethics,” Sorani said. “They want to connect to each other; they don’t want to feel pressured. If they’re interested in growing Jewishly after that, it’s up to them.”
Several attendees said they were attracted to the conference by its impressive array of speakers; others said they were looking for both business connections and Jewish involvement.
Ellie Altshuler, 27, an intellectual property lawyer at CMG Worldwide, said that while she enjoys her job, she wants to take more professional risks. After attending a session with Eric Kurtzman, CEO and founder of Kurtzman Carson Consultants, a corporate restructuring firm, she was feeling inspired.
“[We] share the same sentiment about attorneys — they’re almost cripples, they’re so risk averse!” Altshuler said. “His speech really resonated with me, because I’m not married and I don’t have a family yet; I could take a chance and do something different. It was really motivating.”
For another woman, that same session was deflating.
“I’m learning Chinese right now. Is that a waste of my time?” she asked Kurtzman during the Q-and-A.
Kurtzman, who said he studied Japanese when Japan was thought to become the next global superpower, replied bluntly: “Um … yes. What are you gonna do when Apple comes out with technology that allows you to speak into a box and it comes out in Chinese?”
Not everyone was entranced by hours and hours of success stories. Max Leeds, a law student at UCLA, opted to network in the lobby during a panel discussion on real estate. “I got bored,” he said. “I like questioning why, why, why. Their knowledge of real estate is amazing, but I want to talk about why the economy is bad, where do we go from here?”
Conference presenters were no less candid.
In one session, real estate developer Eugene Rosenfeld opened up about his major regrets, saying, “When I was young, I was never home. My wife brought our children up. That was a mistake; I missed a really important part of my life. And in life, there are no second acts.”
Errol Ginsberg, founder and chairman of Ixia, a network analysis system for wireless communications, emphasized the importance of finding balance in life. “In the early days, I didn’t have that,” he admitted. Before his session ended, he rattled off a list of people he considers great entrepreneurs — Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Larry Page and Sergey Brin among them — noting, with evident pride, which ones were Jewish.
“You’ve got to be proud to be a Jew,” Ginsberg said. “Jews have accomplished things completely disproportionate to our numbers; it’s ridiculous.”
With that, he offered one last bit of advice: “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I will: Marry Jewish; if you can. Aside from perpetuating our people, it’s one less thing to have conflict about. Marriage is tough enough.”
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