Yeshiva University News » Michael Strauss

Sy Syms Students Gain Consulting Experience at Annual Seforim Sale

A select group of students at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business are enjoying a real-life entrepreneurial experience this semester, thanks to a new course called “Growing a Managing Business.”

Sy Syms Professor Leonard Fuld (center) at the Seforim Sale with students in his "Managing a Growing Business" class

Sy Syms Assistant Professor Leonard Fuld (center) at the Seforim Sale with students in his “Managing a Growing Business” class

The class is open to students on both the Beren and Wilf campuses and aims to give them the unique opportunity to work as a consulting team together with a faculty member to advise and develop solutions for a business client on a chosen project. This year, that client is YU’s annual Seforim Sale, North America’s largest Jewish book sale, which is operated by YU students—from ordering merchandise to setting up the premises, marketing, accounting and all the technology the project entails.

“The students have now spent a number of months studying the Seforim Sale and trying to determine what are the critical issues that need to be addressed,” said Leonard Fuld, clinical assistant professor of accounting, who is teaching the class. “Similar to PricewaterhouseCoopers or any outside firm, the idea was for them to look at the Sale and determine what needed the most attention… to give them the hands-on experience you don’t get in the classroom.” Read the rest of this entry…

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Serial Entrepreneur Adam Moisa Finds Mentors and Associates at Sy Syms School of Business

Adam Moisa was impressed by his first phone conversation with Michael Strauss, associate dean and entrepreneur-in-residence at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business.

Adam Moisa and Dean Strauss

Associate Dean Michael Strauss, left, with Adam Moisa

Strauss called Moisa while he was studying at Yeshivat HaKotel in Israel to ask if he had thought of any business ideas lately. As it happened, Moisa had. He wanted to create an aggregate cloud storage program that would allow people to access all their online content stored on various cloud storage services—whether on Google, Dropbox, Box or other sites—through one simple, easy-to-use platform. Moisa knew it was a great idea, but he wasn’t sure exactly where to go from there.

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EMBA Program at Sy Syms School of Business Travels to Israel for In-Depth Study of Entrepreneurship

A behind-the-scenes tour of the Knesset and frank conversations with the leaders of companies including high-tech startup Given Imaging, integrated energy giant Delek Group and Recanati Winery were just a few of the unique learning opportunities for students in the Executive Masters of Business Administration program at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business during one jam-packed week of field study in Israel this summer.

EMBA Israel trip 1

EMBA students on a site visit to Elbit Systems, which develops, manufactures and integrates advanced, high-performance defense electronic and electro-optic systems for customers throughout the world.

The trip, from July 1-9, enabled students in the program’s Management of International Business course to shape their own learning experience so that it provided maximum exposure to the topics that were of most interest to them, with an overall aim of understanding the specific opportunities for global arbitrage offered in Israel. That meant arranging their own on-site visits with government and policy-setting bodies, globally-oriented Israeli companies, the Israeli presence of foreign-based multinational companies and academic institutions. Read the rest of this entry…

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Students Pitch their Business Plans at 2012 Sy Syms Entrepreneurship Competition

A Web site that makes personal training available to exercise novices in their own homes. A Facebook app that offers one-on-one tutoring and keeps track of students’ coursework. An organization that enables college students to bring their love of science to classrooms in public schools across the country. A sandwich company that delivers one meal to a homeless person for every sandwich it sells.

Bella Frankel presents her idea—a comparative shopping search engine—before the judges at the Fast-Pitch Competition.

These were just a few of the ideas in the running for the grand prize at the 2012 Ira Rennert Entrepreneurship Institute Fast-Pitch Competition, presented by Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business on May 9. Read the rest of this entry…


From Caracas to Cologne, Childhood Friends Reunite to Pursue Business Dreams at Yeshiva

Daniel Simkin and Leon Franco have come a long way together. As children in Caracas, Venezuela, they attended the same grade school.  In March, as students at Yeshiva University, they attended the 15th World Business Dialogue in Cologne, Germany—winning two of only 300 coveted slots available to students across the globe in a rigorous selection process.

Childhood friends in Venezuela, Daniel Simkin and Leon Franco have reunited at Yeshiva University.

The conference is the world’s largest student-run business convention. Featuring 60 high-profile personalities and executives from top companies such as British Petroleum, General Electric Europe and North Asia, and Ford of Europe, it engaged students and speakers in conversation about topics that will have economic and social impact on the future.

“We met students from all around the world who want to do something in life, change something,” said Simkin, a sophomore majoring in mathematics at Yeshiva College. “They run profit or nonprofit organizations around the world. We all had this ambition and desire to share ideas and concerns.”

Simkin and Franco have always been ambitious. In Venezuela and over his time at YU, Simkin has tried his hand at a variety of industries—“entertainment, manufacturing, social media, iTunes and politics,” he says, to name a few—and Franco, a junior majoring in marketing and finance at Syms School of Business, has interned for New York Senator Charles Schumer and UBS Wealth Management.  The two applied to the World Business Dialogue because they were convinced it could give them valuable insight and connections to further their careers.

“I want to create or participate in a multinational company and to do that, I have to understand people and different economies,” said Simkin. “I’m hoping to apply what I learned about general business practice at the conference in the future.”

At the conference, Franco and Simkin had the opportunity to hear from industry leaders about everything from business strategies to ethical dilemmas and future forecasts. They also benefited from the juxtaposition of opposing worldviews in conversation.

“The CEO of British Petroleum Europe was advocating a slower introduction of eco-friendly alternatives to oil consumption, while the German Transport Authority explained that it is developing strategic ways to be more efficient with their use on a day-to-day basis,” said Franco. The conference helped crystallize his feelings about sustainability.

Franco (left) and Simkin (right) networked with students from around the world and heard from captains of industry at the World Business Dialogue in Germany.

“Individuals have to change their consumption habits, but someone has to educate them,” said Franco. “Whether I make a green company or just a company with green aspects, I understand that anything I do is going to have a social component. There has to be more than just profit-generation—you have to be giving back because that’s the only way we’re going to maintain a healthy world.”

Though Franco and Simkin knew each other as children, they only recently reunited. Franco, who had moved to the United States with his family in search of greater religious freedom in 2000, had already begun his studies at YU when he encountered Simkin at a dinner with mutual friends in New York City. Simkin was shocked. He had come to the U.S. for a summer course in English between semesters at the Universidad Metropolitana of Caracas.

There, things had been rough: a hostile atmosphere toward Jews on campus led him to downplay his religious identity and as more and more of his friends left the country for Israel or the U.S., he found his own grasp on Judaism slipping.

When Franco told him about YU, Simkin had to see it for himself. The two headed back uptown together and Simkin was amazed by what he found. “I saw a small campus where everyone has a Jewish environment,” he said. “People walking around in the streets with kippas on and tzitzit out, eating kosher food, inviting each other for Shabbat. It was exactly what I lacked in Venezuela, and I thought, ‘This is where I need to be.’ ”

The road wasn’t easy. Simkin spoke very little English. But three courses and six sittings for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) later, he arrived at YU. “I’m pursuing my university education as a businessman while studying who I am in the morning,” Simkin said. “Everyone knows Hebrew, so I use it more than I did in Venezuela. And when my kids ask me in the future, ‘How do you make Kiddush?’ I’ll know because I learned about it with a rabbi in class.”

For Franco, the school held a similar appeal. “Here, we are always surrounded by people who share our values, respect us, lead morally correct lives and have a vision for the future,” he said. “I have friends here from Spain, France and Thailand and everywhere around the world that there is a Jewish community. Somehow, we all ended up here and we’re all united, and I think that’s amazing.”

YU’s New York City location is also critical for Franco as he develops his professional career. “Every business has a headquarters in New York,” he said. “The fact that we’re here and able to connect with potential employers and an international community of Jews while receiving a good education and exploring our religious identities as individuals is important.”

“We have a great group of international students here at YU and I have the fortune in my role as the entrepreneur-in-residence to meet them on a one-to-one basis and discuss with them everything from how to start a business and how to raise money to what career they should pursue if and when they plan to go back to their home country,” said Michael Strauss, associate dean at Syms.

When Franco and Simkin were accepted to the World Business Dialogue, Strauss worked with the students to find a way for them to attend despite the cost of airfare, which they couldn’t afford. “I have spent 40 years in business and we’re no longer in a cocoon,” said Strauss. “Any day that a businessman is involved in business, he is exposed to the international world via importing, exporting, sales, purchasing, supplies—it’s an international global environment.” He added: “Having exposure to that environment, which the conference gave them, is extremely invaluable and therefore I felt that it was critical that they, as YU students, were able to attend.”

Simkin and Franco are especially appreciative of their professors at Syms and Yeshiva College, including Strauss, Professor Steven Nissenfeld in management and Professor Brian Maruffi in entrepreneurship, whose mentorship and guidance have helped them flesh out big plans for their futures.

For Simkin, Professor Norma Silbermintz’s English as a Second Language course had particularly meaningful results.

“At the World Business Dialogue, Leon [Franco] looked at me and said, ‘Six months ago, all you knew how to say in English was ‘Hi, my name is Daniel,’ ” Simkin recalled, laughing. “ ‘Now you’re speaking in front of 300 international students as a delegate from YU!’ ”


Taxi Mogul and Cardozo Graduate Shares Journey to Success with YU Students

On January 25, students at Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business gathered around a conference table in Belfer Hall for a discussion with Evgeny Freidman, the business mogul who has made hundreds of millions in the taxi industry.

Evgeny Freidman

Evgeny Freidman oversees New York's largest taxi fleet.

The event, called “Crazy Taxi,” was the first in the Syms Student Council Spotlight Series. The series seeks to introduce students to entrepreneurs from an array of surprising fields and backgrounds. In Freidman’s case, that included immigrating to New York from the Former Soviet Union at the age of five and a rough-and-tumble adolescence that got him kicked out of Skidmore College and working at a local video store in Queens, NY.

“I looked at myself and said, ‘Never again,’ ” said Freidman.

After packing six semesters’ worth of coursework into three, Freidman received his bachelor’s in accounting/business from Skidmore and was accepted to YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where he graduated at age 23. As students listened keenly and asked questions, Freidman detailed the beginnings of his business career in venture capital projects in Russia for billionaire Sam Zell and an argument with his father that changed everything.

Freidman’s father, who had been a thermonuclear engineer in Russia, owned a medallion of 60 yellow cabs when he was hospitalized following a heart attack. As his son sat at his bedside, the elder Freidman began to explain the family business in case the worst happened. “But something didn’t sit right with me,” said Freidman. “I’d ask simple questions like, ‘Why does it have to be this way? Isn’t there another way to do it?’ and he’d say, ‘No, this is how it’s done.’ ”

Freidman, a Cardozo alumnus, took questions from students at the Jan. 25 event.

Freidman walked students through the inspired and strategic business decisions which have made him the manager of the largest taxi fleet in New York and revolutionized the taxi industry as a whole. He stressed innovative thinking and discussed basic challenges, such as securing financing, as well as the impact of unique and potentially debilitating crises like the 2008 blackout. “I had 850 taxis and not one of them could fill up their tank,” Freidman said. He’s ready for the next time, though: after the blackout, he bought gas stations and now has a reserve of gas to keep his fleet running no matter what happens.

Today, as principal of Taxi Club Management, Inc., Freidman is worth more than $600 million and has been featured in Crain’s New York “40 Under 40” series.

The evening’s intimate, conversational atmosphere gave students the opportunity to ask Freidman about everything from his logic in bringing hybrid taxis to the industry to insight into the taxi driver workforce. They also debated the pros and cons of expanding Freidman’s business across the country and overseas.

“It’s fascinating,” said Isaac Harari, a sophomore majoring in management. “I’d never have thought it was possible to make that much money in a business like the taxi industry.”

Prof. Michael Strauss and Freidman

Michael Strauss, associate director of student advising and administration and clinical professor of management at Syms, pointed to Freidman’s high-risk, high-reward philosophy as a thought-provoking aspect of the night’s discussion. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for our students to get hands-on insight into how someone who is entrepreneurially-motivated can start a business and become a multimillionaire at the young age of 42,” he said.

Syms Student Council President Benjamin Blumenthal initially thought to ask Freidman to speak after a taxi driver began telling him and a friend about the steep value of medallions. “We got out, looked at each other and said, ‘We have to learn more about this,” said Blumenthal. Their research led them to Freidman’s story.

Blumenthal is also committed to sharing others like it. He’s hoping that an Israeli venture capitalist will be Syms’ next visitor in the Spotlight series. “There is so much happening on campus this semester,” he said. “From administrators to professors to students, everyone is engaged in furthering our education in any way possible and bringing more opportunities like this to campus.”

Freidman sensed that passion. “I don’t speak often, but I knew that speaking here, in a place where everyone is studying Torah, I’d be working with an intelligent and cerebral audience,” he said. “It is incredible to share something you’re passionate about with students like these, who ask all the right, hard-hitting questions.”


Syms Students Launch Exclusive Luxury Lifestyle Advice Web Site

Yeshiva University students, Jeremy Hodkin and Doron David, have recently launched the KIS Group, a members-only Web site offering exclusive access to videos featuring experts in a variety of fields. Membership to KIS Group, which stands for Keep It Secret, is by invite-only, a strategy Hodkin and David hope will help them target a high-end, savvy demographic.

[hana-code-insert name='KISgroupFOX' /]

“We try to give people behind-the-scenes access to informational and instructional videos from top-level experts,” said Hodkin, a junior at YU’s Syms School of Business double majoring in management and marketing.

While the site currently features videos in categories like fashion, culinary, health & wellness, business, life skills and entertainment, the two plan to roll out another, KIS Back, with videos profiling various charities.

A winner of the McKelvey Scholarship for Entrepreneurship award and the Advanced Placement Scholar award, Hodkin, 20, already has a keen sense of business, having held positions at Backal Hospitality Group, UBS Financial Services and Williams Island Tennis Club, as well as Icon Media Group, a company he founded when he was 16.

David, a friend of Hodkin’s since their middle school days in Hollywood, Florida, was brought in early on by Hodkin to lead the KIS Group through the development and concept stage into a functioning business. The two praise the faculty at Syms for their “guidance and support any time we needed help.”

“Our classes at YU have taught us that ethics and business go hand-in-hand,” said David, 20. “Having a tight-knit community of students and faculty allows us to easily network with people that are able to help us pursue our venture.”

Michael Strauss, entrepreneur-in-residence and clinical professor of management at Syms, worked with Hodkin and David on developing their business plan and sees an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship at Syms. “Our men and women are very driven, highly committed, passionate and laser-focused in whatever they undertake, especially building their own business,” said Strauss.


Michael Strauss on the Lessons We Can Learn from Steve Jobs’ Entrepreneurial Success

What do you think it takes to become a successful entrepreneur?

Apple's legendary co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, died on Oct. 5, 2011.

Apple's legendary co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, died on Oct. 5, 2011.

Decisiveness? Thinking outside the box? Not taking ‘no’ for an answer? These are just a few of the measures of an entrepreneur.

When I meet with students who are thinking of starting a business or want to pursue an idea, this is what I tell them: You have to stick it out. Believe in yourself. And you need to know how to get thrown out the front door and come back through the back door, smiling.

Reflecting on Steve Jobs’ career, from the time he started Apple in his garage up until his death last week, you see the person I described above.

You probably all read about his life history several times in the past week. Suffice it to say, Jobs was so successful because he possessed those entrepreneurial qualities. A bit strange, drumming to his own beat, but laser-focused and always confident he knew what we wanted.

What lessons can those of you embarking on an entrepreneurial venture learn from Jobs? Realize that it’s critical to believe in yourself and to believe what you are trying to accomplish is different, better and desired by the world. Realize you need to be able to communicate that vision to as many people as possible, stick to your message and not get diverted. You need to plow through brick walls. You need to be able to be kicked to the ground, jump right back to your feet and keep going. You need to be able to make tough decisions and defend them. You need to almost never give up.

If you can look in the mirror and say to yourself, “That’s me,” you have a shot at being successful.

Michael Strauss is the director of student advising and administration at YU’s Syms School of Business. He also serves as entrepreneur-in-residence and clinical professor of management at Syms. Strauss is a veteran of both large and small companies, having served in senior management roles at several companies including American Express. He is currently CEO of an advanced start-up company that he founded several years ago, BSafe Electrix, Inc., and chairman of Sherwood Consulting Group, Inc.


EL AL President and CEO Discusses Professional Journey, Israel’s Business Landscape at TAMID’s Inaugural Event

“After leading EL AL for a year and a half, I can tell you that it is a very complicated company,” said Elyezer Shkedy, president and CEO of EL AL Israel Airlines, who discussed Israel’s business climate, as well as his own professional journey, with Yeshiva University students on Wednesday, September 14. The lecture was hosted by TAMID, a student-run organization that connects American business students with the Israeli economic landscape.

Elyezer Shkedy, president and CEO of EL AL Israel Airlines, speaks to YU students at TAMID's Sept. 14 event.

“Israel is one of the world leaders in technology and innovation,” said Michael Strauss, associate director of student advising and administration and clinical professor of management at YU’s Syms School of Business. “It is incumbent for our students to connect with Israeli companies and gain a better understanding of their inner workings.”

Shkedy joined EL AL in January 2010 after a distinguished career of 33 years in the Israeli Air Force, earning the rank of major general. He served as commander of the Air Force from 2004 to2008 and, prior to that, was its chief of staff from 2002 to 2004.

Shkedy spoke about his transition from being a commander in Israel’s air force to CEO of EL AL and the surprising similarities the two positions hold. “The main issues are the same: you have to define goals and missions, be an expert in operations, and you have to lead people,” he said.

As CEO of EL AL, Shkedy faces many unique challenges and must make complicated decisions. “It’s financially difficult not to fly on Shabbat and to make sure that every single Jew feels comfortable to eat,” he said. “And although I’m not a religious Jew, I find it important to maintain these values and to always relate to our clients. I want every person to enter the airplane and to feel at home. We are, after all, the civilian wings of Israel and the Jewish nation.”

Joining Shkedy were approximately 25 EL AL employees, as well as Gil Lainer, the Israeli consul for media and public affairs for the Israel consulate general. They had all come with Shkedy because this was not only the inaugural event of TAMID’s YU chapter but was also the launching of a new initiative headed by Alon Futterman, the director of EL AL’s Advocacy Initiative for Israel (which Shkedy created) called Blue and White EL AL Ambassadors.

According to Futterman, this program will send out EL AL pilots and crew members to serve as Israeli ambassadors. “They’re all volunteers who want to talk about the Israel of 2011. They all come from different backgrounds, and each one has a personal story to share,” said Futterman. “They feel that people are missing a different perspective of Israel—one that they’re not getting from the news. This is a people to people initiative and we’re very excited about it.”

The Ambassadors project is being sponsored by the Jewish Agency, the Stand With Us advocacy organization and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

After spearheading a similar event for Israeli high school students for Israel’s 60th birthday, Shkedy knew he wanted to create a new program for Jewish communities outside of Israel. “The Jewish nation is a very complicated nation. Kirvu L’vavot—working together and hearing each other—is one of the most important things we can do. It’s our big mission and it’s what we hope to accomplish with events like tonight,” said Shkedy.

“EL AL is a prime example of a company that takes care of the community as a whole,” said Tzvi Solomon, the event organizer and director of TAMID’s YU chapter. “I was interested in inviting someone who understood the importance of not only running a fine business but who understood the importance of where he comes from.”


EL AL President and CEO to Speak to YU Students about Israel’s Business Landscape

Elyezer Shkedy, president and CEO of EL AL Israel Airlines, will discuss Israel’s business climate with Yeshiva University students on Wednesday, September 14 at 7:00 p.m. in Belfer Hall, Room 1214, 2495 Amsterdam Ave., New York City. The lecture is hosted by TAMID, a student-run organization that connects American business-minded students with the Israeli economic landscape.

Elyezer Shkedy, EL AL President and CEO will speak to YU students on Sept. 14.

Elyezer Shkedy, EL AL President and CEO, will speak to YU students on Sept. 14.

“Israel is one of the world leaders in technology and innovation,” said Michael Strauss, associate director of student advising and administration and clinical professor of management at Syms School of Business. “There are nearly 60 Israeli technology companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange, second only to China, I believe. It is incumbent for our students to connect with Israeli companies and gain a better understanding of their inner workings.”

Shkedy joined EL AL in January 2010 after a distinguished career of nearly 33 years in the Israeli Air Force, earning the rank of major general. He served as commander of the Air Force from 2004-2008 and prior to that, was its Chief of Staff from 2002-2004. Shkedy holds a BSC in mathematics and computer science with honors from Ben-Gurion University and an MA in system management with honors from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

“This event is another example of the unique experience Yeshiva University students receive from world-renowned business professionals,” said Tzvi Solomon, director of TAMID’s YU chapter and a Syms student. “This year we hope to develop a core group of motivated students who are eager to learn about the Israeli economy and serve as an incubator to develop ideas.”

The event is open to the public and will be followed by a question and answer session. Please RSVP to as soon as possible as space is limited.