Learning Business by the Books

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.”

The 4-credit, 17-week course also requires students to attend the Sale, held from February 2-23, to enable them to make recommendations on how to improve the current business model. The students attend as consultants to study the operations, interview employees and perform on-site analysis and real-time audits.

The participating students also heard lectures from experts in law, banking, management, inventory management, accounting, and mergers and acquisitions.

“Students are getting a well-rounded look at the business world: a very rich set of classroom lectures, the ability to share ideas with professors and the experts, and the occasion to get hands-on experience by actually attending the Seforim Sale and understanding the issues it faces,” said Fuld. “It’s truly a unique opportunity. What makes it different is the ability to take the theoretical and put it into practice.”

Students analyze the business and provide practical recommendations to the client throughout the semester, culminating in a final report and presentation. The class also challenges students to utilize key entrepreneurial skills, while touching upon elements of social science, business, law, and features of private and public entities.

“At Syms, we are continuously striving to initiate innovative, constructive and practical business education methodologies and the new course exactly fits those academic goals,” said Sy Syms Associate Dean Michael Strauss, entrepreneur in residence and clinical professor of management. “The students address business problems in a hands-on manner and thereby develop their team-working and people skills, critical thinking, creative planning, management abilities, technical knowledge and communication proficiency. The course is more akin to a business clinic one might find offered at one of the elite graduate business schools.”

In subsequent years, the goal is for the class to focus on local small businesses outside the realm of YU. “We’d go and offer the consulting to other neighborhood businesses that are having trouble running their operations in certain areas,” said Fuld.

Students were drawn to the class for the opportunity to gain practical experience beyond the classroom. “The fact that you’re able to learn and then actually apply it to the Seforim Sale really fascinated me and attracted me to the course,” said Asher Perez, an accounting student and a member of the Sy Syms Business Honors and Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. “Every class was a different topic and I like the variety—one day we covered the legal aspects, one day the operational aspects, one day the accounting. It was really a snapshot into how business works, which is what I wanted to see.”

One part of the course that Perez particularly enjoyed was the marketing aspect, where students sent out surveys to past customers to garner feedback about the sale. “I got 250 responses on the first day,” he said. “There’s a clear desire for the Seforim Sale and people enjoy it. Now the question is, how do we harness that to make it successful?”

For others, the open communication with business executives and fellow students was tremendously valuable.

“We have many distinguished professors and business associates giving frequent informative lectures and helping us every step of the way… and we have learned a great deal of information and tactics about how a business should be run,” said Jonathan Katz. “To have the ability to bounce ideas off my fellow classmates and to collaboratively address problems and try and solve them will be the greatest asset that I take away from this class. This facet closely mimics the real business world where a team is working towards the same goal.”