Dr. Noam Wasserman, the New Sy Syms Dean, Exhorts Students to Fashion Their Passion for Success
On Sunday, May 12, 2019, the Sy Syms School of Business held its annual Awards Dinner at the Museum of Jewish Heritage/A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, to celebrate the accomplishments of students and faculty. Of special note this year was an address by Dr. Noam Wasserman, the new dean of Sy Syms, and a lively conversation between Marcy Syms, president of the Sy Syms Foundation and former CEO of Syms Corp, with Michelle Clayman, managing partner and chief investment officer of New Amsterdam Partners LLC and this year’s recipient of the Sy Syms Humanitarian Award, which recognizes an individual whose legacy has moved the world forward and fulfilled the duty of Tzedakah, or righteous action.
Opening remarks came from Shirel Swissa ’19SB and Brandon Emalfarb ’19SB, Sy Syms student council presidents, and Michael Strauss, associate dean of Sy Syms. Emalfarb pointed out the poignant importance of the venue hosting the event, which underscores how the sacrifices of those who came before have created a “bright future for the Jewish nation and specifically for Sy Syms, a strong and thriving 21st-century business school rooted deep in Jewish values and history.”
Swissa praised the school for “caring to send its students into the business world with every tool needed for an ethical Jewish businessperson” and urged her fellow students to take the time to review “how you have invested in yourself and everything you have accomplished over the years.”
They both gave effusive thanks to the many people who not only made the dinner possible but who also made the tenure of every student in the room worthwhile and engaging.
Strauss followed up on their congratulations with his own recollection of Sy Sym’s success over the last three decades, noting that the date of the Dinner would also have been founder Sy Sym’s 93rd birthday. He cited how the school has predicated its educational success on the three “e’s” of ethics, entrepreneurship and experiential-based learning and how for Strauss personally, “it has been an honor and a joy to see how what we have done has prepared so many of our students to go out into the business world and become our future business leaders.”
In his first speech at his first Awards Dinner, Dr. Wasserman commended the soon-to-be graduates in the room as well as all the Sy Syms alumni for how they “embody the dedication and the passion that they have brought to conquering both their Judaic and business studies in order to go forth and impact the world for the coming generations.” He also encouraged the graduates to thank their families for their support. He ended by saying that, while it is important to feel proud of what they’ve accomplished so far, “the critical thing is what you do next to get better at what you’ve been doing. Now is the time for you to go out and have an impact on the world—the world needs you to do this, the Jewish people need you to do this.”
Michelle Clayman is the first woman receiving the Sy Syms Humanitarian Award, and as Strauss pointed out in his complimentary introduction, she has earned the honor not only through the work she has done in the male-dominated field of financial investing but also through her leadership, such as being the chair of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute of Gender Research at Stanford University and serving on the Board of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York (as well as being a Girl Scout troup leader for 17 years), among many other activities in which she is engaged.
As Clayman sat with Marcy Syms for what was billed as a “fireside chat,” Syms noted that Clayman has three principles she follows when speaking: be brief, be funny and be seated. For their chat, they did indeed sit in front of the more than 200 attendees, so principle number three was easily met.
As were principles one and two under Syms’ astute questioning. Clayman spoke about her start as an entrepreneur, which, according to Clayman, was more by happenstance than determined planning. “I came to Wall Street after graduating at the age of 26 and got in on the ground floor of quantitative equity research,” and she recalled conversations with friends who wondered what she had done wrong in life to be consigned to such a profession.
But she assured them that she found it quite interesting, and it turned out that at the age of 32, the work she had done allowed her to come up with a business idea that turned out to be the right business idea for her: she would “combine the best of quantitative and traditional research to come up with a better way to manage money.” This led to the establishment of New Amsterdam in 1986.
As she struck out on her new venture, she did have support, such as her former professor who, when presented with her plan, decided to “do the deal” and bankroll the work. She also realized the risk she was taking: she was a vice president at a prestigious company, and this was a time when there were not many new companies being founded. “But I was young, bold and foolish, and I decided to take the plunge.”
There were the inevitable challenges that came her way, such as the market crash in 1987 and colleagues who thought what she was doing was too risky. But her resolve to continue despite the “bumps,” as she called them, was buoyed, in part, by her Jewish faith. “Religion really permeates your whole value system,” she noted, “and the thing that resonated most with me was Tzedakah—it’s not just charity, it’s also social justice, taking care of our community, taking care of those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Part of that community is women like herself who are trying to achieve success, which is why much of her charitable work focuses on research about and advocacy for women of all faiths and ages. “In fact,” she noted, “my work with Girl Scouts has taught me to be a better businessperson. If you can manage a group of nine-year-olds in a church basement, you can deal with any 50-year-old guy.”
Clayman offered several bits of wry and aspirational advice for the audience. The first is to be solid in one’s technical background so that no one can question one’s mastery of the information. Second, “I make shameless use of my voice by making sure that I always speak up in the first five minutes of a meeting: people stop because the voice is different, and that slight pause gives me a chance to establish credibility.” Third, to counter the tightrope that woman have to walk between competence and likability, “I use my self-deprecating charm to devastating effect in order to get my point across without pandering to people to make them like me.”
The most important element of all, she felt, “is to figure out what you’re interested in as early on as possible. Part of that is avoiding peer pressure by knowing what is the right thing for you so that you can tune out the nay-sayers. Go in and give it your best shot and have the courage to change your mind if something is not working out.”
Following the chat, Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, thanked Marcy Syms and the Syms Foundation for their support of the school and for “helping transform the Jewish people and the future.”
The highlight of the evening was an awards ceremony celebrating outstanding students and faculty. A complete list of the honorees can be found below.
In looking back over the evening, Emalfarb felt that the event was an unparalleled success. “The awards dinner highlighted all that the Sy Syms School of Business has to be proud of,” he noted, “while honoring students, faculty, and distinguished guests. Our community came together last night to celebrate the past, present, and future of our cherished business school.”
Dean Harold Nierenberg Valedictorian Award
Aliza Lobell-Klein and Alexander Selesny
Adam Livi and Chaim Rubin
Bernard Brown Award for Excellence in Business Studies
Henry Brout Award for Superior Scholarship in Accounting
Joseph Herbst Award for Excellence in Accounting
Dr. Joseph Kerzner Award for Outstanding Achievement in Accounting
Harry R. Mancher Award for Excellence in Accounting
Dean’s Award for Scholastic Achievement in Business Intelligence and Marketing Analytics
Sarah Couzens and Rebecca Kahn
Dean’s Award for Scholastic Achievement in Finance
Yakira Klein and Adam Livi
Dean’s Award for Scholastic Achievement in Strategy & Entrepreneurship
Davida Goldstein and Adam Kaufler
Dean’s Award for Scholastic Achievement in Marketing
Kevin Clair and Tanielle Kahan
Joel Hochman Award for Character and Service
Dean’s Award for Character and Service
Ilan Atri, Sara Dobkin, Anat Jacobson, Moshe Ovadia, Sarah Poborets, Ilana Sherizen, Raquel Sofer
Faculty of the Year Award
Adjunct of the Year Award
Dean’s Award to Student Council Presidents
Brandon Emalfarb and Shirel Swissa