EdUniversal, the Paris-based international ratings agency has recently released its rankings of Israel’s MBA programs.  The highest rating, 5 Palms, was given to Tel Aviv University’s Sofaer International MBA program, while the Hebrew University’s Jerusalem School of Business Administration received 4 Palms.  All of the other schools in Israel (i.e. Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar-Ilan University, University of Haifa and the Technion) received a respectable 3 Palms rating as well.

Reading this I was drawn back to the summer of 2007 when our firm was working with the Southern California-based Merage Foundation for US-Israel Trade.  At that time, in addition to the program that was, and continues, to be in place where groups of 15 promising Israeli executives are hosted in California for what amounts to a two week practical MBA, the Foundation convened a conference in Tel Aviv to explore the Israeli MBA platform.  The brightest lights in industry, government and academia were assembled at the Tel Aviv Carlton hotel to delve into the challenges facing local MBA programs, their perceived value, what could be done to make them better and how best to do so.

The takeaways from the conference were that (a) the programs themselves were not of international caliber, (b) local industry did not have much respect for the quality of the academic experience and (c) there were basically no international MBA programs taught in English, the language of international commerce.

In an effort to change Israel’s MBA programs for the better, the Foundation decided to fund the creation of a dynamic, creative and challenging international MBA program to be taught in English at one of Israel’s universities, to be chosen after a careful evaluation of the commitment of each of them to making this change.  I recall attending a luncheon of the then deans of the graduate schools of business here in Israel where each of them made it clear that (a) they would like to have this program situated on their campus and (b) if it was on another campus they would start a competitive program.

15 months later the Foundation made a decision to work with the Technion to develop this program but, for a whole host of administrative challenges, the two parties were not able to successfully develop a constructive working relationship.  However, all of the deans understood the message and realized that the results of the analysis sponsored by the Foundation demanded individual action by each of them at their respective locations.  And so it was, by the end of the following year each of the major universities in Israel had put in place an international MBA program taught in English that could compete with their counterparts in other countries.

EdUniversal’s recognizing the success of this effort by awarding a 5 Palms rating to one school a 4 Palms rating to another and 3 Palms to all the rest is the official validation of the change that came about as a result of the work of the Foundation.

Paul Merage, the President of the Foundation and Marshall Kaplan, the then Executive Director, should rightly be recognized for having called attention to a graduate educational program that needed improvement and upgrading.  The current improved status of graduate business education in Israel is testimony to the fact that individual people can make a difference that will be of benefit to thousands of Israeli executives for many years to come and that it can be done quietly, respectfully and with the best interests of the country’s future at heart.

This is definitely a lesson that our present political leadership should learn which could be useful in dealing with a whole host of current issues as well.  Would that we would be so lucky.