Earlier this month, I was invited to deliver a guest lecture to students in the International MBA Program at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan. The topic was “Facilitating International Trade” and the students were in the 25-35 age group. Half of them were local Israelis, while the other half were Chinese, Indian, Singaporean and Taiwanese with a good representation of Americans and Europeans as well. Most if not all had worked in the high tech industry for at least a few years and all of them had chosen to do their MBA in Israel to be in close proximity to the local tech ecosystem.
A word about the emergence of international MBA programs in English in Israel: Bar Ilan was the first university to go down this path almost 20 years ago. With the exception of a China-oriented MBA program at the University of Haifa, no other Israeli university had such a program taught in English as recently as 10 years ago. Through extensive research done by the Merage Foundation for US-Israel Trade whom EDI represented in Israel at that time, it was clear that for Israel to develop its MBA programs into something of real value to both the students and local industry, these programs had to take on an international flavor and be taught in English. Today, every major university in the country has such a program.
What struck me about the student body I addressed that day at Bar Ilan was their maturity in understanding and appreciating the diversity and globalization of today’s business world. These young people, most of whom I discovered want to operate their own businesses someday (one even wants to be a future Nobel winner), seem to be driven to pursue success wherever they may find it regardless of the location or the industry. That type of flexibility in young people augurs well for continued development of global business.
What disappointed me was their appalling lack of awareness of, and adherence to, basic communication protocols that make international business function. We have all heard about the younger generation’s dependency on electronic communication for their social interaction. But what is difficult to internalize until you come face to face with it, is the lack of social skills that comes with this dependency.
I asked, for example, how many people leave messages when they call someone and no one answers? The answer: none. One young man said he only deals with text messages via SMS or some similar vehicle. When I asked him if his phone message told people to send him an SMS instead of leaving a message, he said “no.” And, of course, he had no answer for me when I asked him how people are supposed to know that this is his preference?
Anticipating all of this, I prepared a segment of the talk on “the basics” of communication (e.g. returning phone calls promptly, prompt responses to emails, delivering on what you promise, etc.) which was actually received quite well. Nevertheless, those of us operating in the business world today need to be cognizant of the modus operandi of young people when it comes to communication and not have the expectation that their standards mirror ours. You can imagine the look on their faces when I said that I make it a practice to send an e mail each evening to all of the people with whom I met that day.
But all hope is not lost. Some of the people I met will be leaders in their respective fields in the future and, by then, no doubt they will be using proper and functional communication skills whose value they have come to appreciate.
Sherwin Pomerantz is president of Atid-EDI Ltd., an economic development consulting firm with 26 years’ experience in assisting overseas companies and public entities in their export promotion and foreign direct investment attraction efforts.