More Than Just an Ordinary Closet

Date: December 17, 2016 11:51 pm
Author: Benjamin Zirman

americas-closetIs there a better way to learn about management and how to run a company then starting an actual company? In a YU course taught this fall that meets for two hours every Wednesday night called Managing the Family Business, professor Howard Jonas has taken a totally different approach to teaching. Gone are the complicated syllabuses, boring information, and impractical theories and instead Mr. Jonas has decided to teach the students what they wanted to learn. After a few classes of sharing his experiences and expertise in many industries he thought the class was still missing something. He decided the class should start a business and opened the floor to ideas from the students themselves. After a few class discussions, “America’s Closet” was born.  

The company is designing a website that will be a platform for different retailers to sell their “Made in America” clothing products. Their screening process for partnering fashion companies is threefold: made in America, reliable in quality, and fashionable.They plan to serve all genders, styles, and price points. The company plans to take a percentage of the sales made with a long term vision of increasing margins and directed advertising once they are able to collect data from their site. The class decided on this idea when students combined their interests in helping America and turning a profit. The business plan isn’t to just address one clothing market, but it is to attract many different types of customers united in their patriotism and commitment to American products and manufacturing. They were given a starting budget of $10,000 to build the company off the ground. They believe this is a revolutionary platform that has the power to help grow American products and keep money in America.

Before looking closer at the company let’s look at the course’s innovative professor. Howard Jonas has been overseeing the development of the company as the teacher of the class. Mr. Jonas is the 60-year-old founder, chairman, and controlling shareholder of IDT Corporation, one of the largest telecommunications companies in America, a Forbes 1000 corporation. He two graduated from Bronx High School of Science and then got a BA in economics from Harvard University. He currently lives in Riverdale, NY with his wife, Debbie, and nine children.  In addition, he is among the world’s leading Jewish philanthropists as Mr. Jonas and his wife are estimated to give away a tremendous portion their income to charity, backing causes that help the needy and broken. Mr. Jonas, who was not raised as an Orthodox Jew, also funds a diverse range of Orthodox causes and has a large portion of orthodox employees at IDT. He is also an accomplished author with books called I’m Not the Boss: I Just Work Here, Faith and Depression, and On a Roll From Hot Dog Buns To High Tech. When I reached out to him about his class he told me “There is an urban legend that at YU you’re going to find 10% of the kids could’ve gone to any university. This company created by my class is giving those truly outstanding people a chance to do something special.” Mr. Jonas is an extremely valuable asset to the YU faculty and friend to the school as a whole.

The class itself has transformed with the growth of this idea. Each member of the class has been divided up into one of four different teams for the company. The four groups are: a publicity and advertising team, a sourcing team, a shipping and warehouse team, and a customer service team. They have also appointed two students into leadership positions as Boruch Gralnik, a junior from Los Angeles majoring in management and minoring in marketing, was chosen as CEO and Josh Gurin was picked as COO.

Boruch’s first assignment was to divide the class into these four different arms of the company. He based his decisions on input from his peers, as he asked them to submit their top three choices and tried to accommodate accordingly. Boruch also has the responsibility of meeting with Howard Jonas once a week to give an update how the company is developing, to sets goals for the upcoming week, and to devise a game plan to accomplish these goals. Boruch told me “It’s always been my dream to start and run a successful company and bring value to the world. I’m not just a passionate entrepreneur who is stumbling blindly through the dark trying to find my way. I have gotten tremendous guidance and vision from experts and role models that have made this experience so enjoyable so far.” When students show up to class every Wednesday, they are either divided up by teams to work on their specific assignments, or if something groundbreaking happens or a specific goal or problem arises that needs to be addressed, they tackle it as a class, often by having a class discussion led by Mr. Jonas. Their homework assignments have also been converted into group projects trying to accomplish different things for the company that they couldn’t finish in class. Such assignments range from figuring out production logistics to finding brands to partner with. This is definitely a very different way of learning that most college kids don’t get to experience in their other lectures and classes.

Boruch updated me on the progress of the company so far, as well as future aspirations. Currently, their website is under construction and they are about to finish their logo. One big advantage the class has, is their ability to use IDT’s name and resources to help the business get going. They have agreed to divide the equity between YU, IDT, the CEO, the COO, and employees, although no numbers have been settled upon. The company isn’t looking for outside funding and plans to work in the budget outlined for them. However, they are in search of patriotic companies, manufacturers, and new brands to make strategic alliances and partnerships with. In terms of a future expansion plan, the company currently is focused on partnering with bigger and bigger companies to help build their name, create traction, and acquire a strong user base. Down the road they plan to manufacture their own products in America to bring even more jobs to America and capitalize on their industry experience and expertise. Mr. Jonas further explained to me that “Every business is more probable to fail than succeed, but the greater the dream the more that’s the case. If we concentrate on the entrepreneurs at YU, people would think twice about going other places where they are just taught theory. Here you can get hands on experience in building something valuable and real. This class could do more for YU than any new building or successful fundraising campaign.” At the end of semester, some students will be asked to join the founding team as a reward for their quality of work and effort throughout the semester.

Boruch spoke a little bit more with me about the opportunity to be a CEO of this company and working with Mr. Jonas. His favorite part is being exposed to so many new and cool companies as well as some of the biggest names in the fashion industry.  He recently met with one of the founders of the line Ralph by Ralph Lauren to talk about starting the company and getting advice from an industry expert. The most challenging aspect of the fashion industry for Boruch is the need to stay up to date with current trends. In addition, learning how to market a clothing company with its constantly changing products and messages depending on the season and trends. But the most valuable thing that he may have gained is his relationship with Mr. Jonas. He told me, “Being able to have the opportunity to learn so much from someone on a personal one on one level is amazing. The man breaths experience with all of his projects and intentions geared towards trying to make a difference in the world. Whether it will be a pharmaceutical company trying to solve pancreatic cancer or trying to make Israel and the greater western world oil independent there is a clear combination of business with passion. Learning from such a value-driven man is really special as I have learned it’s not all about making money but trying to make the world a better place in some way.”  
If a student is interested in joining the team at “America’s Closet” for a paid internship, they should email Boruch at boruch.gralnik@idt.net. This homegrown YU startup could be a notable accomplishment for the university and its student body.

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This post was written by Benjamin Zirman

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