Dean Strauss: The Man Behind the Story
Dean Michael Strauss is the Associate Dean, Professor of Management, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Sy Syms School of Business, and an Assistant to the Provost. Prior to joining Yeshiva University in 2008, Dean Strauss held numerous high-level corporate positions, ranging from Executive Vice President of the Travel and Related Services Division of American Express to CEO of Sherwood Consulting group and to Chairman of BSafe Electrix. His education includes a Bachelor's in Business Administration from City College of New York and an M.B.A from Baruch College Graduate School. All this and more can be found on his curriculum vitae.
Here’s what you won’t find on Dean Strauss’s CV: He came to this country with nothing.
Michael Strauss was born in Israel and moved to New York at the age of fourteen without a cent to his name. Upon moving to the states, a young Strauss had high aspirations; he didn’t want to merely break into the world of American business, he wanted to run his own business. In order to make that happen, he knew that he would have to work hard and climb the New York City corporate ladder on merit rather privilege.
To the extent that one can plan their career, Dean Michael Strauss has done as good of a job as anyone else. After earning his M.B.A. from Baruch College he decided that if he was indeed committed to his dreams, he would first need an understanding of several disciplines: Sales, finance, marketing, operations, and technology. Enter his first job at First National City Bank, now known as Citibank.
His initial responsibilities at the bank involved computer programming, which gave him the opportunity to focus on the technology component of his five-skill plan. At heart though, he knew he wasn’t there to become a programmer; he was there to learn how to run a department of programmers.
After getting some experience with tech at City Bank, he sought to scratch another item off his list: sales. To that end, Dean Strauss left City Bank and took up a job as Assistant Operations Officer at Bank of New York (BNY). He spent his time there meeting with treasurers of publically traded companies who were clients of BNY, pitching them on using the bank’s cash management programs.
After spending a total of eight years honing the skills on his agenda, Dean Strauss used his driven mentality, a solid recommendation, and a little bit of luck to land a job as an Assistant Treasurer at one of America’s most well respected corporations, the American Express Company.
Upon arrival at American Express, however, Michael Strauss knew that he was different from his coworkers. He didn’t come from money, he didn’t attend an Ivy, and he didn’t have a big name father to walk him into the job. As always though, Michael Strauss saw it the other way around. He was driven to succeed because he didn’t have another option, and eventually he would make it all the way to the top because he had the work ethic and endurance to do it.
In a matter of a few years at American Express, Dean Strauss moved from staff positions to a manager role, and from there to a position as vice president. It was at that time, approximately eight years after receiving his M.B.A, that Dean Strauss elevated to the role of Vice President and was finally able to sit down in his large corporate office located hundreds of feet above ground, with a sign on the front door reading: “Michael Strauss: General Manager – Gold Card Division.” That wasn’t it for Dean Strauss while at American Express; he was still able to climb a few more rungs on the corporate ladder and ultimately secure a role as one of the company’s select Executive Vice Presidents.
Dean Strauss credits his success in business and in life to three things: hard work, perseverance, and, as he likes to say, “A little help from above.” Yet, as proud as he and his family are of his accomplishments, only now does he recognize the true cost of the sacrifices he had to make in order to provide his family with the opportunities he never had growing up. I could sense the emotion in his eyes when he remarked to me that “ if I had to do it over again I would make sure that I spent more time with my family during my early years in business rather than travel almost all the time. I compensate now by attending all of my granddaughter’s extra curricular activities, and love it.” A comment like that usually invites the classic lesson: as important as your career is, always make sure not to let your life and loved ones slip by.
I drew something different from his words.
Dean Strauss, as he himself puts it, achieved success in business through his hard work, perseverance, and faith in God. Though these three traits surely helped him along the way, I believe that Michael Strauss has been successful because he has always led a life of context.
From a young age, Dean Strauss recognized the importance of stepping back and considering the bigger picture. Where have I been. What have I done. What cards was I dealt. What do I plan on doing with them. His complex and challenging upbringing uniquely prepared, if not outright forced him, to consider life macrocosmically rather than through a harrowed, day-to-day lens. And this perspective, this uniquely Jewish perspective, is what I believe drew Dean Michael Strauss to Yeshiva University.
It is a historically Jewish notion to live a life of context, self-reflection, and most importantly, of vision. The Jewish belief in redemption, both in the individual and as a nation, confirms that. Judaism no doubt requires a hard work ethic and mental perseverance, and these are surely keys to success in any culture, but the underlying message that Dean Strauss has brought to YU is really nothing that we as Jewish students don’t (or at least should) already know: success in business and in Judaism is earned by taking yourself out of the rat race, by picking your head up above the daily grind of career advancement and considering the sweep of life rather than its constituent parts. Dean Strauss has gracefully demonstrated a lifelong commitment to this mission and has utilized it in his own journey of success. His story will hopefully inspire YU students to do the same.