By: Aaron Karesh | Business  | 

How to Succeed: An Entrepreneurship Society Event

On April 24, the YU Entrepreneurship Society hosted an event where they brought in professionals from three different fields — real estate, equity research, and venture capital. Jordan Sloan is the Chairman and CEO of Harbor Group International, a real estate investment firm with about $7.3 billion worth of assets. A Managing Director at Barclays, Joseph Wolf works in the company’s equity research division analyzing technology stocks. Mickey Klein is the Director of Brooklyn Brands, which owns the company that produces kosher babka that is sold at major grocery chains such as Trader Joe’s. These three executives were brought in to discuss their respective businesses and to give advice to students aspiring to achieve success in whatever field they choose.

Yonah Hiller, the President of the Society, moderated the panel, and began by asking what drove the men to succeed in their respective industries. Klein began by explaining that for himself and his partners, the focus was two-fold: “What always drove my partners and me was finding interesting businesses where we liked both the products and the finances.” This point forced attendees to take a step back and recognize that while profit is of utmost importance, it is just as necessary to have a love and passion for what you do.

Sloan’s message was quite different, emphasizing his affinity for problem solving. He explained that every single day he’s presented with 200 new challenges that he could have never seen coming, and it is his job to address them either personally or by delegating responsibilities to his nearly 850 employees around the world. With offices in the United Kingdom and Israel, Sloan is an early riser, and he makes it his mission to learn something new everyday. “If you’re not learning something new every single day,” he said, “you’re doing something wrong.”

As en equity research analyst and former engineer, Wolf’s mission is driven by finding out what makes the companies he covers and the people he manages tick — why do they do what they do? Whether it’s speaking to executives of a technology company or addressing employee needs, Wolf places a heavy emphasis on adaptation: “I was a tech analyst during the tech bubble in the early 2000’s, and there wasn’t a single day in the office that was anything like the last one. One morning I was in the office and the markets were sky-high, and the next morning I came in and the markets were in shambles. Being able to adapt to changing situations has been a large factor in getting me to where I am today.”

On that note, Hiller asked the panelists to define success. As aspiring professionals, we often view success as making a lot of money, living in a nice house, taking extravagant vacations, and driving a luxurious car; the panelists explained that while those things are nice byproducts of succeeding in the corporate world, those things are not the most important. Across the board, they spoke about how important it is to find activities and hobbies they enjoy outside of the office, and stressed how valuable spending time with loved one’s is. Whether it’s Wolf’s cooking for his kids or leining in shul, Sloan’s spending time with family or learning with his various chavrutas, or Klein’s golfing and whisky-drinking, each and every panelist has a clear hobby — a venture, if you will — that they pursue and enjoy in addition to their work. While work is literally life for many young professionals, it is always important to find time for yourself and for others, because as Sloan iterated, being a businessperson can lead to having a very selfish mindset and it is crucial to remember how important it is to make a positive difference in others’ lives: “I don’t want to live any day without having done something good for someone else, be it in business or my personal life.” This sentiment is one that all YU students should make an effort to instill in their daily lives, especially as we get caught up in the stress and competition of finding a job.

Hiller then shifted the conversation toward the topic of reputation, and to the importance of having a shem tov — a good name — in the business world. Sloan explained that from the founding of Harbor Group in 1985, he has placed an extreme emphasis in conducting himself in a manner that would reflect well on himself, his company, and the Jewish people at large. Wolf complimented that by sharing a line a former colleague of his once told him. “As an equity researcher,” he said, “the object of the job is to be right with humility and wrong with integrity,” and while he specified his own profession, this is true across the board. Klein played off of Wolf’s approach to business by explaining that despite having invested in companies that ultimately led to losses for his investors, they still came back and invested with him because of the shem tov he had managed to maintain. At the same time, though, he recognized the reality in which we live — the reality that has all of us competing against one another for the same few jobs at the same few firms: “As you get into the world of finance, real estate, or whatever career path you wish to pursue, with everyone jockeying for the same position, it’s important to stay true to yourself, but at the same time, learn how to play chess and navigate the waters.”

At the end of the day, whatever career path we decide to choose, it is important to recognize the following principle — a principle that the panelists all emphasized and live their lives by: While success comes in many shapes and sizes, one must realize that family is of utmost importance, and that the ultimate success in a world that is full of people trying to one-up each other is having a shem tov.