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Sy Syms School of Business: Always Open for Business, Especially Amidst the Crisis

The Sy Syms School of Business is always searching for ways to help educate and support its students and the broader YU community. The educational challenges posed by COVID-19 spurred the school, under the leadership of Dr. Noam Wasserman, dean of Sy Syms, to come up with innovative and exciting program possibilities for both this past semester and the coming summer.

Managerial, Financial, and Spiritual Lessons from the Crisis

Rarely in their development do students get a chance to learn directly about how to deal with crises, but Sy Syms put together three educational events to help students focus on the managerial, financial and spiritual lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, March 31, Sy Syms hosted a webinar with Laizer Kornwasser, adjunct clinical assistant professor of management, on crisis management. Wednesday, April 1, featured a fireside chat with Morris (Moshe) Smith, former manager of the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund and one of the most prominent Orthodox Jews in the finance industry before he made aliyah [emigration to Israel]. The month was capped off by a fireside chat between Dr. Wasserman and Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, who studied at Sy Syms and is now the head of the semicha [rabbinic ordination] program at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

Managerial View

In “J&J Tylenol, the Iowa Caucus and the RCBC: Crisis Management 101,” Kornwasser examined how leaders responded to three crisis situations: the Iowa caucus debacle; Johnson & Johnson and the Tylenol tampering crisis; and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County’s (RCBC) life-saving response to the COVID-19 situation.

The key lessons of his presentation: Be transparent, understand how you will deal with the unexpected, don’t blame others (“it’s our problem”), communicate often, act quickly, take decisive action, do not go into hiding, understand your constituents (customers, employees, vendors and so on) and tailor your plan for communications. Towards the end of the presentation, he talked about the importance of resilience in crisis management. Examples he used to make his points included reasons why the Jewish people observe the holiday of Lag BaOmer, which celebrates Rabbi Akiva’s resilience despite having lost 24,000 students.

Financial View

On April 1, in a live online fireside chat moderated by Michael Klein (’18SB), Smith discussed his early career path, which included why he decided to get an MBA, why he entered the mutual-fund industry and why he was chosen to manage Magellan, at the time the largest mutual fund in the world. The talk also included his investing and market perspectives on how to beat market returns and implications for today’s wild swings. He warned that the crisis would have echoes for years and exhorted the students to take a very different view of market dynamics than they had taken just a month before.

Of special interest to the audience, Smith discussed being Jewish in the workplace and how his decisions have been influenced by Torah values. He gave helpful and insightful guidance on how to balance Yiddishkeit [observant Jewish way of life] and professional responsibilities; he also discussed his involvement in philanthropy.

Spiritual View

Aryeh LebowitzTo end the month, Dr. Wasserman held a live online fireside chat with Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, during which they covered the “3 Cs” of Rabbi Lebowitz’s career path and the role that Sy Syms played in shaping it, his experiences as a pulpit rabbi during the crisis, and his words of chizuk [emotional and spiritual encouragement]. The gems that emerged include the following:

Career Lessons: Test lots of waters before you decide on a path. Before making a major decision, make sure to consult your mentors and especially check with your spouses. While at YU, make the most of both the Torah and Madda sides of your education and learn how to bring them together smoothly when you enter the workplace.

Creative Chesed: As a people, we do a lot of chesed [charity]. In the current crisis, Hashem has taken from us our ability to do chesed in our usual ways, sparking our need to find more creative ways to help others. Think about someone who would benefit from your reaching out; make “random phone calls” showing your support or expressing your love for the person.

Family Focus: Sometimes we get so focused on doing chesed for others (for example, welcoming guests to our Shabbos table every meal) that we lose sight of what our family needs. Think about reserving one meal each Shabbos where you have only your family, like what we have right now.

Provide for Your Family: My heart sinks every time I see a financial appeal for a young family who lost a parent and will be left destitute without help from the community. Buy life insurance so your family won’t be in that situation!

Long-lasting Adjustments: We have had to adjust in a lot of ways. Think about adjustments you’ve made that you want to continue even after the crisis ends and find ways to consciously build them into your routines so they will last for the longer term.