Students participate in a Darden Worldwide Course to Israel in 2015.

“Doing business in Israel is direct. Israelis just want to get to the point. It is refreshing, but you’ve got to be ready. From the moment you shake hands, you had better be ready to go!” explained Charles Lessin, Vice Chairman of the VA Israel Advisory Board and U.Va. Class of 1981 graduate.

Charles, along with Meiky Tolman, EVP of International Growth and Capabilities of American hummus brand Sabra Dipping Company, and Louis Mitchener, Senior VP North America Division of Oran Safety Glass Inc, recently discussed doing business in Israel with students who will soon be experiencing the country first-hand.

In March, about 19 U.Va. McIntire students will visit Israel for a global program, followed shortly by 34 Darden students participating in a Darden Worldwide Course to Israel focused on technology and innovation. Both Darden and McIntire students gathered to hear from Charles, Meiky and Louis for a pre-departure session as they prepare for their upcoming international courses.

Darden Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne who will lead the Darden course to Israel moderated the panel. She provided context, from not only an academic, but also a personal perspective, as she grew up in Israel and served the required military duty: “In some ways, the military plays a role similar to academic background in the U.S. It gives you credentials and acts as a melting pot where everyone gets to know each other. People create lifelong connections there, which help later in business too. In Israel, actions speak significantly louder than words and you kind of have to prove yourself and establish your credibility before doors open.”

Louis Mitchener, an American who manages the North American Division of Israeli company, Oran Safety Glass, shared that when he was hired by the company 11 years ago, “they didn’t care about my schooling or where I’d been. They just liked that I was direct and to the point. They saw that organically through other interactions and then they asked me to join them to lead the North America division after I had proven myself.”

One Darden student asked the panelists to talk about the innovation ecosystem in Israel, noting that in the Silicon Valley, there is a lot of value placed on where people go to college and their educational network. Meiky Tolman, who lives in Virginia, grew up in Israel and explained that “The military is a powerful influence for business in the Israeli culture overall and even in the start-up culture there. There is a lot of daring and willingness to take a risk, which is really powerful when combined with the ability to move fast. People plan their career in that way too, willing to take risks and move quickly, which is possible, especially when you’ve got a great network of people you trust.”

Darden’s course to Israel will provide students with the opportunity to learn about the country’s history, unique geographic and cultural positioning, as well as see the well-developed innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in person. Through meeting with entrepreneurs themselves, established business leaders, government representatives and professional organizations, students will hear from practitioners about their own experiences and have the opportunity to engage in discussion. The course will take the group to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Tel Aviv over the course of the 10-day program.