Monday, March 8, 2010

Lunch with Raz

After finishing with my MICAT exam at Jai Hind college at 12.30 pm, I decided I'd have some lunch before heading home as my folks were out and there was no one home to cook for me. I went to Leopold Cafe to grab a quick lunch. As expected, the place was crowded since it was Sunday. As I entered the cafe, a tourist came in along with me. The manager there noticed only one table empty and asked both of us if we could share the table. Usually I don't like to sit with unknown people (especially foreigners) but I didn't object as I was too hungry. The tourist set aside his backpack and pull out a large guide book about India, and started scanning through it, probably to decide on what to order. A moment later he asked me to recommend something. I suggested a tandoor dish. He ordered the same and introduced himself. And what I imagined to be a simple half an hour lunch turned into a two and a half hour discussion.

My meeting with Dr. Gal Raz was as interesting as it was unexpected. I have a certain soft corner for Israelis considering their recent history, and when he told me he was from Israel, I was already glad to have met him. He turned out to be a faculty in Darden school of business at Virginia university. We had a lot to talk about, as I myself am an aspiring candidate for management in finance.

Initially we spoke on India. The first thing he asked me was about my time in Mumbai. I guess he asked me this because he must have heard it from somewhere that Mumbai is a place where most of the Indians hope to migrate to in their life. He was quiet surprised to know that my family have been in Mumbai since the last 400 years (or more perhaps). He asked me the places to visit in Mumbai and had to disappoint him by telling him Mumbai is a totally westernized city and that it isn't much different from any other western place. The next we spoke on tourist locations in India.

But he couldn't keep himself from asking about economy and soon we were discussing the recession and its effects in India. After giving him a glimpse of Indian economy, I asked him a question I should have asked him little earlier.

'I heard it that the work culture in Israel is quite unhealthy'. I realized a spit second later that it was probably the wrong choice of words. He said, 'What do you mean by that?' I told him that I had read in the news that Israeli employees have hardly any respect for the seniors and are very offensive in the meetings and have a little politeness or manners.'

From his face I could make out that I hit the nail right. He accepted that it was true, and said that being from Israel he had faced it before. But then he immediately moved on defensive and spoke non stop for more than half an hour (the pride of his homeland was at stake). He said that Israelis are the least polite when it comes to discussing strategies. An Englishman, if ever had to disagree with his boss, he would start with, "I agree with your point, but there is a small problem of... '. For the same case an employee in Israel would reply to his boss as, 'You're talking bullshit and your gonna screw up the...'. In Israel any employee can walk up to the director and argue with him over any matter, and even use explicit language.

But Dr. Raz said that unlike other countries where people at higher posts are quick to take offense and never excuse juniors for any vituperations, Israelis don't take such comments as a offense and it doesn't hurt their ego in any way when their juniors point. While a severe argument with your boss can get you fired in India, it can get you promoted in Israel. Dr. Gal argued that such a culture actually improves the competitiveness and productivity of a firm when bosses accept criticism and questioning in a constructive manner.

I find it difficult to believe though that seniors don't have any ego problems with their juniors finding out faults and nagging them about it. But if it is true, Israel would be a great place to hire employees from, as people would focus more on productivity and less on office manners.

We then spoke about why Indians have an edge over the rest of Asians for competing for jobs abroad. I said it was one of the advantages of the British rule (one of the very few), that we have focused on education standards better than other Asians. He was quick to agree with me on that citing Israel as another example of the same. Finally after ending the conversation with prospects for entrepreneurship in India, Dr. Gal left for the Gateway of India, and I looked down on my unfinished stake.

It was great knowing Dr. Raz Gal, sharing my views with him. After getting to know more about Israeli work culture from him, he reminded me that we should look forwards for positives in everything and shun away all the negatives of any culture.