For a few minutes, she smiles warmly at the student leaders around the round wood table–a student council president (or three), the student life committee leaders, a presidential fellow, an editor—enjoying her words of wisdom regarding everything Stern College for Women related. Amid launching a new education program in her hometown of Charleston, spreading the idea of tikkun olam, and being CEO of her late husband’s company, The InterTech Group, Anita Zucker shared her experience as a female Jewish entrepreneur.
Anita Zucker’s days are like any other working woman’s: she wakes up, goes to the office, checks up on her kids, and does some charity work on the side—but beneath her humble exterior lies a whirlwind of success.
On November 12, in the company of CJF Dean Rabbi Brander, Monique C Katz, Dean Bacon, Office of the Dean Fellow Faygel Beren, OSL representative Rachel Ciment, SCW board member Mrs. Shira Yoshor, CJF community initiatives, Rabbi Ari Sitner, six student leaders were privileged to hear Mrs. Zucker reflect on her experiences as a Jewish woman in the professional world.
Ari Geller, president of SYMSSC reveled at Zucker’s business finesse, passion, and honesty. As a SYMS student and aspiring business person herself, Geller commented that Mrs Zucker “gave me hope that I could be a woman in the business world and be successful.”
InterTech Group, Zucker’s Forbes 500 Company, according to Business Week, “acquires and builds manufacturing companies specializing in polymer and elastomer products. It provides image marketing, order fulfillment, product distribution, and financial transaction services.” They produce products for all sorts of industries ranging from, but not limited to, aerospace aviation, medical, and hygiene products.
As Zucker takes a moment to think about the ramifications of her work, Zucker affirms that it “feels good to be making products that can keep someone safe when they are facing terrible obstacles in their lives.”
Perhaps it is a mixture of her Southern lifestyle and staunchly Jewish beliefs that have influenced her, but even as a high power CEO, Zucker still brings her Jewish values to work every day. “Tikkun olam (fixing the world) is very much a part of our business platform,” says Zucker about InterTech Group. “It is very neat to be able to be in a non-Jewish society and take my Judaism with me,” she says of all her business transactions.
When asked how she specifically incorporates tikkun olam and Jewish values into her business, Zucker leans towards the table animatedly: “I do it in many ways though my business,” she says in a matter of fact tone. “Through the products we make—making sure we produce products that are safe and complete…and excellent quality!”
InterTech Group products, as Zucker explains, are “products for safety.” Incidentally, “since 9/11 we’ve been involved in fire service…and we’ve been involved in military [technological products],” boasts Zucker. “If [consumers] get excellent quality hopefully they’ll be safe and secure. That,” she emphasizes, “is tikkun olam.”
Like many people who have the ability to affect change, Zucker has her political opinions in addition to her communal ones—though she didn’t present them from a given party platform. “I choose to lobby,” she tells us while encouraging students to get involved in fostering change in our communities. As a powerful woman in the workforce, Zucker noted that she is “excited to see what happened to the voice of women at the federal level.” When asked if she’d ever run for office herself, Zucker laughed and responded “I’d rather [work with politicians and see my ideas run through] than [run for office myself].”
One such idea that Zucker is currently working on is an education initiative. In Charleston, Zucker’s hometown, students aren’t as lucky as we are. Margot Reinstein, TAC president and Legacy Heritage student, internalized Zucker’s every point about education. “It was inspiring to me, as an aspiring educator, to see someone like Anita Zucker also believe education is the most important thing in the world. One idea which I thought was brilliant,” said REinstein excitedly, “is the idea of having teachers go into different fields for a day to learn about them. Of course, such a brilliant point! If teachers and supposed to be able to give student opportunities and open doors to go far in life and follow their passions, they need to know a little about the different options out there. They need to educate towards them!” This, a focal point of Zucker’s educational reform in South Carolina .
Zucker is currently spearheading a program with some South Carolina legislators to change some of the education funding patterns in her state. The program would send high school teachers into different educational fields to enable them to better teach their students about said careers. Furthermore, the aim of the program is to ultimately teach high school students, who don’t view themselves as college bound, some sort of trade—welding, for instance—so that they too can be employed and enter the work force with a set of useful skills.
She addressed the failures in the current public school systems but maintains that it is not the part of the government or the school: “Our government can’t keep up with how fast industry changes,” says Zucker passionately. “What we need to do is help education keep up.” Educational change is a necessity.
When discussing her motives in shifting educational funding Zucker got quite serious: “I’ve seen kids who have no one—their lives are really poor. They don’t have anyone who loves them or advises them… I try to provide the opportunities to be exposed to what the world is all about…Not every kid needs a college diploma but every kid needs some kind of career to support themselves and their future families.”
Having been a teacher herself for fourteen years, Zucker took this opportunity to teach the student leaders of SCW and, for that matter, the YU administration. “Once a teacher always a teacher,” she jokes. Even though Zucker has businesses, she is “involved in education every single day.” She reflects, “We live in a community [the American community] that has great needs in [the field of] education. Education is the key— it unlocks every door. If you educate someone you give them the opportunity to…get health care… to know what to do and ultimately to be successful and support a family.” As meta as it was to hear a former teacher reflecting on the positive role of education, Zucker’s point was clear: education is a valuable commodity and we at Yeshiva University are privileged to have such an extensive one.
Education is a point that resonates strongly with Zucker’s YU audience. Margot Reinstein, TAC president and Legacy Heritage student, could not stop singing Zucker’s praises. “She’s an incredible role model for us at SCW,” says Reinstein. “It was an honor meet with her. She was genuinely interested in our pursuits and only encouraging us to continue to make change and follow our dreams.”
Change though, is a huge part of today’s world—students must not be fooled. “You have to be prepared and learn about flexibility and be able to change if it’s necessary,” advises Zucker. “Change is hard. I got out of the teaching world and into the business world, but even though I got dropped into the business world, I knew the skills necessary to be a leader.”
The other valuable piece of advice Zucker has for women in business: network, network, network. “Having the ability to network really open doors that you may not even know need to be opened for the future,” she says enthusiastically. “I have found networking to be a great tool.”
Partly in praise of Zucker and partly as further advice to the ambitious ladies in the room, Dean Karen Bacon commented, “You have to collect as many skills as possible. You need to collect a lot of ideas and you never know when you’ll need to pull it out. You never know when ideas will be valuable don’t narrow yourself now so you can face the future.”
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