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Wharton hosts a talk with the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat titled "Jerusalem's 3,000 Year Old Brand: Business Model in Municipal Government" Credit: Christina Prudencio , Christina Prudencio

When Nir Barkat took over as mayor of the Israeli city of Jerusalem, he used the lessons he learned as an entrepreneur to try to help the city.

Barkat, who founded and led several Israeli tech startups, spoke to about 100 people on Monday in Steinberg-Dietrich Hall about how the business philosophy he brought to Jerusalem has led to dramatic improvements in just four years.

Barkat described the city as having “huge potential that it is not exploiting.” He went as far as calling Jerusalem “a brand with three and half thousand years of investment.”

The mayor said one of his first goals was to increase the number of tourists visiting Jerusalem, which was lagging far behind cities like New York and Rome, to 10 million people annually.

To achieve this goal, Barkat said he began to increase the number of hotel rooms in the city and improve public transportation. After four years in office, the number of tourists has doubled.

Barkat said that he tries to “manage the government like an organization.” This includes creating “accountability, measurable results and transparency” in the same way a private sector company does, as well as cutting bureaucratic red tape.

The result of this, Barkat said, is an improved Jerusalem. “After four years, it is working,” he said. He noted the economy’s 8 percent annual growth and the 10,000 jobs the city is adding per year.

On the subject of governing over a city split between members of the Jewish, Christian and Arab faiths, Barkat said, “Working and living together is not a zero-sum game,” and that finding common ground was crucial for the city’s continued success.

College freshman Michelle Socher described hearing Barkat speak as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” but Wharton freshman Cameron Scari was not as satisfied.

He noted that Barkat “really didn’t care about social issues.” While Scari enjoyed the talk, he found it problematic that “[the mayor] talked about expanding development to East Jerusalem without acknowledging that it is a controversial idea.”

Before beginning his political career, Barkat was the co-founder of BRM Technologies, which created anti-virus software and helped Israeli entrepreneurs open their start-up companies in the United States. He later became the global chairman of Check Point Software, a spin-off company of BRM Technologies.

The event was hosted by Israel Knowledge@Wharton, one of many country-specific branches that the Wharton School operates. It “focuses on highlighting developments in innovation, globalization and social impact,” said Director and 1980 Wharton graduate Bruce Brownstein.

“Necessity has become the mother of invention in Israel,” Brownstein said.

And Barkat drove the theme of invention and investment home throughout his talk. He continually returned to the idea of improving Jerusalem to help the world. “We want to enable Jerusalem to open up for the benefit of the world,” Barkat said.

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