My elevator pitch: What are we working on at Olin?

Welcome to the debut of “The Desk of the Dean,” a monthly feature of the Olin Blog by Dean Mark P. Taylor. This column will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

A few weeks ago, I met a group of St. Louis-based Olin alumni for cocktails, all of whom now work in the healthcare industry. As one does at a cocktail party, they asked how things were going at Olin: “What are you working on?”

I have an answer to that question, which I follow with a question of my own. Sometimes, I think my question surprises our alumni, but I’ll get to that shortly.

When I’m casually asked about our plans for Olin, I’m aware nobody really wants a PowerPoint presentation or a dense review of Olin’s strategic plan over hors d’oevres and a glass of wine. They want the big picture, the 30,000-foot view: Where are we headed?

As dean of a highly ranked business school, I’m confronted with this scenario fairly often—at the gate awaiting a flight, in the queue at the cinema, even on an elevator. What kind of business school would we be if I weren’t prepared with an elevator pitch for just these moments?

Mine goes something like this: At Olin, we’re enhancing our programme to cultivate business leaders with solid analytical skills, grounded in a strong value system, who can change the world, for good. We’re creating a programme that will prepare innovative, entrepreneurial leaders with a global perspective on business. We’re taking Olin from good to great.

And that’s when the alumni get my question: What can Olin do for you?

We are not bashful about asking our former students for something—particularly their donations or their time. So, when I ask this question of our alumni, I find that they’re frequently surprised. But over the nearly 600 days since I became dean, I’ve also found this question resonates.

They want to know they graduated from an institution that has continued to produce market-ready graduates long after they earned their diplomas. So, I know we’re on the right track when I get a parent’s letter praising Konnie Henning, associate director of academic and student affairs, for how she coached a student through difficult times to see her graduate and enter a thriving career.

Alumni want to know their alma mater produces path-leading research to give them a competitive edge and help them peer around the corner ahead of emerging business trends. So, I’m confident we’re on the right track when our faculty publishes 79 papers in top academic journals in a single year. Their goal 42 percent greater than last year.

I feel the same when global agribusiness company Syngenta invites Ling Dong and Durai Sundaramoorthi to present their groundbreaking, Olin Award-winning research that will help farmers optimize their seed choices based on weather, soil and geographic conditions.

In short, our alumni want to know their diploma is actually worth more than it was when they earned it. I’m fond of saying a WashU education is not a bond to be cashed in. It’s an equity that can grow and pay dividends. A degree from WashU’s Olin Business School should mean something when our alumni ask for that next pay raise or apply for the next promotion.

That’s what we’re working on at Olin.

Pictured above: The reception at Third Degree Glass Factory ahead of the luncheon honoring the 2018 Olin Emerging Leaders in April 2018. Exactly the sort of event where I answer these sorts of questions about the direction of Olin Business School.

“The Desk of the Dean” appears on the first Wednesday of the month.

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