Positive progress on a key Olin strategy: Research reputation

Two events in recent weeks perfectly manifest the investment we’ve made to advance a key strategic priority for WashU Olin Business School—strengthening and broadening our reputation for impactful research.

One of those events puts a human face on our work; the other is more data driven.

Let’s delve first into the personal example. We were pleased last month to recognize Nicolae Gârleanu, professor of finance, who received the Stephen A. Ross Award. This tremendous achievement in finance research is awarded biennially by the Foundation for the Advancement of Research in Financial Economics for the best piece of financial research in the past 15 years.

That announcement came in January, shortly after Professor Gârleanu joined Olin’s faculty as a full professor following 13 years with the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business. While we must acknowledge that Nicolae’s award-winning research was done even before his time at Haas, his presence at Olin illustrates the success of an important tactic we’ve employed: Recruiting strong, mid-career scholars to our faculty.

When I first arrived at Olin, I was impressed by the high quality of the faculty. I wanted to build on that high level of talent, as I’ve discussed in past blog posts. While nurturing our existing talent, we are systematically recruiting seasoned and senior faculty with records of producing top research who want to join our outstanding research faculty. Nicolae’s recent award brings to light an example of how it’s working.

It’s important to note, by the way, that such a strategy only works if faculty see value in joining Olin. They must see that their research is supported as a priority.

“I have not needed extensive financial support; time is a more important consideration for me,” Professor Gârleanu said recently. “Olin offers excellent opportunities to organize one’s teaching and administrative duties in a highly efficient manner. In that regard, it is far ahead of many other universities.”

What the data says

The second significant event illustrating the success of our research strategy came with the release in early February of the 2021 Financial Times full-time MBA ranking. WashU Olin’s top-25 global showing—the highest in our history—was significant in-and-of itself. But hidden among the ranking criteria was this little gem: Olin placed first in the world for research.

That ranking is based on the number of publications per capita in the top 50 business research journals. And although the FT’s tally carried on without five of the world’s highly ranked schools—Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan and Columbia Business School—the trajectory of our research ranking remains remarkable, rising from 12th in 2019, to ninth, then first in subsequent years.

Such a trajectory also gets noticed when we recruit faculty. As Todd Milbourn, vice dean of faculty and research notes, prospective faculty members look at us “to see how productive the faculty are. Are our faculty publishing in the field’s top journals? Are our faculty presenting at the big conferences? We are in the top set of schools in this regard.”

A few more data points

While those examples are recent and significant in our drive toward building Olin’s research reputation, they’re not the only points worth mentioning. Consider:

  • Emphasizing research has meant raising research allowances, increasing the number of funded PhD placements, raising PhD stipends and rewarding research performance through promotion, early promotion and merit awards.
  • Our faculty hiring strategy also included creating the “professor of practice” position, providing the space and time for path-breaking research while maintaining and building on our teaching strength.
  • Our research productivity remains high in other measures, as well. For example, the University of Texas at Dallas’ business research database for 2020, tracking publications in 24 leading journals, ranked Olin 20th in North America, with 160 articles published between 2015 and 2019, up from 151 in the previous four-year period.
  • A broad selection of Olin faculty members have secured editor posts on noted journals—too many to enumerate here. And in related news, our supply chain faculty assembled such a strong lineup of academic papers for the fifth Supply Chain Finance and Risk Management Workshop in May 2019, an important journal in the discipline devoted its entire October issue to the research.

These examples do not represent the end of the work. They’re guideposts, signaling progress in the right direction. And it is worth pausing for a moment to take note of these guideposts—but only a moment.

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