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The partnership between Washington University and the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, goes back a long way. Back in 1916, a St. Louis business leader named Robert S. Brookings founded the first private organization to study public service and nurture future public leaders. From that point on, the Brookings Institution became a community home for anyone looking to learn about government and a service-driven career.

Robert Brookings was also head of Washington University’s governing board for more than three decades (1895-1928). Seventy seven years after his passing, the Brookings Institution and Olin Business School joined in partnership to offer a new program in 2009, now known as WashU at Brookings.

In this program, leadership education brings the worlds of government and business together. The program focuses on the principle that the development of leaders is always about service and purpose. Leaders who are purpose-driven will contribute to their communities, help colleagues to advance in their careers, and educate and inspire others to think globally.

What can students expect from the ‘WashU at Brookings’ program?

The WashU at Brookings program combines the environments of business and government and acknowledges the intersection of these two fundamental bodies of knowledge. Through this self-aware approach, the program empowers students to develop skill sets for both worlds.

Students will experience this intersection for themselves to gain a level of insight into the business and government relationship beyond just news coverage. Students study firsthand the impact of government policies on business, the way think tanks work, and how policymakers are solving problems from different viewpoints.

How does this work in practice?

Learn from leaders about national or international topics

The program offers unique access to leaders. Washington, D.C., is the physical meeting point of business and government, and it can connect a student to the exceptional thinkers they need to learn from.

Need to talk to somebody who’s an expert on Thailand’s economy? You can find them here. Need a source from the IMF or the World Bank? They’re here. Students get to connect with people who actually have a working role in building policy for emerging economies. Learning from lived experience is highly valuable for students and sets them up to move from MBA to careers in government.

Be part of interactive discussions

Students have the opportunity to participate in interactive discussions with the people that they would normally see on CNN or FOX. The learning they can have in the WashU at Brookings program is not just a lecture series; students ask questions specific to their own research and business interests. Students can follow up and seek deeper understanding during discussions, and they can get frank answers they wouldn’t hear anywhere else.

Benefit from a wider perspective

On top of these relationships with influential people and organizations, WashU at Brookings gives students the perspective to see the forest for the trees, to understand how everything fits together.

An MBA from a program focused on global business can show a future leader what working in a real global business environment will be like, complete with obstacles and issues. Learning about the impact of government policies on business takes them one step further. If you talk to the people leading large companies, the most important issues that are facing them will often involve government. From an airplane manufacturer to a pharmaceutical company, governing rules and regulations are one of the most impactful elements in their success.

Shape a varied career

The WashU at Brookings program inevitably helps to shape a student’s career trajectory. The first thing to note is that the program can help set up and support government jobs for MBA graduates, something many students will be thinking about before they even enter the MBA program. By having real experiences, students will get a leg up when submitting their job applications.

The business and government relationship will also inform how students plan and carry out their career choices. From the relationships they form with policymakers, government workers, business leaders, and other networks in D.C. to the real-life topics they uncover during discussions, students can see the paths others have taken before them to get to their dream jobs.

How will the Brookings perspective impact the rest of the MBA experience?

The skills and perspectives gained during the program ultimately impact the rest of the MBA experience for students, and this is one of its biggest advantages.

The practical education they receive helps students right away. Take regulatory issues, for example. When we were creating the program, we thought hard about how students would be able to gain practical skills to help them understand and navigate regulatory issues in their future business plans.

In many cases, leaders can actually go in and talk with regulators. Regulators want to get their jobs right and don’t want to implement policies that hurt society. In this way, educated MBA students can actively influence regulation in their spaces and learn how regulators make their decisions.

But perhaps the most important and lasting impact of the Brookings experience is the perspective that students take into the rest of their MBA and beyond — the perspective that learning about business and government can fundamentally change the country and the world. Students gain a better sense of how they can get involved in serving our society and will be equipped with the skills and tools to do so.

Pictured above: Olin’s Lamar Pierce, Beverly and James Hance Professor of Strategy, teaching at the Brookings Institution.


WashU Olin’s Anthony Sardella, an established national authority on domestic drug shortages and the economics of pharmaceutical supply chains, emphasized in recent testimony to a congressional subcommittee the depth of US vulnerability to further prescription drug shortages and the need to reduce dependence on other countries to produce essential medicines.

Sardella, adjunct lecturer and senior research advisor to Olin’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights, testified May 11 before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the US House of Representatives.

The trend toward overseas production of essential medications has left the US drug supply chain vulnerable and threatens our health security, Sardella told the members of Congress. Indeed, it’s been happening for 30 years as drug manufacturers—particularly those producing generic drugs—take advantage of lower overseas labor and production costs.

“Economic conditions indicate that this environment will worsen, increasing quality and supply risks to the nation’s healthcare security,” Sardella testified.

Establishing WashU as a thought leader on the subject

Days later, The New York Times picked up portions of Sardella’s testimony in a story it published under the headline “Drug Shortages Near an All-Time High, Leading to Rationing.” An industry trade group known as SAMS—Securing America’s Medicines and Supply—also reported on the testimony in a piece commending Congress for investigating the issue.

“The research conducted at CABI has established WashU as a thought leader in the understanding of drug supply chain risks, the economics around those supply chains, why they are causing drug shortages, and why we’re at further risk of additional shortages,” Sardella said.

It’s not the first time Sardella and CABI’s work has gained national attention. Last year, Sardella was invited to a White House listening session hosted by the Biden Administration, including senior industry officials along with academic and nonprofit experts in the field of drug production and pharmaceutical shortages.

Insights the administration gleaned from that session contributed to a report called for by an executive order from President Joe Biden. That order also established the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative and pledged more than $2 billion for biotech and biomanufacturing efforts.

During his testimony and in past white papers, Sardella has called for a multi-faceted approach to incentivize domestic drug production and increased investment in research and development. He also emphasized the need for increased transparency in the drug supply chain and greater coordination between government agencies and private industry.

Covering the issue from various perspectives

Sardella has so far published four research papers that center on the core issue of domestic shortages of essential medications. The first highlighted the economics of the industry that have compelled production to move outside the United States. Sardella proposed a series of funding incentives and policy recommendations to bring more prescription drug production within US borders.

The second focused closely on generic drug production and the risk to US healthcare security thanks to the heavy reliance on overseas production—mostly in India and China—of “active pharmaceutical ingredients,” the active ingredient in medications. For example, out of 52 COVID-related medicines, 75% had no US source of API. And of the top 100 generic medicines consumed in the US, 83% had no US source of API.

A third paper centered on the question of whether US drug makers had the capacity to manufacture essential medicines. Sardella and his research team surveyed 37 US generic pharmaceutical manufacturing sites and found their answer: Yes, capacity exists. In fact, half of domestic drug production capacity sits idle.

In April, Sardella published a fourth paper analyzing pricing and earnings trends in the generic drug production industry and how they create vulnerabilities in the supply chain.  “Generics aren’t really sexy as an industry compared to brands,” Sardella said. “But the administrators know that 90% of the prescriptions written each year are for generic drugs. This is the workhorse of our healthcare system.”

Among the solutions Sardella proposed: Create comparative quality metrics allowing differentiation among competing generic medications. The paper also proposes public support for private-public entities that can collaborate to counter hyper-competition within the industry. He cites as an example the API Innovation Center, a nonprofit Sardella founded to enable the delivery of commercially competitive, US-made APIs.

Sardella said he was appreciative of the opportunity to testify before a congressional subcommittee.

“It was gratifying to know that the research we’ve done has the ability to drive policies that secure our health security in the United States,” he said.

Pictured at top: Olin’s Anthony Sardella testifying May 11, 2023, before a US House subcommittee on domestic drug shortages and the economics driving them.

Generic representation of data usage displaying on a laptop computer with a hand manipulating it.

As a society driven by information, the data available for us to collect has amassed at breakneck speeds. More data is within our reach to analyze than ever before, and organizations have to learn to collect and analyze much more data than they have previously. Informed leaders of organizations are learning to value data to make data-driven decisions for their customers, clients or students.

In previous generations, managers led employees by gut instinct and industry wisdom. A lot can be said for the value of this approach, but with the analysis of data, industry leaders are realizing the benefits of data-driven decision-making instead of ruling by gut and wisdom alone.

Becoming data-driven as an organization takes a bit of elbow grease. While you can start by running a few reports and using those to educate your decisions, you’ll need to fold the idea of data-driven decision-making into your business to receive the full benefits. As the strategic IT advisor for InterVision Jeffrey Ton put it, “Strong data governance, data literacy throughout the entire organization, an understanding of your biases and your willingness to shift your culture create the pillars of a data-driven organization.”

Industry exemplars leading by example

Leading your business through any transformation can come with growing pains. The shift in culture doesn’t always come easily, and, with so much information, you can be overwhelmed just wondering where to begin. The first bump in the road often comes from getting leadership on board, as any decision can lead to a large financial endeavor to purchase equipment, train employees, etc. Once leaders get on board, they must recruit their employees to understand data-driven decision-making and begin speaking its common language.

United Parcel Service stands out as a prime example of a company that relies heavily on data-driven decisions. On a typical day, UPS handles 25.2 million packages. Their interactive bot can answer customer requests and take steps to respond to them, and their ORION system creates optimal routes for deliveries. If weather, accidents or other factors alter the best route, ORION alerts everyone involved, from air traffic controllers to drivers. 

An example more local to Olin’s community is Schnucks, the St. Louis grocery chain where 1.4 million shoppers have a loyalty ID. That allows Schnucks to analyze customer shopping habits. This data then governs what kind of customized promotions they send customers.

Olin’s data-driven decision-making is a central focus for students

Since its introduction, Olin’s Values-Based, Data-Driven Decision-Making course has become one of our most successful. The core idea is that future leaders will always need to consider the values of their company, what’s best for their employees and what the data indicates is best to find their answers.

As a modern leader, you’ll have to find the balance between making decisions that best support stakeholders, society, the community your business operates in, your employees and more. This course assists students in learning how to evaluate values and data so they can become successful leaders who make decisions that address everyone depending on them.

The faculty at Olin Business School demonstrated the principles of data-driven decision-making at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on April 27, 2022. Six faculty members created a predictive system that uses machine learning to advise pharmaceutical distributors about potentially misdirected opioid orders using data provided and maintained by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

With the data from this highly-accurate prediction tool, the Olin Brookings Commission designed 14 policy recommendations that would allow near-real-time detection of opioid shipments being diverted through supply-chain blind spots. The faculty, who demonstrated leadership in a global environment, hope to continue to improve the AI-powered detection system to even flag nonprescription opioid shipments and save even more lives from overdose with the help of the DEA.

The techniques of leaders have largely remained the same in recent decades. But with the advent of technology capable of processing data that can deliver in-depth insights about customers, employees and company partners, new studies show the majority of leadership and employee interactions are projected to be powered by data by 2025. If you’re ready to be a leader who can embrace the new changes in technology and leverage them to the benefit of your employees, then an MBA might be the perfect stepping stone for you.

On September 12, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to launch a National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative, noting the United States relies too heavily on foreign materials and foreign bioproduction. Off-shoring of critical industries threatens US ability to access materials like important chemicals and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Consider the prescriptions you or your loved ones need for high blood pressure, infections or other ailments. Chances are, no manufacturing source exists in the United States for critical generic drugs or their active ingredients.

In fact, in 2021 the White House sounded the alarm about vulnerabilities in the pharmaceutical supply chain that has led to shortages of critical medicines the Food and Drug Administration deems “essential.” A White House report proclaimed, “The disappearance of domestic production of essential antibiotics impairs our ability to counter threats ranging from pandemics to bio-terrorism, as emphasized by the FDA’s analysis of supply chains for active pharmaceutical ingredients.”

The problem? It seemed that insufficient US manufacturing capacity due to offshoring was largely to blame. But new research from the Center for Analytics and Business Insights, at Olin Business School at Washington University, finds the US does, indeed, have the capacity to make the nation’s most essential and critical drugs—yet most of the capacity is sitting idle.

Report fills key data gap

The CABI report fills a crucial gap in available industry data: “US Generic Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Available Capacity Research Survey.”


“We addressed of a significant blind spot, which was the understanding of available capacity in the United States to build supply chain resiliency,” said Anthony Sardella, author of the CABI report, senior research advisor for CABI and Olin adjunct lecturer.

“Our results were quite surprising. Fifty percent of available capacity is not utilized,” he said. “The number was stunning.”

On September 14, the Biden administration revealed it will invest more $2 billion into biotech and biomanufacturing efforts, with $1 billion from the Department of Defense for manufacturing infrastructure in the US.

30 billion more doses possible

Last year, the generic pharmaceutical industry made headlines when it announced the closure of several U.S. manufacturing plants. Why? In part because of lower offshore operating costs and labor rates, intense pricing pressure and steadily growing dependence on offshore sources for raw materials.

“How do we account for this incongruency?” Sardella asks. He and his team surveyed 37 U.S. generic pharmaceutical manufacturing sites. They found the sites are producing at just half of their production capacity annually, with an aggregate excess capacity of nearly 50%. In fact, only two of the 37 manufacturing sites are producing at full capacity.

If the sites got up and running, nearly 30 billion additional doses of essential and critical medicines could be produced in the US without incurring the expense of building new manufacturing plants and shorten the time to make generic medicines available from domestic sources, according to the report.

In a nutshell, the report recommends the following:

  • Repurpose idle sites to enable manufacturing to address shortages, increase supply-chain resiliency and build supplies within 24-36 months.
  • Continue current federal funding efforts for advanced manufacturing technologies to reduce production costs, create new workforce opportunities and increase the economic sustainability of US drug manufacturing.

Research aims to foster national policy

Sardella, who focused his research on issues at the intersection of business, government and society, will present the results of the paper on October 4 to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to provide support for policy considerations and initiatives to strengthen US drug manufacturing sustainability.

The next step for CABI is its new paper, in progress, about how to model funding initiatives that de-risks the adoption of new, advanced manufacturing technologies, such as continuous-flow chemistry, to boost production.

CABI has been researching the drug shortage issue over the past couple of years. Learn more:

In the United States, no manufacturing source exists for more than 80% of the active ingredients in medicines the US Food and Drug Administration deems essential for public health, according to a new study from the Center for Analytics and Business Insights (CABI) at Olin Business School.

“This creates an incredible vulnerability to our public health care system, our health care security,” said Anthony Sardella, an adjunct professor at Olin and senior research advisor at CABI. He conducted the study using proprietary data from across the industry.

Anthony Sardella

Essential medicines include antibiotics, antivirals, blood pressure pills, steroids and many others.

“We have a national security issue related to being able to maintain our public health,” Sardella said, because the US is so reliant on foreign production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

“The US Active Pharmaceutical Infrastructure: The Current State and Considerations to Increase US Healthcare Security” focuses on generic medications, which represent more than 80% of US prescriptions.

‘A fragile system’

APIs are the necessary components of medicines that provide patients with the drug therapy they need. The compounds are made into dosages of tablets, solutions and creams.

A June 2021 White House report on supply chain resiliency referenced an epidemic of national drug shortages occurring even before COVID and the pandemic, but “COVID really drew attention to the fragility of our pharmaceutical supply chain,” Sardella said.

The crisis highlighted US reliance on long, complex supply chains and drug shortages in the US. “We really have a fragile system.”

The first of its kind, the study relied on industrywide data from Clarivate, a data and benchmarking company in the healthcare industry that has developed a dataset—Cortellis Generics Intelligence—that provides insights across the sector.

“The data is staggering, as is the implication to our health security,” Sardella said.

Sources of COVID-19, Antivirals, Antibiotics and Top 100 Medicines in the United States. Cortellis Generics Intelligence, formerly known as Newport. Copyright Clarivate 2021

A ‘race to the bottom’

His analysis shows the following:

  • The majority of large-scale manufacturing sites of APIs are in India and China, while less than 5% of such sites are in the US. (In COVID times, both China and India have threatened to cut off or restrict shipments to the US.)
  • Of 52 COVID-related medicines, 75% had no US source of API.
  • Of the top 100 generic medicines consumed in the US, 83% had no US source of API.
  • Of the 47 most-prescribed antivirals, 97% had no US source of API.
  • Of the 111 most-prescribed antibiotics, 92% have no US source of API.

One cause for our weakness in API manufacturing is the “race to the bottom” on pricing against global players, Sardella said. Foreign manufacturers have structural advantages including greater government subsidies, lower costs and fewer regulatory burdens.

He said solutions to protect US healthcare security must address the risk by creating a critical mass of domestic manufacturing infrastructure to protect domestic interests; a level playing field for global competition; and sustainable domestic markets for American manufacturers.

“Tony’s outstanding research shows the impact of being both values-based and data-driven,” said Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship and CABI’s co-director. “This principle is core to Olin and to CABI.”

The new study follows a previous one aimed at understanding the business, societal and governmental environment of the pharmaceutical supply chain. Sardella and Paolo De Bona, a consultant and formerly a staff scientist at WashU’s School of Medicine, conducted an extensive review of academic research, media reports and public policy statements to discern the causes of chronic pharmaceutical shortages in the United States and develop policy solutions to address them.

The work has gained the attention of policymakers in Washington, DC, and compelled the pair to join with the Brookings Institution in hosting a public forum on the subject

About the Center for Analytics and Business Insights: CABI serves as a  conduit between business, academia and the broader community, helping leaders better leverage analytics and technology to make a positive and principled difference in organizations, communities and society at large.