Author: Chuck Finder


About Chuck Finder

This long-ago graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia returns to the state to lead a talented team of professionals in promoting the university’s efforts via media relations. I arrived here after helping to share news and information about the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Carnegie Mellon University. Before that, I spent three decades with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Birmingham News and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, though also dabbled as a contributor to numerous outlets — ranging from the former St. Louis-based institution The Sporting News to The New York Times.

Here’s one way to look at how and when baseball pitchers throw at opposing batters after one of their own gets plunked: corporate conflict resolution.

That’s part of the research findings by three business scientists — two at WashU Olin and one at China’s Fudan University — who, true to the 21st-century fabric of Major League Baseball, pored over 20 seasons of statistics to reach some intriguing data and conclusions with implications off the field and in the office. 

For one thing, these baseball retaliations mostly arise in the fifth and sixth innings. But let’s not get ahead of the game within the game.

At the heart of their study is how “negative reciprocity” leads to “destructive sequences of reprisal.” It translates into organizational behavior and, more pointedly, to workplace environment under the categories of conflict, cohesion and relationships — healthy or not.


As the co-authors write in the study, “Our findings yield insights about the origin and evolution of intergroup conflicts with implications for theories of conflict and for organizational practice.” The study, titled “Relational Aspects of Vicarious Retribution: Evidence from Professional Baseball,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

“Ethnography and experiments have given us a lot of insight about the biology and psychology of reciprocity, including how it often generates profitable trusting partnerships but can sometimes degenerate into prolonged, highly destructive conflicts,” said Bill Bottom, the Joyce and Howard Wood Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Olin Business School.


Bottom, who is also Olin’s associate dean for undergraduate programs, was joined in the study by Tat Chan, professor of marketing at Olin, and Xing Zhang of Fudan University. 

“Major League Baseball provided us with a unique opportunity to study conflict escalation among highly paid professionals where the record-keeping is detailed and highly reliable,” Bottom added. “Because the game is now a global one, we could also examine the effects of diversity.”

“Major League Baseball provided us with a unique opportunity to study conflict escalation among highly paid professionals where the record-keeping is detailed and highly reliable.”

Bill Bottom

Certainly, businesses make punitive decisions within the workplace, via intergroup conflict, or they take malicious actions against other firms — sometimes at their own peril. The co-authors also make an allusion to similar acts of aggression in everyday life, such as the hate-mongering and name-calling that precipitated anti-Asian verbal and physical attacks on American soil in 2021. That’s an embodiment of the vicarious retribution seen on a baseball field when a teammate feels his side has been wronged and the pitcher throws at an opposing batter.  

The co-authors sought a simple, old-fashioned American backdrop: what they labeled the “empirical setting” of regular-season baseball. In fact, their paper cites and quotes Hall of Fame pitchers Pedro Martinez and the late St. Louis Cardinals great Bob Gibson, against whom opposing batters stood at the plate bearing consistent respect and, when tensions or situations came up, occasional fear.

“Vicarious retribution where third parties start getting involved is especially prone to destructive escalation, so this was a setting where we could study it over time under controlled settings where the rules are firmly established and enforced,” Bottom said. “Because the profession is now truly global, we can also examine the effects of culture and diversity on aggression, reciprocity and escalation.”

They thought by examining these occurrences and interrelationships, they could predict when a conflict might likely begin, which individuals are prime suspects for acts of retribution and then identify likely targets.

True, accidents happen in a modern baseball world of staffs of 12-plus pitchers and minor leaguers constantly called up to pitch in the majors. A younger pitcher misfires once amid the nearly 300 pitches per game and the ball glances off or strikes a batter inadvertently. In statistics-mad baseball, however, it’s possible to find clean data about intentionally struck batters. And they aren’t the first scientists to probe baseball thusly; they cited studies going back 30 years or more involving the social strata and bellicosity in baseball.

‘Punitive aggression’

Whether it’s by accident or on purpose, it’s recorded in the scorebook the same: hit by pitch (HBP). Bottom, Chan and Zhang studied two decades of “punitive aggression” in the majors, from 1991 to 2010. They broke down the pitcher and batter relationship: each to their own team, prior teammates or rivals, etc. Then they input the data into their computational model for retribution dynamics. For statistic-mad baseball types, that worked out to be 42,241 games, 2.5 million at-bats and 20,000 HBPs. Moreover, to test their hypotheses, they identified “113,461 unique pairs of a particular pitcher and a teammate who had previously been hit during a game as well as 479,955 unique pairs of a pitcher with an opposing batter.”

What they found will surprise nary an avid baseball fanatic. Once a second pitcher retaliates by plunking a batter from the team that first hit their teammate with a pitch, the incident is perceived as “legitimate justification” and the conflict subsides. Game-within-a-game over. Nobody else gets plunked.

Some other findings: 

  • The initial HBP occurs most commonly in the fifth inning, around the game’s 42nd at-bat.
  • The retaliatory HBP comes in the sixth inning, around the 54th at-bat.
  • A pitcher is more likely to retaliate on behalf of a teammate if both he and his plunked teammate come from a country other than the U.S. (However, foreign-born pitchers — probably due to empathy for each other’s “outsider” status — are less likely to plunk a fellow foreign-born player.)
  • A pitcher is more likely to target a fellow former collegian for reprisal. (Rivals from competing schools, the co-authors wondered? That would underscore the behavioral perception of “out-group” vs. “in-group.”)
  • Winning teams and home teams are more likely to plunk in retaliation. Better paid pitchers are, too.
  • Former teammates are less likely to be involved in a plunking.

That last finding is where a true everyday benefit scratches its place in the batter’s box of the business realm. Businesses often promote or cycle employees through their departments and organizations, building camaraderie and shared experiences. In other words, such moves are team-building and conflict-sturdy.

“Industries characterized by greater professional mobility may prove less susceptible to escalation; the broader scope of personal relationships may dampen motives for vicarious retribution,” the co-authors write.

Bottom concluded: “We found that the more diverse teams performed better and pitchers on those teams were more likely to engage in vicarious retribution on behalf of a teammate. Given prior work on cohesiveness of teams in industry, we expected that greater diversity might limit this kind of retribution but found that wasn’t true. The best teams appear to be adept at managing diversity and the willingness of veteran pitchers to take this kind of action on behalf of a teammate may be one aspect of that.”

So … play business.

Zhang’s work is supported in part by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [Grants Nos. 72072035 and 71832002].

Photo: Benches empty, but no brawl erupts in a 2008 game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in Busch Stadium. (Shutterstock)

Too much milk gets pitched, something that was an issue long before these pandemic times of global food insecurity. One of every three gallons of milk was estimated to go to waste in America, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data from the previous decade. A group of scientists, including one now at Washington University in St. Louis, used mathematical models to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines — milk production and processing, microbiology and supply chain — thereby striving to attack a centuries-old problem: spoiled milk.

Their research, in particular, found two main strategies that could be used at the beginning of the milk supply chain – on the farm and in the processing plant — to prevent psychrotolerant (cold-growing,) spore-forming bacteria from contaminating and prematurely spoiling milk:

  1. Premium payments such as bonuses (or penalties) based on lower (or higher) spoiling bacteria counts in raw milk;
  2. Investing in spore-reduction technologies at the processing level.

Their study, concluding that enacting both strategies could improve some milk shelf life anywhere between a half-day to 13 days, was published July 8 in one of the Frontiers journals, Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

“In general, I would say that this is not a one-prescription-for-all problem,” said Forough Enayaty Ahangar, a newly arrived lecturer in supply chain optimization at the Olin Business School. “The results of our optimization models demonstrate that optimal combination of interventions is highly dependent on characteristics of each individual dairy processor. These characteristics include the volume of processed milk and the quality of supplied raw milk. Therefore, our optimization models provide novel decision tools from which individual processors can benefit and determine the best strategy for their facility.”

Enayaty Ahangar

At the intersection of food science, population and veterinary medicine, and supply chain sit bottles of milk, creating a worldwide problem the longer they sit. So Enayaty Ahangar teamed with researchers at her previous institution — Sarah Murphy, Nicole Martin, Martin Wiedmann and senior author Renata Ivanek at Cornell University — to test the strategies via modeling.  

This study targeted the problem of premature spoilage of milk caused by bacteria — Bacillus sp. and Paenibacillus sp. ­— which enter raw milk on farms and whose hardy spores can survive pasteurization. (There is an alternative pasteurization, but it costs more and consumers complain about the milk taste after undergoing the higher temperatures utilized.)

Comparing their findings with Agriculture Department data from 24 states and based on a cow producing 64 pounds or 15 half-gallons of milk per day, the team ran 24 case studies — or generated instances, as they called them — looking at processor size, the number of milk producers in the supply chain and the planning horizon, meaning five and 10 years down the road.

Premium payments, or production-level interventions

Farmers should be encouraged to implement fixes and improve processes from the get-go — starting with milk from the cow’s udders — if they are rewarded for consistent high-quality milk in terms of spore-forming spoilage bacteria contamination and penalized for low-quality milk.

Contracts similar to this bonus/penalty guideline already exist in U.S. livestock commodities such as eggs and chicken, the authors noted. In this paper, the researchers propose a new, flexible bonus/penalty system based solely on raw milk’s initial spore counts at production.

Spore-reduction investment, or processing-level interventions

 Milk-processing companies know that technologies such as microfiltration and bactofugation are costly to acquire, install and operate. But this research illustrated how using both of those approaches, including a third, double-bactofugation method, were the most effective ways long-term to eliminate spore-forming bacteria from milk.

Their models predicted, by using such processing-level interventions and investments, shelf lives for milk would increase across the board. That improved shelf life — defined as the first day when 5% of milk packages carry a specific bacterial count — ranged from 20-26 days (for small processing plants) to 28-31 days (medium) to an average of 34 days (large).

“There is increasing attention in the dairy industry to the importance of using low spore count raw milk to produce high-quality dairy products, yet there is no blueprint for industry decision-makers on how to achieve this,” Murphy said. “Importantly, our study contributes to the conversation regarding how the industry can invest in dairy farmers and technologies and provides tools that may have the potential to support industry decision-makers.

“Our focus was mostly on how the process can better allocate their budget to achieve longer shelf life for their processed milk,” Enayaty Ahangar said.

In short, the research showed that medium and large processors could enact interventions and improve their milk’s shelf life up to 13 and 12 days, respectively.

“Working with Cornell’s Veterinary School, one of the best in the U.S., was an amazing experience for me,” said Enayaty Ahangar, trained as an industrial engineer and a specialist in optimization. “I got to work with epidemiologists, microbiologists, food scientists, people from business schools…. And because our novel optimization models integrate methods and knowledge from multiple disciplines, I believe our paper has the potential to be a good starting point for many other research projects in the food industries.”

“The ultimate goal of our research is to support the development of sustainable milk production supply chain, where milk waste is reduced in a way that is cost-effective for all players in the continuum of food production and consumption, and is socially acceptable and environmentally sound,” Ivanek said. “The decision support tools like the mathematical models of milk spoilage developed through the multidisciplinary research effort in this study are an integral part of that journey.”

Added Wiedmann: “This project continues the development of digital tools for both dairy and other food supply chains, which will play an important role as decision support tools for industries as they continue to improve productivity and sustainability of nutritious foods.”


This work was supported by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, grant number CA18-SS-0000000206.

Anjan Thakor uses a lightboard to reinforce his lecture points as he conducts an online course.

Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School has climbed to new global heights, joining an elite cohort of triple-accredited business schools, while at the same time adding new degree programs and certifications—including a new online MBA that’s distinguished by its focus on preparing students for leadership in a digitally enabled world.

Olin on April 27 earned accreditation from the EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), completing a sweep of all three global accreditation agencies that includes the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). That makes Olin the only highly ranked business school in the United States to earn triple accreditation and places Olin among fewer than 1% of all business schools globally.

Earning triple accreditation puts WashU Olin in the rarified company of some business school powerhouses as INSEAD, London Business School and HEC Paris.

“Olin’s vision is to promote world-changing business education, research and impact. Embracing the process of triple accreditation affirms our progress toward that vision,” said Mark P. Taylor, dean of Olin. “These bodies have held us accountable for the standards we have set for ourselves.”

Advancing through the third horizon

In addition to earning triple accreditation, Olin is announcing several other developments in 2021 as the school marches toward what Taylor has described as “the third horizon” in business education.

As he sees it, the first horizon came in spring 2020 as educators quickly pivoted to accommodate students dispersed by COVID-19. The second came this past fall as the dean encouraged the school to “up its game,” integrating hybrid in-person and online learning amid the pandemic. Now this third horizon arrives as Olin lifts its sights toward a new global normal to business education.

Dean Mark Taylor addresses the latest updates in Olin’s march toward the third horizon.

New mile-markers in 2021 on the road toward that third horizon include:

  • The introduction of three new online graduate business programs allowing students to work toward a specialized masters degree in customer analytics, corporate finance and accounting—while earning certificates along the way.
  • Preparation to launch in January 2022 a separate, online-only MBA program focused on empowering and enabling leaders to harness ever-changing digital technology—such as big data, blockchain, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and more—in the business realm.
  • Raised its global profile with a jump to No. 25 in the most recent Financial Times rankings of the world’s business schools—including a No. 1 global ranking in faculty research.
  • Rescheduling Olin’s global immersion trip for MBA students—nearly six weeks of learning on the ground at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, and in Barcelona, Spain, and Lima, Peru (delayed the past year due to the pandemic). First- and second-year MBA cohorts are now scheduled to travel in spring 2022.

Maintaining our commitment

“We remain committed to the successful MBA global immersion experience that we debuted in summer 2019,” Taylor said. “Fulfilling that commitment, while fully reimagining the future of business education in a global and digitally-enabled world are cornerstone obligations for us as leaders in business education. We simply must scan beyond where we can see, anticipate what we must do in the world’s new version of normal.”

These developments align with Olin’s five-year strategic plan, outlined shortly after Taylor arrived as dean in December 2016.

The enhanced master’s certification and 30-month online MBA came as a result of surveys that included alumni, faculty and even industry representation. Input from such consulting and advising giants as Deloitte, McKinsey and Bain helped to advise Olin administrators that there existed a need to imbue the next generation of business leaders with digital competencies and competitiveness.

“Other online MBA programs offer their MBA program online,” Taylor said. “Our program is custom tailored for business leaders who want to lead in a digitally enabled world.”

For leaders in the digitally enabled business world

For example, the new program is designed for people who are: working in a digitally mature company or environment; looking to improve their digital-business acumen; or seeking to lead a digital transformation in a company or industry, including entrepreneurs.

The online MBA will come at a cost of $75,000 for the total 2½-year duration. While its core courses will remain taught by the same faculty as in Olin’s in-person MBA program, the digital nature will change—particularly in light of the past year’s pandemic-related learning curves. The online approach allows for such changes as enhancing standard case studies with live, online presented cases and an abundance of guest presenters.

The broadcasting base for the online MBA is a state-of-the-art facility stemming from the school’s strategic plan, the Center for Digital Education. With its full-time staff and eight studios, the CDE partners with faculty members, instructional designers and multimedia experts to build their course curriculum for digital delivery, collaborate to coach them using available tools, and create digital assets to present course concepts.

Olin’s accreditation from EQUIS follows a renewal of its earlier accreditation by AACSB, the major accrediting organization for North American schools, and its accreditation by AMBA in March 2020. Little more than 100 schools across the planet have earned inclusion in all three groups.

Pictured above: Anjan Thakor, director of doctoral programs and John E. Simon Professor of Finance, uses a light board to reinforce his lecture points as he conducts an online course.

Panos Kouvelis, director of The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation and Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management, has been appointed editor-in-chief of Foundations and Trends in Technology, Information and Operations Management.

The appointment becomes effective next Jan. 1. The current editors of the 16-year-old journal are from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Uday Karmarkar and Charles Corbett.

Kouvelis has been a member of the editorial review board at the journal, among various editorial roles on nine journals in and around the supply chain field.

Research and development is the key expertise of Anne Marie Knott, who developed the metric known as the Research Quotient (RQ), the only innovation metric that reliably predicts firm value.

With the new presidential administration announcing its economic-policy intention to invest $300 billion in research and development, there is a key voice offering the caution: Aim for the development end.

Anne Marie Knott

That is the counsel of Knott, the Robert and Barbara Frick Professor in the Olin Business School.

“President Biden has his work cut out for him in ensuring ‘a future made in all of America … where the United States wins … the jobs and industries of tomorrow.’

The most important thing he can do in the short-run is dedicate the $300 billion additional R&D to development (D) rather than research (R), she said.

“This level of investment could indeed bear fruit, but not if targeted at research,” Knott said.

(Research is diligent inquiry or examination to seek or revise facts, principles, theories, applications, etc. Development is about growth and directed change. Essentially, one is the creation of new ideas and the other is the application of them.)

“There has indeed been a dramatic decline in federal R&D support, but the decline is not in research. It is entirely in development.

“In fact, the decline in American R&D productivity tracks the decline in federal development almost perfectly. The decline in federal development is therefore the most likely culprit for the decline in R&D productivity. Thus, investing in research is solving the wrong innovation problem.”