Author: Dean Mark Taylor


About Dean Mark Taylor

Dean Mark Taylor joined Olin Business School on Dec. 1, 2016. He is one of the most frequently cited researchers in the areas of international finance and monetary economics in the world. He has served as an economist at the IMF and Bank of England; and as an investment fund manager for Barclays (now BlackRock). Previously, he was Dean at Warwick Business School, UK, and a professor of economics at Oxford among other European universities and a visiting professor at NYU. He is enjoying getting to know St. Louis (and its great restaurants). Follow Mark on Twitter at @DeanTaylorWashU.

Olin banners hanging in the atrium depicting the school

Leaders in the corporate world know the importance of having a guiding star for their organization—the values, the mission, the vision. Having that guiding star is one thing. Ensuring your team members know, understand and follow it is another thing entirely.

At WashU Olin, we have that guiding star. Indeed, our institutional values hang from banners in the atrium for all to see: integrity, collaboration, diversity, leadership and excellence. And in spring 2021, we sought to gauge how well members of the Olin community recalled those values—and how well their definition of each value aligned with the definition our school intends to communicate.

What emerged was a picture of the Olin community that largely understands, agrees with and practices our institutional values. At the same time, we identified areas of improvement, strategies to more fully communicate our values and opportunities to better highlight and recognize the values-based contributions of our staff and faculty.

So, let’s take a high-level walk through what we learned and our next steps.

Why conduct this survey?

Anyone who works at Olin by now should be familiar with our four pillars of excellence: sparking the entrepreneurial spirit; instilling a global business mindset; fostering experiential learning; and, primarily, empowering values-based, data-driven leadership.

Our programs, our coursework and our career services are steeped in these pillars. It’s what we want and expect for our students. And we should hold ourselves to those same standards.

As I mentioned, closing the loop is important. Having values and communicating them are two separate issues. So, the survey we conducted in April-May 2021 was built to measure whether our colleagues share the same definition of Olin’s values. Beyond that, we hoped to learn whether individuals live out these values in their daily work and see others doing the same.

We also wanted to understand the Olin community’s ideas about how we could deepen the commitment to the values, while also recognizing those who do it well. I’m happy to say the survey delivered what we set out to accomplish.

Strengths and opportunities

I’m gratified to report that a large majority of Olin’s team is very aware or extremely aware of our school’s values. In fact, 85% responded positively to the values and more than half say the way we articulate these values gives them a more favorable impression of the school. And, for the most part, the survey respondents share the same definition of the values (By the way, check here for Olin’s definition of each value.). A large majority said they can see the way all five values apply to Olin. The strongest of those was excellence, where 91% saw it reflected at Olin. The lowest—yet still a majority—was diversity, at 63%

And certainly, as we know well, that is an area of opportunity for Olin, which is why I’ve devoted resources to recruiting leaders in that area and charting a strategic plan for inclusion, diversity, equity and access. That’s why we’ve now appointed a senior associate dean, Ashley Macrander, who has joined my senior leadership team to spearhead these important strategic initiatives as developed by the task force.

Meanwhile, we will appoint an associate dean for IDEA who will work with Jacqueline Carter, the program manager for IDEA. And we’ve hired Gisele Marcus, a new faculty member dedicated to developing curriculum around diversity and equity.

Gisele will also work with the dean’s office to design and build the new diversity research lab, a new hub for scholarly research in the realm of diversity in business—including the workplace, financial markets and more. The lab will be designed to gather scholars and assist in research funding where needed.

Much remains to be done, but I am confident we are heading in the right direction on this front, and I remain firmly committed to furthering our progress.

Where the survey leads us

In addition to our work toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace—work begun well before this survey—we are also embarking on several initiatives to better communicate our values, promote alignment, foster a values-based workplace and recognize individuals who are leaders in this area.

Watch for experiences such as webinars and other materials defining what it means to be a values-based and data-driven leader. We’ll also work with department leads and area chairs to develop resources that will link the work of each team—and individuals within those teams—more directly with Olin’s values. Survey respondents recommended more guidance in this area, even though a large majority could cite examples of colleagues incorporating values in their day-to-day work.

Finally, Olin’s HR team is working on designing a recognition program to highlight and celebrate individual who embrace our values. We’ll incorporate a values-based component in our performance appraisals and, in partnership with marketing and communications, we’ll build a mechanism to spotlight individuals and their values-based success stories.

From the outset of this process, I was determined that the survey would not gather dust on a shelf. Whatever it said, we needed to act on it. Hearing feedback from our community is what drives us to walk the walk as the values-based, data-driven institution we are.

Team members atop a bluff pulling another team member up as she climbs with an overlay of Dean Taylor

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day …

Henry V, Act IV, scene iii

Thanks to a global crisis that’s now overlapped three academic years, WashU Olin’s staff, faculty and students could be forgiven if they were simply exhausted. Since March 2020, “pivot” has become a four-letter word, and I am keenly aware that in these 18 months, I have asked much of the Olin team.

I have asked, and each time our team has answered with commitment, agility, innovation and resilience. This experience has me reflecting on how that happens. How do managers, leaders and teams continue pushing forward in the face of relentless demands?

Over these months, I’ve often thought of King Henry’s inspirational words to his men on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. We’re in this together, he says. Years from now, we’ll recall with pride what we accomplished together.

I realize this may be a bit corny, but it’s no less true. I do remind our team that we’re in this together. I try to tie each of us, on a personal level, to the reason we’re here: not for a job, but to achieve the high standards our students expect—and we expect of ourselves. I remind colleagues that through our work, we maintain the financial stability of the school, and thus affect so many stakeholders—students, alumni, staff, faculty and beyond.

The power of team resilience

So, how does it happen? How do leaders continue to drive teams forward when the circumstances never let up? My colleague Andrew Knight, professor of organizational behavior, is well-versed in the related research under the umbrella of “team resilience.”

One category of this research studies how teams function when their work by nature is persistently stressful—trauma surgery teams, SWAT teams, firefighters and the like.

“The second category comprises teams that work under typically stable situations, but that face sudden serious crises that threaten their viability,” Andrew said. “These teams are typically engaged in more prosaic kinds of work, but something renders their old work processes and routines ineffective.”

Sound familiar?

In summarizing the research, Andrew highlights work from a 2015 paper published in ScienceDirect summarizing the five markers of resilient teams.

  • They respond in the moment to problems.
  • They preserve a positive team climate.
  • They stock up on resources, including the tangible (equipment) and the intangible (relationships).
  • They quickly recover from errors, learning from rather than ruminating on mistakes.
  • They remain highly viable when challenges subside, allowing them to face new challenges.

Tied to our experience

Andrew related the work of a 2020 research paper in the journal BMJ Leader to our experience. “This paper underscores the importance of action and learning in the face of prolonged crisis,” Andrew notes, calling out three steps successful leaders (and resilient teams) employ under these circumstances.

  • Create productive disruptions: Create time to connect and reflect among team members. “This aligns well with the use of town halls at Olin throughout COVID,” Andrew noted.
  • Reconfigure, redeploy and repurpose resources: View resources in a flexible way and use them to meet new challenges. In this case, Andrew referenced “the CDE as a resource to enable virtual and hybrid modalities.”
  • Attend to emotions: Check in with one another. Build connections. I think of the way we embraced collaboration tools such as Teams and Hive, frequent virtual meetings—and my opportunities to pop in and greet my colleagues.

Taking stock of our work

As I said earlier, I’ve asked a great deal of everyone—but I haven’t asked in a vacuum. Our senior leadership meets daily and decisions, by and large, are made by consensus. And it’s important to take stock of what we’ve accomplished.

  • We created and re-created plans for the MBA global immersion.
  • We adapted curriculum to hybrid instruction and upgraded classroom technology.
  • We conceived, planned and promoted a full slate of online-only SMP and MBA programs.
  • We built a summer experiential program last year to replace canceled internships.
  • We staged a robust springtime China residency program—in two locations—for SMP students.
  • We created virtual networking events to connect students with alumni and corporate recruiters.
  • We drew crowds to a rich series of virtual speakers and panel discussions.
  • We reworked policies and procedures to accommodate our virtual workplace.
  • We reconfigured building space, maintenance schedules and usage—again, multiple times.

These are only a few examples. And, indeed, they’re only examples of work the pandemic imposed. Through it all, our team continued meeting goals set in our strategic plan such as triple accreditation and the full rollout of our Salesforce client management system.

Which leads to the final, most important strategy for leading teams through crisis: We must remember to say thank you and look ahead toward the day when we’ll strip our sleeves, show our scars and recall what we accomplished together.

Silhouette of woman with sunset overlaid portraying someone who is practicing mindfulness.

“It must be quiet now that the students are gone.”

How many of us in higher education have heard this summertime sentiment from friends and family outside the halls of academia? Perhaps it was true at some point in the past. But today?

The reality is much different at WashU Olin. The students aren’t gone and, in fact, never were. Specialized masters students have been in class since May. First-year MBA students began their orientation nearly a month ago and arrived on campus to begin core classes in late June.  And, across the school we are in constant preparation to welcome our undergraduate students.

Meanwhile, nothing is quiet about campus life, even as many of us continue working from home.

With a close eye on public health guidelines, we anticipate on-campus classes, face-to-face events, well-staffed offices and populated study rooms in the fall.

Yet it bears remembering that this transition—this pivot to a new normal—is as consequential as the one we experienced in March 2020.

Remaining in the moment

With that in mind, I sought out some insights from my colleague Erik Dane, associate professor of organizational behavior. Erik researches managerial cognition—how managers focus attention, solve problems and make decisions.

In his work, Erik studies “mindfulness,” which he characterizes as “focusing attention on what is happening in the here-and-now, in terms of both the events surrounding us and the thoughts, emotions and sensations occurring within us.”

As Erik points out, this summertime period is less about a lull in activity and potentially more about refocusing our minds for the changes ahead.

“In some ways, the pandemic might have served to heighten mindfulness for many leaders and employees, especially at the outset of the crisis,” Erik said. “This was brand new territory for us, and novel circumstances can sensitize people to their environment, especially when decisions need to be made and problems need to be solved.”

He speaks of this phenomenon as “traveler’s mind,” which he explores in an essay published last year in the Journal of Management Inquiry.

Updating many things we knew about teaching and researching and career advising in a matter of weeks was not easy, Erik acknowledges. Neither was learning to work remotely while accounting for the drastic shift in our personal lives. It certainly made us vigilant to our thoughts, our interactions, our decision-making.

It made us mindful.

When the abnormal becomes routine

“Once new habits and routines are established, it’s easier for people to screen out unfolding events and stay the course with working and communicating in line with ‘grooved’ patterns of thought and behavior,” he said. “The fact that such normalization could arise in truly unprecedented circumstances is remarkable.”

Erik reminds us of our powerful skill as humans to rechart the course of our minds when we sense ourselves—our thoughts and our feelings—veering in unproductive directions, even during these most challenging of times.

And he also reminds us that we may need to call upon that skill again as we return to whatever new version of normal emerges. Sure, the buzz of hallway conversation, the lines, the study partners will begin to return. So will interruptions at the office door, lines for the coffee pot and the occasionally contentious meeting.

“Curiously, the return to the old will likely feel quite new,” Erik said. “The things we once took for granted will feel like gifts.”

Another pivot awaits

As the novelty of being back on campus fades, our need to cultivate mindfulness remains. In fact, it will be as important as it ever was. The more normalized our circumstances, the more mindfulness tends to elude us.

So, as we look forward to a version of Olin life reminiscent of two years ago, I appreciate Erik’s reminder, as well as the suggestion that we take time this summer to develop practices that keep us grounded, keep us mindful and ready us for the transition to come.

Meditation can help, Erik says. So can a mindful walk in a park, time for personal reflection or maintaining a gratitude diary. “These practices and more can provide us with bursts of inner peace and insight in these transitional times.”

With all that is happening at WashU Olin, a quiet campus remains elusive. But if we heed Erik’s advice, we may be able to quiet our minds as we anticipate another pivot—to a better place.

“Are you launching an online MBA at WashU Olin?” Five years ago, when I joined WashU, my answer would have been “probably not,” for a variety of reasons.

But, thanks to the pandemic and my inspiring faculty and staff, I’ve had a change of heart.

The pandemic has shifted the pace of adoption of online education dramatically. Nearly every university in the world had little choice but to go online—and educators and students alike learned that elements of a quality education can be transposed to the online environment.

At Olin, I’m particularly proud of how we exhibited extraordinary creativity, showing how well we could embrace online teaching. Nearly 16 months ago, as the crisis first emerged, the Olin team showed it could pivot to online education and still provide a quality educational experience. This was our immediate, first horizon.

A few months later, with the benefit of that emergency experience and a little more planning time, our team again innovated with hybrid courses (online and in-person) that brought cutting-edge practice and technologies to the classroom as the pandemic persisted. In collaboration with Olin’s lynchpin asset in these efforts, the Center for Digital Education, faculty created curriculum designed for the medium and learned best-in-class techniques for using the technology in teaching. This was our second horizon.

Moving into the third horizon

Now, nearly a year and a half from that first experience, we’re thinking about how the world has changed as a result of the pandemic. About how the adoption of digital technologies in business has advanced and about how being able to lead in the digitally enabled world will be the key to leadership success. This is the third horizon.

I’m delighted that our team has again stepped up and presented an extraordinary plan for a rigorous online MBA program that will be highly differentiated in the marketplace.

And that is key. The imperative to set ourselves apart was central to the work of the task force that developed plans for the OMBA. That’s why our plan goes well beyond simply throwing a traditional MBA program online. That’s why our plan for the OMBA will focus on preparing leaders for a digitally enabled world. And that’s why Olin’s faculty unanimously approved the program once it was presented and the curriculum ironed out.

“How do we think about which technologies are the right ones to use?” said John Horn, professor of practice in economics and co-chair of the OMBA task force in a faculty presentation. “How do we think about what technologies will solve the business problems we face? This is about being a leader and understanding how to use these tools to better your organization.”

Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. The blockchain. The internet of things. Data mining. Facial recognition. Technologies such as these are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and, in our view, leaders must be prepared to understand them and leverage them—while also bringing to bear the core skills of managing an enterprise.

Research informed the OMBA’s development

This focus aligns with the research of that OMBA task force. That team used primary research, focus groups and a deep review of secondary research to build a competitive strategy. 

“In order to compete, we understood the importance of designing a truly differentiated online MBA—in curriculum and experience—that met demand,” said Paula Crews, co-chair of the task force and Olin’s senior associate dean for marketing and strategy. “We worked closely with our faculty and Center for Digital Education to design a truly unique online experience to meet those demands of today’s digitally enabled world.”

We’ll begin recruiting for the program next month and anticipate launching our first cohort of about 50 students in the spring. The 54-credit, 30-month program includes a heavy load of traditional core courses and a selection of more than 20 electives in nine functional business areas.

“The demand is there now,” said Ohad Kadan, vice dean for education and globalization. “We need to go out with this program, especially with what’s going on out there right now. The demand is out there. There is significant growth in demand for the online MBA program.”

Students will also be expected to complete something of a capstone that will begin at the start of their program—a “digital impact project” aimed at creating “a high-potential digital initiative” for their employer, or a future employer. Each semester, and with the guidance of the program’s faculty, students will lay groundwork for and iterate on that project as they continue their education.

‘For the world of tomorrow’

“Every single case doesn’t have to be about a digital company,” Horn said. “We didn’t see this as limiting or narrowly focused. What we’re trying to do is train you for the world of tomorrow.”

With faculty approval for the program, Trish Gorman, professor of practice of strategy, and Patrick Moreton, professor of practice in strategy and management, have taken the reins as joint academic directors and are now bringing the vision to fruition.

At the same time, work has advanced toward the launch of our new online graduate programs in accounting, finance and analytics—programs that, indeed, were envisioned before the pandemic. These programs provide learners the chance to earn certificates in their field as they advance through the coursework. The stackable certificates culminate in a specialized masters degree.

We knew we had to distinguish the online MBA from our existing full-time MBA. It’s filling a different need. With our world-class faculty, with the Center for Digital Education and with the vision we bring to the third horizon, we are poised to be world leaders in digital education. All these assets give us a comparative—maybe an absolute—advantage in this space.

Almost exactly two years ago, I gathered a group of Olin faculty and staff in a fifth-floor Bauer Hall classroom for a conversation with Professor Alfons Sauquet Rovira of Barcelona’s ESADE Business School.

During that conversation on May 29, 2019, Professor Rovira shared insights into the process of earning accreditation from EQUIS, one of the “big three” accreditation bodies in business education. It was another step toward our strategic plan goal of earning accreditation from all three bodies—the so-called “triple crown.”

That process began with the launch of our strategic plan three years ago. Today, I’m proud to report we’ve achieved that goal. With the announcement on April 28 that we earned EQUIS accreditation, we have joined an elite group of global business schools.

Indeed, among 13,000 business schools globally, only about 100 have earned accreditation from all three bodies: EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). They include highly regarded schools such as INSEAD, London Business School, ESADE and HEC Paris.

And among highly ranked US business schools, Olin alone has earned the distinction.

Not a goal in and of itself

It is important, however, to be clear that triple accreditation was never intended to be an end in itself. Yes, it was a goal in our strategic plan. But achieving the triple crown was also a means of seeing our strategic plan in action.

The accrediting bodies “want to see that the strategic plan is not just a document, but it’s actually being embedded in the school,” said Shannon Reid, WashU Olin’s strategic initiatives analyst who shepherded the school through this process. As I said in a previous blog post on this topic, the accreditation bodies hold us accountable for the standards we have set for ourselves—standards set in our strategic plan.

And I must say, rarely can I point to an Olin initiative that has drawn so many people into the process. “It’s important to highlight that this was really an organizational effort,” Shannon noted, including input from students, the National Council, alumni and, of course, staff and faculty.

For example, nearly every member of the faculty had a role by ensuring their course curricula embedded our pillars of excellence: values-based, data-driven leadership; global outlook; experiential learning; and entrepreneurial spirit.

Faculty also provided “assurance of learning” documentation to demonstrate that their coursework met our goals and objectives. From a staff and administration perspective, every department, area and center documented what it was doing and how it contributed to the goals and strategies of WashU Olin.

Unprecedented process

Together, we built, supported and articulated our case—not just once, but three times, accommodating the different criteria required of each accreditation body. The result: AMBA accredited WashU Olin in March 2020. Two months later, on June 29, 2020, AACSB granted us reaccreditation for five years. And now, of course, we have locked up our EQUIS accreditation.

It’s also worth mentioning that we achieved this feat in the midst of a global pandemic. While the AMBA process ended before lockdown, AACSB and EQUIS accommodated a unique process that included Zoom interviews and virtual tours of our buildings—a first, I’m told, for these evaluation bodies. 

Additionally, EQUIS and AMBA tend to be predominant among overseas programs. Given our status as a highly ranked American school, I urged those bodies to include international deans on their peer-review teams. I thought it important for us and for them to get a different sense of an American business school.

I believe having this credential from all three global evaluation bodies will draw the attention of international students, and also open doors with international recruiters who may seek out our students and with other schools seeking American partners.

But mostly, this credential affirms our most significant claim: WashU Olin is a school that promotes world-changing business education, research and impact. We are what we say we are.