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.

A few months back, Abram Van Engen unfolded a story before an audience of mostly business school people. The story involved a latter-day businessman stewing over the decision to sell his failing paint mills.

From the Emerson Auditorium stage, Van Engen unveiled the story bit by bit, polling the audience with each newly revealed wrinkle. Should the businessman sell the failing mills? If the buyer knows the mills are failing, is the decision justified? What if the buyer offers the businessman a kick-back? Would you sell?

In his telling of The Rise of Silas Lapham, William Dean Howells’ 1884 novel, Van Engen whipsawed the audience from one decision to the next. In so doing, the English professor from across the WashU campus not only illustrated the way a shifting narrative changes one’s perspective. More broadly, he and his partner in the presentation, Olin’s Peter Boumgarden, illustrated the importance of cross-disciplinary proficiency for business success in today’s world.

“What can be learned at the intersection of business and literature?” Boumgarden asked the audience. The Olin professor of practice in strategy and organizations continued: “What can I learn about markets by exploring literature and arts?”

Indeed, the 2008 global financial crisis reinforced my thinking on the subject. Working as a fund manager, navigating the crisis for my clients, brought into relief the notion that individuals aren’t motivated solely by hard data, facts and figures, dollars and cents. If we knew economics had much to learn from sociology and psychology, we knew it more keenly after that. Hence the rise of behavioural finance among researchers.

Boumgarden spoke expansively about a WashU programme specifically designed to foster this sort of cross-disciplinary approach to education, Beyond Boundaries—the program that drove Boumgarden and Van Engen to collaborate on their Markets and Morality course.

“Oftentimes we live in our own little bubbles,” he said. “We need some thinking about the moral complexity of markets to understand what’s happening in the world today.”

I’ve written about this in an earlier Desk of the Dean column for the Olin Blog, specifically in the context of a number of cross-disciplinary minors and majors we’ve developed with colleagues in other parts of the WashU campus. As I wrote then, and still believe today, real-world problems don’t come neatly packaged. We must tear down academic siloes to solve the toughest problems, moving from the highly qualitative to the highly quantitative, using our skills of persuasion, backing our viewpoints with hard-core analysis.

“Brands and businesses have long understood that stories push us one way or another,” Van Engen told the audience at the pair’s Century Club presentation in mid-November (if you missed it, it’s worth a watch).

“If there is one thing literature offers us, and there are many things, it’s a slightly different perspective,” Van Engen said. “Narratives give us something beyond an argument or an opinion. The more narratives we come across, the more they reform the narratives we have already come across.”

Pictured above: Peter Boumgarden and Abram Van Engen at their November 2019 Century Club presentation.

Any global business leader understands that international events drive opportunities and influence decisions. Agile business leaders pivot quickly when unanticipated events arise. Business goals remain constant. Strategy and tactics may have to change to meet the unexpected. These are lessons WashU Olin students learn day in and day out. Today, the team at Olin is putting those lessons into practice.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, my Olin colleagues have confronted the challenge admirably. We’re retooling our celebrated global immersion for the next class of full-time MBA students—while accounting for an unanticipated public health crisis.

The result: The MBA students in the class of 2022 will span five cities across three continents in their global immersion, beginning in St. Louis and continuing to Washington, DC; Barcelona; Paris; and Lima, Peru.

Our inaugural class covered St. Louis; Washington, DC; Barcelona; Beijing; and Shanghai, all the while taking classes, consulting with business professionals in-country and creating solutions for real-world business problems.

Given today’s headlines, and because the health and well-being of our students is paramount, we had to make decisions now. We had to pivot, while preserving the important global experience that has quickly become a cornerstone of the WashU MBA—so much so, in fact, that Poets & Quants named us the program of the year for our work.

From the start, we’ve pressed the opportunity for students to gain global business literacy in a variety of economies and markets. We’ve spoken about the agility today’s business leaders require when operating in cultures different from their own. And our students have bonded tightly in a unique and united global experience.

Class of ’22 students will take virtually the same courses their predecessors took, gaining similar outcomes. This time, however, students will experience even more diverse business perspectives.

As well as adding a major European capital and world business center to the itinerary—Paris—we are adding a stint in Lima, the capital city of Peru’s emerging economy, with opportunities to study sustainability concerns and startup opportunities. An economy with local production in textiles and ecotourism. A culture risen from a tumultuous history, where economic development is a priority.

For students who were deeply committed to the possibility of an experience in China, we haven’t left them behind either. When the current crisis subsides, we plan to offer an elective residency in Shanghai—along with other residencies in Tel Aviv and Berlin.

WashU Olin is a global business school. We’ve invested in the program and in our students in order to develop globally mobile business leaders who are nimble enough to confront challenge dynamically.

To be sure, we didn’t anticipate this challenge. But in confronting it, we’re creating a new and exciting version of our global immersion.

Olin MBA students visit Cisco in Silicon Valley in October 2019, thanks to the help of alumni in the company and relationships forged through the Weston Career Center.

Good business is all about good relationships.

As a business school, building strong relationships means 14 companies will hire more of your graduates than they did the year before. A commitment to creating new relationships means another 15 companies will hire your graduates for the first time.

Jennifer Whitten
Jennifer Whitten

Both happened this year. And thanks to the efforts of our Weston Career Center, we saw even more positive results for our students and recent graduates. Internship recruiting is up. New firms are coming to campus to recruit our students. Alumni are engaging with our students in greater numbers than ever.

Nearly two years ago, WashU Olin began a massive overhaul of the WCC and our corporate relations efforts. Now, that work is yielding the results we anticipated when we began.

Dorothy Kittner at the Olin cookout in 2017.
Dorothy Kittner at the Olin cookout in 2017.

“We’ve been much more focused and targeted,” said Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the WCC. “Everything has moved from a transactional to a relationship model.”

In the past 18 months, Jen and her team have consolidated the career center and our corporate relations operation so they work hand-in-glove. Jen, along with Dorothy Kittner, associate dean and director of corporate relations, have deployed Olin team members to the east and west coasts of the United States, into Europe, the Middle East and Shanghai.

Those moves acknowledge the common interests we share with corporate partners. Building those relationships means we gain insight into career trends and specific job opportunities for our students and alumni.

“Having the ability to collaborate in real time with the WCC really helps to connect the dots,” Dorothy said. At the same time, these moves create new opportunities for recruiters to gain exposure to our talented students.

“We are really running on all four cylinders—and then some,” Dorothy said. “We’re helping employers rethink their strategies, creatively adapting to new ways of meeting students—bringing students to them, for example, or connecting them through live-streamed interviews.”

Indeed, our students regularly take career treks focused on technology, finance, accounting, wealth management and consulting—with access to big-name players in every industry.

Meanwhile, Jen and her team are empowered to “break down barriers,” persuading recruiters who have never visited to make a trip to Olin. “What’s the best way to plug you into Olin?” she asks. “We’ll figure it out.”

As any sound business would do, we leveraged external experts two years ago for insight into the next steps for our career center. Boston Consulting Group conceived many of the strategies we’ve implemented in corporate relations and career services. An interesting byproduct: BCG is now active on campus, working hard to further engage.

Placing corporate relations professionals in the field establishes that WashU Olin is serious about creating relationships. Empowering those professionals to proactively break down recruiting barriers builds those relationships. Encouraging those professionals to leverage our strong alumni network within those companies further cements those relationships.

Conventional wisdom has always been that without at least 200 MBA students, a business school cannot attract recruiters to campus. Jen has shown that conventional wisdom is wrong. We’ve had more employers engaging in a broader range of recruiting events than ever before. And we only see growth in the future.

Pictured above: Olin MBA students visit Cisco in Silicon Valley in October 2019, thanks to the help of alumni in the company and relationships forged through the Weston Career Center.

Attendees watching the panel discussion at WashU Olin

A spate of recent news headlines has highlighted our school’s great success in a number of areas as a result of the hard work of our faculty, staff, students and alumni.

One of those successes: This year, we lead the world’s top business schools in the percentage of women enrolled in the full-time MBA programme.

Forty-nine percent of the Olin MBA class of 2021 are women—more than any school mentioned in a recent report from the Forté Foundation, which promotes women in business leadership. Globally, nearly 39% of business school MBA enrollment is female, Forté reported, with only 19 of its member schools exceeding 40%.

That report followed hot on the heels of another important win for WashU Olin, the No. 1 global ranking from Inc. magazine and Poets & Quants for MBA entrepreneurship programmes. I’m thrilled with the acknowledgement of the priority we’ve placed on entrepreneurship—and we’ve covered that fully in this Olin Blog post. So today, I’ll focus on the issue of gender parity.

The Forté report on parity resulted in a relative tidal wave of Olin press mentions in The Wall Street Journal, Poets & Quants, the Financial Times, Business Because and Study International. The news broke so fast, media outlets got to it before we even shared it on our own blog!

Initiatives driving success

To be sure, the news is affirming of the success of our efforts.

It affirms the priority we have placed on pressing for diversity among our students, staff and faculty. It affirms the work of student organizations such as Olin Women in Business and student ambassadors to call, reach out and build relationships with prospective students. It affirms the recruiting work of our faculty and the strong partnerships we maintain with organizations such as Forté, Reaching Out MBA and The Consortium.

Since I’ve arrived, the Olin team has worked hard to achieve this milestone, which came a little more than a year after the Financial Times ranked Olin No. 3 in the US and No. 4 globally among the best MBA programmes for women.

In those three years, I’ve seen OWIB establish an important “men as allies” initiative and collaborate with other student organizations to explore and build access to pastimes that have been traditionally dominated by men—pastimes such as golf, whiskey tastings, fantasy football and March Madness bracketology.

We’ve enjoyed impressive attendance at our annual Women’s Weekend/Diversity Weekend events. Numerous Olin alumnae return to campus to inspire, mentor and promote women leaders among our students—including Build-a-Bear’s Maxine Clark.

Maintaining our momentum

That includes two extremely successful programmes for International Women’s Day, when Olin has blown the doors off Emerson for our now annual “She Suite” event highlighting the achievements of women executives among our alumnae (Save the date: The next one is March 6, 2020.).

These and many other initiatives have contributed to this milestone—all while maintaining high standards for student admission and overhauling our full-time MBA with a substantial global immersion component. The pressure cooker of a 38-day immersion reinforces the need for diversity across genders, races, nationalities and other identities: A balanced group of students builds support, camaraderie and an aversion to group think.

While the news confirms our efforts, however, we cannot be complacent.

I’m committed, as I know our colleagues are committed, to the deliberate and proactive attention that issues of gender parity and diversity require. Maintaining near-perfect gender parity demands continued commitment, earnest attention and ongoing support of our student clubs, our alumni and our staff. Our students are motivated, determined and talented.

They come to us seeking an experience that is inclusive, collaborative and affords a voice to all identities and perspectives. Because of this work and the work that must continue, our students are prepared to make an impact, shatter the glass ceiling and reach the upper echelons of organizations where they make values-based and data-driven decisions.

Pictured above: Attendees watching the panel discussion at WashU Olin’s 2019 She Suite event on International Women’s Day. (Photo/Jerry Naunheim)

Triple accreditation illustration.

Suppose you could invite three world-class consultants into your business to review your operations and provide a dispassionate review of the progress toward your goals. All three are recognized leaders in their field. They’re peers you regard highly.

Would you do it?

That is how I view a rigorous, challenging—and ultimately rewarding—process underway now at WashU Olin Business School. It’s called triple accreditation, and a veritable army of staff and faculty at the school have contributed to making it happen.

The idea is straightforward: We’re seeking certification from the three top accreditation bodies in business school education in the world—the US-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the UK-based Association of MBAs and the European Foundation for Management Development’s Quality Improvement System or EQUIS.

When we earn triple accreditation, Olin will hold elite status among more than 13,000 business schools around the world: Only 90 have earned the so-called “triple crown.”

Why go to the trouble?

Given that, some may wonder: Why bother? Why open ourselves to intrusive oversight and regulation? I don’t view it that way at all, and I have two reasons.

First, I’ve stood now on both sides of the process. I’m on my second tour as a business school dean, inviting reviewers to evaluate programmes. My previous institution holds the triple crown today. But I’ve also been the reviewer, invited to interview staff and faculty, stakeholders, university chancellors, provosts and members of national councils. I’ve also served on the board of the AACSB.

I understand how the process works. When we seek accreditation, we’re actually seeking affirmation that we are doing what we say we’re doing. At Olin, we have articulated clear standards through our pillars of excellence: Are we providing a values-based, data-driven education; offering experiential learning; establishing an appreciation for global business; and instilling a mindset of entrepreneurship and innovation?

“Accreditation is tied to our strategic plan. It’s not just a piece of paper. We are teaching this,” says Ohad Kadan, vice dean for education and globalization, who is leading our charge. “In our reports to the accreditation agencies, we have this assurance of learning, measuring the extent to which we’re delivering on what we say we’re going to teach every day.”

He has worked closely with every professor, on every class, to make sure each class is delivering on at least one of our strategic pillars. We’re evaluating student learning to ensure the message is heard. And we’re proving to the accreditation bodies that we’re meeting the standards we have set for ourselves.

Sending a message to the world

The second reason I’m keen on this achievement is the message I believe it will send. As I mentioned, 90 business schools have achieved this milestone. Many are among the world’s elite—London Business School, INSEAD, ESADE and HEC Paris, for example.

We’ll be the first US-based school listed in the Financial Times top 100 to achieve the triple crown.

We have burnished our reputation as a global program. More than 70% of our BSBAs had a global experience last year. Our MBA global immersion plants us squarely as the most global full-time MBA in the world. So, the prospect of donning the triple crown sends a signal: We are an international school, and we want our internationalism recognized.

“It’s a way for us to get to know schools we might want to partner with in the future—and to start building those relationships,” says Shannon Reid, Olin’s strategic initiatives analyst, spearheading the massive task of compiling and presenting the data. “It will also give faculty throughout the world a different perspective on what our programs are about.”

We set our vision. We say what we aim to achieve. In our case, our vision is world-changing business education, research and impact. We embed that vision into our programmes and gauge our results. We invite world-class “consultants” to provide feedback on whether we’re achieving that vision. The accreditation bodies hold us accountable for the standards we have set for ourselves.

And that is why we are seeking—and intend to achieve—triple accreditation. We should know more by the end of 2020.

Pictured above: An Olin-led executive education class underway at Brookings in our newly expanded space.

The roots of executive education run deep in St. Louis and in Washington, DC, at our partner, The Brookings Institution. They’re about to run deeper.

In St. Louis, our expertise in executive education runs back at least to 1955, when Lee M. Liberman wrote to a colleague about a faculty-led management seminar he’d attended as a 34-year-old. Liberman later served four decades on the WashU’s board of trustees alongside two chancellors.

Also, in the late ’50s, Brookings launched two-week conferences aimed at “men of high caliber at the executive level,” according to a journal writeup at the time. Jointly, Olin and Brookings have partnered for years on leadership and management education in DC, taught by Olin faculty.

Although we’re already highly ranked globally for executive education—12th in the nation and 32nd worldwide, according to the Financial Times—we know we can lead further on the strengths we already have.

Leveraging our unique partnership with Brookings, we’ve created a joint organization that deeply entwines Olin’s research-based leadership in executive education with the global policy and economic expertise at the world’s premier think-tank. We’ve already rebranded the existing program as WashU at Brookings. We envision the relationship growing further still.

“The leaders of the future need to be able to navigate a set of questions that Brookings brings to the table,” said Kelly Bean, senior associate dean and the Charles F. Knight Distinguished Director of Executive Education at WashU Olin. Based at Brookings, commuting between DC and St. Louis, she is charged with unifying and expanding executive education operations in both locations.

As Kelly sees it, Brookings sits at the nexus of business, governmental policy and social impact. “That’s the sweet spot where we want to be able to help leaders in their organizations: How can that integration impact their own organizations?”

At the same time, our St. Louis-based operation continues to draw business from corporate partners eager for access to our expertise on leadership development, change management and strategic alignment our faculty experts can provide. Sam Chun, assistant dean and director of executive education, is about to depart for the Netherlands, for example, to begin delivering Olin’s first international exec ed program in leadership development for Rabobank, a Dutch multinational financial services firm.

Other new partners for Olin exec ed include distribution service provider Bunzl Distribution, pharmaceutical maker Pfizer, and AB InBev—which was attracted by the closer connection and program potential of our Brookings relationship. “We’re designing the program with AB InBev as we speak,” Sam said.

“That’s key,” Sam says. We don’t simply build programs and hope executives show up in the classroom. “We ask the market and design a program for them. And because of that, they come.”

With a deeper connection to Brookings, we anticipate DC-based policy experts leading courses for executives in St. Louis, with content delivered either in person or through our Center for Digital Education. Likewise, we see a world with expanded content from Olin faculty in St. Louis offered to executives in the DC area.

Those issues align deeply with Olin’s own DNA, focused as we are on values-based, data-driven decision-making in a global context and equipping leaders with the tools to change the world, for good. It’s just a bonus that the nation’s top CEOs, through the influential Business Roundtable, are coming around to our way of thinking about executive leadership.

“I think the historical connection between Brookings and WashU makes this so effective,” Kelly said.

Our focus on executive education isn’t new, but it’s more important today than ever. We all thrive when, as Olin deans realized decades ago, we serve the needs of corporate partners, bringing the latest business research into the boardroom. It also remains an important part of Olin’s mission of lifelong learning.

It’s the future of executive education—and WashU Olin is leading the way.

Pictured above: An Olin-led executive education class underway at Brookings in our newly expanded space.