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.

Doug Villhard leading a class discussion focused on entrepreneurship—prior to the pandemic.

Since launching this column two and a half years ago, I’ve discussed the many ways WashU Olin has secured its standing as a world-class institution for business school education and research. The wide variety of topics I’ve covered includes digital education, cross-disciplinary programs, the MBA global immersion, scholarships, gender parity, alumni engagement and much more.

But with today’s 31st edition of the Desk of the Dean—the first of the new year—I’m focusing on an area I’ve never addressed before: the entrepreneurship platform, one of our crown jewels and a key pillar of excellence in Olin’s strategic plan.

Nearly a month ago, I was privileged to deliver a congratulatory message to an impressive group of students honored with entrepreneurship awards and, collectively, more than $40,000 in funding from various competitions. As I said at the time, I couldn’t have been more proud of how the WashU Olin community has adjusted to the realities of the coronavirus, and how our students persisted in pushing forward with creativity and innovation during this challenging time.

That December 8 celebration came six weeks after Poets & Quants recognized Olin as the No. 1 entrepreneurship program globally for MBAs—the second consecutive year Olin received that honor. Cliff Holekamp laid the foundation for that recognition a dozen years ago. Doug Villhard, who took over the program when Cliff retired, continued that momentum through the balance of 2019 and all of 2020.

“We’re really proud of pushing the entrepreneurial mindset,” Doug said in our recent interview with P&Q editor John Byrne. “People have a misconception that entrepreneurship is only about starting companies. Our program is also about being innovative and creative within larger organizations—corporate innovation.”

The entrepreneurship award celebration was one of Doug’s additions. It also hailed the return of the Olin Cup, honoring the winning project in Olin’s Hatchery course—dedicated to forging student ideas into startups. The ceremony also highlighted Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce, another new competition Doug introduced.

And last spring, Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning added a marketing Metrics Clinic course to the existing finance Metrics Clinic—both focused on providing student-led consulting projects for local startups.

Continuing the momentum

Those are just a few examples. But what is a program dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship and innovation if the program itself doesn’t innovate? That’s what Doug is continuing to do, in collaboration with the CEL, WashU’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship and its director, II Luscri.

In the coming year, additional courses are joining an impressive slate of more than two dozen focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, Doug has partnered with the US Department of Defense on “Innovating for Defense,” a course focused on solving real-world problems confronting the defense department and the intelligence community.

Another new course—”The Endgame of Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Capitalism for Good”—will help students understand how skills from entrepreneurship and venture creation can be used to improve water quality, climate, education and gender equality globally and here in St. Louis.

Engaging with the community

Those are just two examples of new courses approved by the BSBA curriculum committee recently. Meanwhile, Doug is also working toward a new expansion of the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course.

Traditionally, the CELect program has paired student consulting teams with St. Louis-based startups on semester-long projects. Soon, however, the program’s reach will extend beyond St. Louis as students consult with startups on both coasts and around the world.

I’m also thrilled to see our entrepreneurship program further engage with Olin alumni and corporate partners, who serve as competition judges and mentors for budding business innovators. Through one simple form, they can connect with Doug to either provide support to our programs or get support through consulting projects and interns.

Two of those avenues of support are also recent developments: First, there’s the Olin Entrepreneurship Fund. This fund will support entrepreneurial initiatives within the Olin Business School, including curricular enhancements, faculty research, student experiential learning and prize money for elevator pitch and business plan competitions.

Then there’s the WashU Venture Network, inviting angel investors to connect with promising WashU-based startups.

In this space, I can only scratch the surface of the work underway as we continue to build, promote and, yes, innovate on our entrepreneurship platform.

We are fortunate to have an extraordinary team focused on this work, a St. Louis ecosystem that strongly supports innovation and values our participation and, of course, creative minds who come to Olin seeking this training.

Pictured above: Doug Villhard leading a class discussion focused on entrepreneurship—prior to the pandemic.

For the first time ever, WashU Olin will welcome new specialized master’s degree students in the spring semester—a manifestation of how the Olin team has met yet another challenge wrought by the pandemic. And with this new intake, my colleagues have gone the extra mile to create important student experiences for those who will attend online.

The story starts well before the fall semester began, when hundreds of international students had hoped to arrive in St. Louis for fall classes. As travel restrictions, quarantines and visa issues barred many students’ arrival, Olin’s team pivoted. We enrolled 306 SMP students in the fall—online and in-person—but allowed hundreds more to defer their admission to the spring, hoping circumstances might change.

Many months later, the virus has not yet relented. Circumstances haven’t changed. But the international students who deferred from the fall still want a WashU Olin experience. I’m pleased to say our faculty, our Weston Career Center and our graduate programs team is prepared to provide that experience to approximately 350 more SMP students who will join us in January.

Faculty have done a tremendous amount of work to add additional course sections and adapt their curricula. They’ve accepted additional teaching loads, catering to students many time zones away in China and other international locations. Faculty members also updated their office hours to accommodate students learning abroad.

“We’re making a special effort to keep class sizes small, using tech to enhance the experience while they’re learning abroad with us,” said Ruthie Pyles, associate dean of graduate enrollment management. “We’re trying to think about providing the intimate classroom experience for them as well as students in the states.”

Gathering students in person—in China

Indeed, as part of that effort, Olin’s team is organizing residencies in Shanghai and Beijing. These weeklong meetups, where travel is again allowed, will assemble the SMP students in China—those who began in the fall and those who begin in spring. They’ll interact with classmates, engage with alumni, participate in our industry speaker series and meet with a career coach. We’re even arranging sightseeing tours.

“This innovation is built on a foundation of the success of supporting students and our connections in China,” said Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center. She is collaborating with Ashley Macrander, associate dean and director of graduate student services, on the programming.

Nine members of Ashley’s team are working with the WCC and partners in China on arrangements for workshops, networking events and sightseeing—along with the considerable logistics involved with moving, housing and feeding the students. The residencies during the spring semester “will create an opportunity for SMP students to build community and participate in professional development,” Ashley said. 

Building on our strategic foundations

And as Jen points out, we’re able to make these extraordinary—and unprecedented—arrangements thanks to earlier work on Olin’s strategic plan. For example, we’ve reorganized and upgraded the WCC in many ways, including the addition of Corporate Relations Manager Di Lu in Shanghai as our eyes and ears on the ground there.

“She is working in China, supporting these efforts, and supporting our students’ career goals,” Jen said. “She is actively hosting employer events and helping students connect with Chinese companies.”

We’ve also expanded our footprint as a global business school through our global MBA, which I’ve written about before and which has given us the contacts and resources in China to create a valuable student experience now for our SMP students. I’ve also discussed how our investment in the Center for Digital Education has prepared us to evolve course delivery and knowledge dissemination for online learning and virtual classrooms.

As I’ve said in this space before, our work is singularly focused on traversing three horizons—the “firefighting” horizon at the outset of the pandemic, the “raise-our-game” horizon as we’ve adapted and the “look to the stars” horizon as we reimagine business education in a dramatically new global environment.

With our new SMP intake in the spring, I believe we find ourselves spanning the second and third horizons as we both raise our game and explore new ways to disseminate knowledge, bestow the accreditation of a WashU Olin degree and preserve the important student experience.

Seth Carnahan, Ashley Hardin and Durai Sundaramoorthi presented at a faculty idea exchange for online teaching on October 26, 2020.

One month after fall classes began, my colleagues surveyed students for their first impressions of hybrid learning—the course structure for most of our classes. With strong survey participation across all our programmes, student reaction was positive.

Nearly 99% were happy with our public health measures. Nearly 95% agreed their instructors were prepared. Nearly three-quarters said learning today was the same or better than it was in spring. “Olin has been successful in making this transition easy, and professors have been very accommodating,” one student commented.

Encouraging, indeed. I’m proud of Olin’s staff and faculty for their tireless work toward a world-class experience in the midst of world-crushing circumstances. I’m equally proud of our students, who have shown extraordinary resilience and agility—traits that will serve them well throughout their careers.

But our faculty gathering on October 26 is really what excites me. With members of Olin’s Center for Digital Education, more than 100 instructors met over Zoom to share best practices and swap ideas for teaching techniques and software tools. Everyone in the virtual meeting was determined to raise their game even higher with how they were teaching their hybrid classes.

Everyone wanted to get better.

Heading toward the third horizon

I’ve written before of the three horizons of this crisis. Today, we’re in the midst of the second horizon as we raise our game to provide the gold-standard experience everyone expects—students, staff and faculty.

Certainly, there are challenges. Keeping students in the classroom connected with students online is difficult. Students require extra time to prepare for a class period, which is extra difficult when classes run back-to-back. A student’s situation outside the classroom affects their ability to participate inside the classroom. Instructors such as Ashley Hardin are working hard to build a community among students—whether they’re online or in a classroom.

While sharing a number of concrete, group-oriented teaching techniques, Hardin also said she began the semester by asking students about their favorite musical artists. She created a Spotify playlist for the class reflecting their preferences. “It’s a fun, playful way for them to get to know each other,” said Hardin, assistant professor in organizational behavior.

She was one of three professors—with Seth Carnahan, associate professor of strategy, and Durai Sundaramoorthi, senior lecturer in management—who presented to the group of colleagues.

A robust exchange of ideas

The presenters shared their techniques for doing group work and keeping students engaged in their work. Carnahan, for example, shared how he uses to “cold-call” on a student when he wants someone to engage more deeply in the discussion.

Throughout the presentations, two dozen instructors and three staffers contributed in the Zoom chatroom, answered each other’s questions, offered ideas about teaching apps and hardware solutions, and reinforced points the presenters made.

They wrote about how they’ve given space for students to confront the social isolation and inconvenience so common in our lives today, how they’ve structured classes to maintain cohesive teams and what new features Zoom has introduced.

For now, we continue to traverse the second horizon of this crisis. And here we likely will remain, at least through the spring semester, given the trajectory of the pandemic thus far.

But meetings like the one on October 26, gatherings that showcase the innovation and vision and creativity of our colleagues—this prepares us to traverse that third horizon. To cross that horizon, we must consider the definition of excellence in a post-pandemic world.

And I can see we’ve already begun that work.

Pictured at top: Seth Carnahan, Ashley Hardin and Durai Sundaramoorthi presented at a faculty idea exchange for online teaching on October 26, 2020.

Zoom mockup with new faculty members hired in 2020.

When you’re privileged to serve as the dean of a school with top-notch faculty, finding the means to show continuous growth among instructors and researchers becomes more and more difficult. I’m pleased to say, however, this year’s crop of new instructors has shown it is possible.

Our incoming cohort of new instructors demonstrates that the strategy we have deployed for recruiting new faculty is paying dividends—and, indeed, it demonstrates our current faculty’s commitment to deploying that strategy.

Liberty Vittert

More than a year ago, I wrote in this space about that strategy: focusing on mid- and senior-level faculty members who already have a track record of producing impactful research. Experienced instructors who, as I wrote at the time, can bring “their cutting-edge business insights to the classroom” as well as professors of practice who can “prepare students for the world as it will be rather than the world as it is.”

With this year’s cohort of faculty members, we have two full professors joining us from the University of California–Berkeley’s Haas School of Business: David Ahn and Nicolae Gârleanu. They are among 15 new faculty members who joined this year (pictured above, listed below), along with Liberty Vittert, a veteran hire last year now joining us after serving as a visiting scholar at Harvard.

Increasing all-around bench strength

To be clear, we are not forsaking the need to recruit and cultivate promising junior faculty, and not all new instructors are research faculty.

“We added to our faculty bench at all levels—from the rookie market, to the seasoned market, to the senior (veteran) ranks,” said Todd Milbourn, vice dean of faculty and research and Hubert C. & Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance. “We are a research-driven institution, but we continue to add faculty among both research and teaching focused groups to continue to deliver the best possible faculty to our students across all programs.”

As pleased as I am that the strategy is working, I’m also gratified by the support it’s received from existing faculty. I’ve made it clear that any of Olin’s faculty groups— accounting, data analytics, economics, finance, marketing, organizational behavior, operations and manufacturing management, and strategy—can hire at any time. No waiting. And we are always on the lookout for outstanding individuals who will add to our diversity.

Committed to continuous improvement

If they have an opening, and they can find top people, I’m committed to finding a way to get them here. And, clearly, we’ve made that strategy work even in the midst of the pandemic. We cannot allow ourselves to be blown off course.

“It’s hard to welcome new folks to the Olin family only by Zoom,” Todd said, “but they are all great people with great attitudes, and they have managed the transitions seamlessly and with style.”

As we continue with this strategy, I am confident we will continue to see growth in our instruction and research productivity. Strength, after all, begets strength, and I am confident we will enjoy the snowballing effect of this approach for years to come.

2020-21 faculty hires

David Ahn, professor of economics PhD: economic analysis and policy, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2004 Prior to Olin: Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley.

John Barrios, assistant professor of accounting PhD: business administration, University of Miami, 2015 Prior to Olin: Booth School of Business, University of Chicago.

Jeremy Bertomeu, associate professor of accounting PhD: economics, Carnegie Mellon University, 2008 Prior to Olin: Rady School of Management, University of California-San Diego.

Naveed Chehrazi, assistant professor of operations and manufacturing management PhD: management science and engineering, Stanford University, 2013 Prior to Olin: McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin.

Edwige Cheynel, associate professor of accounting PhD: business administration, Carnegie Mellon University, 2010 Prior to Olin: Rady School of Management, University of California-San Diego.

Erik Dane, associate professor of organizational behavior PhD: business administration, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007 Prior to Olin: Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University.

Nicolae Gârleanu, professor of finance PhD: finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2002 Prior to Olin: Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley.

Maarten Meeuwis, assistant professor of finance PhD: finance, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2020 Prior to Olin: PhD candidate at MIT.

Andreas Neuhierl, assistant professor of finance PhD: finance, Northwestern University, 2015 Prior to Olin: Mendoza School of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Oren Reshef, assistant professor of strategy PhD: business and public policy, Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley, 2020 Prior to Olin: PhD candidate at Haas.

Linda Schilling, assistant professor of finance PhD: economics, Bonn Graduate School of Economics, 2017 Prior to Olin: Utrecht University School of Economics.

Professor of practice

Trish Gorman, professor of practice in strategy PhD: strategy and economics, Case Western Reserve University, 1999 Prior to Olin: managing director at Goff Strategic Leadership Center in Salt Lake City, lecturer at the Eccles School of Business, University of Utah.


Gary Lin, senior lecturer in data analytics PhD: industrial and systems engineering, University of Florida, 1991 Prior to Olin: Retired full professor from Bradley University.

Salih Tutun, lecturer in data analytics PhD: systems science and industrial engineering, State University of New York at Binghamton, 2018 Prior to Olin: postdoc at SUNY-Binghamton.


Hugh Wu, strategy, PhD: Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Peter Boumgarden teaches a class to incoming EMBA students ahead of the arrival of full-time MBA, SMP and BSBA students on September 14, 2020. The masks, face shields and physical distancing in this classroom setup is typical of how hybrid classes will be taught in the fall.

We are just days away from the start of a fall semester unlike any we’ve experienced. Yet in a world seemingly overrun with troubling news, I am filled with hopeful optimism about the return of our students and the commencement of classes.

Signs limit seating capacity in the atrium at Olin Business School.

We anticipate a strong student intake across all our programs—both in-person and virtually. Outfitted with carefully prepared signage, technology and sanitation equipment, our buildings are ready for students and faculty. We’ve assiduously assisted and supported faculty in enhancing their teaching in a hybrid environment—and scored high marks within the WashU community on that preparation.

Students are receiving welcome kits. Our specialized master’s students have the opportunity to be paired with mentors. Our fall planning website—dedicated to information about fall instruction in the age of COVID-19—is up, running and up-to-date.

The start of classes on September 14 marks the culmination of thousands of hours of forethought, planning and preparation. The Olin team has been focused on one simple goal: Providing world-class education during a world-changing crisis.

A massive effort

There is scarcely a person among our faculty or staff who cannot take part of the credit for pulling off the herculean task that confronted us over the summer. Everyone has pulled together to create the best Olin experience possible. That includes our faculty members, the Center for Digital Education, graduate program recruiting and student services staff, the undergraduate programs office, the Weston Career Center and corporate development teams, building operations teams, marketing and communications, the Center for Experiential Learning, accounting and other behind-the-scenes departments.

By one mode or another, the students are joining our community, and we’re excited. Many will be on campus. Some could not secure visas in time but decided nevertheless to commence their WashU Olin education online.

“We don’t have fewer students,” Ohad Kadan, vice dean for education and globalization, told his faculty colleagues recently. “We just have students in different time zones. We will have to work to cater to them. It’s a change of mindset.”

Some classes will start a little earlier or end a little later than typical so we can accommodate students across as many as six time zones around the globe. Likewise, we’ve asked professors to make themselves available for office hours at unusual times.

Instructors will teach courses with more than 60 students online. Those with fewer than 25 will be in person. In between, instructors will use one of two hybrid formats.

The new Olin experience

From the start, we have aimed high. Not to achieve the minimum required to teach students in the fall, but to do the very best.

I’m looking forward to addressing the incoming undergraduate class as usual—only online instead of from the Emerson Auditorium stage. Each student will receive a welcome kit with a combination of PPE and keepsakes. Career coaching and networking will happen. Student clubs will meet, create events and enrich their members’ preparation.

When I speak to the students as the semester begins, I plan to share what I know about where we stand as a business school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, how it has affected us and how we hope to come out. I’ll remind them that we’ve not just played the hand we were dealt, but we’ve striven to turn these circumstances into opportunities.

I hope as they engage with classmates, staff, faculty and alumni over the course of this semester, students think that way, too.

The three horizons

I have been fond of saying that the trajectory of this crisis, this pandemic, is carrying us over three horizons.

The first I refer to as firefighting. Confronted with an instant conflagration in mid-March, we pivoted quickly, adapted and delivered results for our students through the spring semester.

The second horizon is about raising our game. We’re still in the midst of the crisis, but with reflection and the benefit of more time, we’re prepared to deliver gold-standard instruction to students in multiple formats. We’re poised to sail over that horizon now. And the third horizon? That’s about scanning beyond where we can see, anticipating what we must do in this new version of normal to be leaders in teaching and research. And we’re already doing that work.

Pictured above: Peter Boumgarden teaches a class to incoming EMBA students ahead of the arrival of full-time MBA, SMP and BSBA students on September 14, 2020. The masks, face shields and physical distancing in this classroom setup is typical of how hybrid classes will be taught in the fall.

Stuart Bunderson teaching an Olin EMBA course.

In recent weeks—even in the midst of a global pandemic—good news has abounded for WashU Olin’s Executive MBA program. In June, The Economist ranked the Olin EMBA 18th globally and seventh in the United States, highlighting our strong research faculty and career results for a 20-spot rise in the magazine’s lineup.

And in the past week, two members of our EMBA class of 2020 landed on Poets & Quants’ esteemed listing of the “best and brightest” executive MBA students in the country. My congratulations to Faye Prevedell Dixon and Jason Carter.

Yet more good news has only just begun to emerge after a yearlong effort that’s been humming quietly in the background. A reboot of Olin’s EMBA has now received faculty approval to move forward and will begin with the next class starting this fall.

Focus on leadership development

The new EMBA curriculum will provide a strong new focus on the core theory of leadership at WashU Olin—the drive toward values-based, data-driven leadership. It will guide students through a deep examination of how they view themselves as leaders, how they want to grow and what steps they must take to achieve their leadership goals.

“This is designed to be a transformational experience,” said Nick Argyres, Vernon W. & Marion K. Piper Professor of Strategy, who co-led the EMBA review committee with Ron King, senior lecturer in accounting.

“We want this to be very personal, very customized to each student, to match what each student is actually experiencing at that time and to reach them on an intellectual level and an emotional level,” Nick said.

In addition to the committee, I am grateful for the impetus provided for this initiative individuals such as Carl Casale, EMBA ’92, who was named an Olin distinguished alumnus in 2007. Carl—an ag industry veteran who serves on the board of Syngenta and is a senior investment partner with Ospraie Ag Science—was a major driving force on this initiative.

The reboot process also included a listening tour with leaders at major companies in the St. Louis region where we draw our students—firms such as Bayer, Centene, Express Scripts, Nestlé Purina and Schnucks. The effort guided the task force’s understanding of what our neighbours require as they mould experienced managers into the next generation of senior leaders.

So, while students run through a rigorous gauntlet of coursework in strategy, negotiation, accounting, finance, economics, marketing and operations, they’ll also be working with leadership coaches to refine their goals, engage in leadership development activities and draft their personal statements of higher purpose.

Familiarity with ‘big data’ concepts

“They’ll share their refined leadership statements with one another as they’re going out the door so they can see the kind of impact they’ll have individually and as a group as they go forward,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of Olin’s Bauer Leadership Center. “I’m convinced that this is something we have that’s unique and very contemporary.”

But that’s not all. We also heard from our neighbours in the business community that the next generation of top leaders must be conversant in concepts involving big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The new EMBA will provide experienced managers an understanding of data science and analytics and how they apply to business. It will guide them through societal issues data science raises and build an understanding of how to create and lead data science teams. In other words: How to make and manage a data-driven organization.

I’m delighted by the work we’ve undertaken, further reinforcing WashU Olin’s position as an indispensable resource.

The Olin Executive MBA program, like all of our work, is core to our mission: We produce research and disseminate it in the form of teaching and experience. A business school provides a service to the business community and society—around the world and in our own backyard.