Author: Guest Blogger


About Guest Blogger

From time to time we have professors, students, staff, alumni, or friends who are not regular contributors, but want to share something with the community. Be sure to look at the bottom of the post to see the author.

Ashley Hardin, assistant professor of organizational behavior, wrote this for the Olin Blog. Her research interests include relationships at work and work-life boundaries.

Ashley Hardin

As areas of the country begin to relax and do away with stay-at-home orders, things will not snap back to normal for all employees and organizations. This may seem obvious, but it has huge ramifications for what employers can and should expect from employees during this time.

Some employees may continue to have childcare responsibilities. Some may have high-risk family members in their homes, or they themselves may have underlying health issues that put them in a high-risk category. It may be implausible for certain employees to return to work with the same routines as before the pandemic. Their working style and needs before the pandemic may no longer stand.

The best results are likely to come from treating each employee with care and compassion, rather than trying to enforce one uniform policy for all. For large organizations, one answer could be for leaders to empower lower-level managers to customize their own teams’ working habits.

Care and compassion pay dividends

We wrestle with productivity at this time. An overarching message could be that care and compassion must supersede productivity. Taking care of one’s self and loved ones may inhibit work progress. And that’s OK. Research shows that extending compassion to one’s employees has incredible benefits for individuals, relationships and organizations. Productivity may decrease in the short term, but making the time and space to take care of employees will have real long-term rewards for all. 

My main advice is to be flexible and offer different support to different team members, while trying not to make assumptions. It’s difficult to know what demands individuals are facing. They could have health issues, a partner who is a frontline responder, children in need of care, extended family members who are isolated.

Many workers are balancing many roles simultaneously for the first time. Given this blurring of personal and professional roles, managers should seek to grant more flexibility and open the door to sharing of circumstances. But they also should not demand to know all the details; that can seem invasive. When managers express care and concern and a desire to understand, their direct reports may choose to open up. With that information, managers can seek to be more accommodating. In these times, flexibility and adaptability will be critical in enabling team success.

These times are challenging. People are enacting their professional selves while working in their own personal spaces. The situation opens a window into individuals’ lives that they may or may not find comfortable. Research shows that learning about one another’s personal lives can help to humanize colleagues and foster more responsiveness to their needs. So these breaches of boundaries actually may strengthen teams in the new work reality. Reacting positively to learning new information or sharing information about oneself can help put someone at ease when the boundaries do blur.

An opportunity to adopt new routines

Routines that typically enable productivity no longer exist to rely upon. Newly remote workers or those continuing to be can take lessons from prior research investigating gig workers who are accustomed to working alone and setting their own agenda. Scholars Petriglieri, Ashford and Wrzesniewski found that cultivating connections to routines, places, people and a broader purpose are the most critical. Managers can assist their employees in doing this. 

In addition to the complexities of meeting the differing needs of employees, employers and individuals can use this shift as a time to mindfully adopt new routines. Fantastic innovations in work practices may have taken root during the period of staying at home. Through a practice known as appreciative inquiry — asking about what is going well — organizations can uncover new practices that they can rollout more broadly.

Perhaps some teams found new ways to build connections or new uses for work platforms that ease collaboration. Take advantage of this shift to shed old routines that were not working.

Similarly, organizations can inquire about what employees miss most about work patterns pre-pandemic. What practices should be retained and returned to? The invitation to open up and revamp the ways of working may lead to better organizational functioning in this new phase. 

John Horn, professor of practice in economics, wrote this article with contributions from Taylor Begley, assistant professor of finance.

In a well-functioning economy, the bankruptcy process should be able to sort out why a particular company failed. Was the company structurally unable to compete? Did executives make poor choices (like taking on too much debt)? Or were circumstances simply unlucky?

John Horn

But when large swaths of the economy default concurrently, banks shouldn’t hold individual businesses responsible for the disruption. Though the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and subsequent bills provide some small business relief, they largely leave the existing bankruptcy process in place.

Unfortunately, that process will take years to sort through the chaos. Unless we take additional action, when the crisis ends small businesses that were perfectly viable will face challenges in accessing the cash they need to start up again.

Cataclysmic events

In contract law, “force majeure” clauses are intended to protect both parties from cataclysmic events beyond their control. But force majeure—in short, an extraordinary, unforeseen event—won’t absolve most current borrowers from default. Few small business loans have such clauses, and, even if they do, courts will have to decide whether the pandemic counts as such an event. This, in turn, will require a lot of one-off decisions from lenders, further clogging the system.

Here’s the bottom line: We are not ready for the economy to come out from under a large number of defaults once the coronavirus is contained sufficiently. We can’t rely on existing contractual clauses to remedy the situation. In an ideal setting, a bank will take into account the business’ situation before the COVID-19 crisis and evaluate it on the pre-crisis fundamentals.

This will work best when the lenders have a more intimate knowledge of the borrower and their history. That’s more likely to occur when the bank is a local entity. However, the banking industry has been closing branches over the past 10 years, and closures appear likely to continue amid this downturn.

The correct action requires coordination: All lenders need to act in a similar fashion at the same time so no one bank feels like it’s the only one taking a risk by doing something different.

Banks’ unwillingness to take risks on their own shouldn’t be surprising; we’ve seen this in the recent past. Since the Great Recession, banks have been holding excess reserves (cash in their vaults that they are allowed to lend out, but don’t) between $685 billion and $2.7 trillion since mid-2009. As comparison, the number averaged $1 billion between 1985 and 2008. Also during the Great Recession, banks tightened standards for small-businesses loans and have not relaxed them significantly since that crisis officially ended.

What can be done?

If we can’t rely on banks to self-start the lending cycle, what can be done? There are a couple of ways the federal government can improve liquidity for small businesses by putting all banks on the same footing with regard to the underlying insolvency risk.

  1. The simplest correction would to be for the government to underwrite the continued financing of small businesses until the crisis has passed. Ensure these businesses have access to funding they need to pay off all of their bills and remain viable. The CARES Act (and second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding) was a good first step, but Congress will need to continue funding small businesses until the crisis ends.
  2. If it doesn’t, then Congress should enact legislation that would count any bankruptcy/default from March 2020 until the end of the crisis as a nondefault event. Sure, some risky borrowers would have defaulted anyway without the coronavirus shutdown, but many of the other conditions (like cash flow, tenure of business) will still be used to underwrite future loans, as will bankruptcies/defaults before March 2020.
  3. Create new investment protection vehicles for banks/lenders to incentivize certain types of loans (modeled on the FDIC insurance—i.e., only for loans up to a certain amount, only for certain types of loans—and the mortgage loan backup created after the Great Recession). This would be similar to the current CARES SBA loans and allow for smaller minimums than the Fed’s Main Street Lending Program (currently $500,000).

Small businesses are hurting. If the current economic crisis doesn’t end in the next few weeks, they face an existential crisis that will be hard to endure—and find it hard to rebuild once the economy starts to rebound.

Carolyn Feltner, EMBA50, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

Touring with the Grateful Dead the summer after college. That is the only time since I was 15 that I didn’t have a job. And I sold water out of my car, so, technically, I was still working. Just ask my parents.

I love working. It gives me fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment and feeling of community. I made many of my best friends at the office.

I am one of thousands whose position was eliminated because of COVID-19. I came home from spring break with my two daughters on a Saturday night. Less than 12 hours later, I went to the office that Sunday to catch up on work, only to walk into my own layoff.

I had been worried about the effect COVID-19 would have on my family’s physical health, but I did not think of how much it could impact our financial health. Talk about your life being flipped in 24 hours.

‘What’s next?’

The question became “Okay, what’s next?” I have more than 20 years of marketing experience and was an EMBA50. I have been honored to be part of two established and respected communities in St. Louis: Olin and Anheuser-Busch.

I had heard of Mary Houlihan before, as she worked at Anheuser-Busch and now is at Olin, but I had never met her. The day I lost my job, March 22, I couldn’t count how many times former colleagues and classmates told me to connect with her, once I had told them my news. And, as if by luck, I received an email that afternoon that Olin was starting a boot camp for MBAs in transition led by Mary Houlihan and Frans VanOudenallen, career coaches at Olin’s Weston Career Center.

The boot camp has been invaluable. Topics such as managing the transition, having the right mindset and getting organized have helped me navigate the beginning of this journey. Peter Ambrose, EMBA12, was a guest speaker at the last session and explained the importance of “emotional resiliency” as we transition during the crisis.

Olin also offers a career group coaching session. I took this course when I started in the EMBA program. At the time, though, I was employed and wasn’t pursuing other career opportunities. It was a great course then, but it is even more vital now.

Mary has been my coach through all of this. She both supports me and pushes me.

Once Olin, always Olin

I have known the strength of the Olin community for a long time. My mother, Sally Roth, EMBA11, has talked about her connection to the school, relationship with the professors and friendships with her classmates. I felt that way while I attended Olin two years ago.

Only now, however, do I understand the significance of my time at Olin. My classmates from industries as diverse as manufacturing, finance and healthcare have reached out. They not only have offered connections and advice, but also they are there for me as friends.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Yes, a layoff can happen to you. Yes, even you.
  2. Everything happens for a reason (and you will repeat that mantra until you almost believe it).
  3. Olin staff, faculty and alum are there for you. Reach out to them.

As much as my time at Olin was valuable, the connections I made there have been priceless. Once Olin, always Olin. Now time to find my next career adventure. Unfortunately, no bands are touring now, so I’ll be sticking with marketing.

Photo: Carolyn Feltner, EMBA50

Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at WashU Olin, shared this blog post about a recent visit from sports analyst Bob Costas’ visit to his sports marketing class.

Humbled, honored and uplifted. Thank you, Mr. Costas.

Mr. Costas was kind enough to spend 45 minutes with WashU students during our sports marketing class on April 21, 2020.

Kally Wendler, AB ’22, who is enrolled in the minor in the business of sports, said she was particularly interested in his response to a question about how sportscasters excite viewers and listeners about athletes they might not be familiar with—Olympic athletes, for example.

“He spoke to the importance of conveying the ‘drama, meaning, exhilaration, and disappointment of the Olympics,'” she said. “His argument that human emotions and narratives carry more weight than the nuts and bolts of the sports themselves is a reflection of what differentiates this industry—raw emotion and engagement.”

This has been a tough semester for many college students across the country, especially seniors who won’t be able to attend their graduation ceremonies with family and friends.

“Having Mr. Costas join our sports marketing class was an experience I’ll never forget,” said Jonathan Arenas, BSBA ’20. “Growing up as a Bulls and Cubs fan, it was staggering to see how well he recalled broadcasting both ‘The Sandberg Game’ and Michael Jordan’s Game 6 winning shot versus the Utah Jazz. It was as if the entire class was present for two of the most historic sports moments of all time.”

But to see the looks on my students’ faces while Mr. Costas was talking to them about sports and life, it was abundantly obvious the profound and inspirational impact he was having upon them at that moment…and will hopefully continue to have for years to come as the students reflect on his thoughtful and sage perspectives.

We talked about his time calling games for the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis, his recollections of calling Michael Jordan’s last game as a Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, baseball (future, present and past…including his wonderful retelling of the 1984 Sandberg game between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals), his experiences hosting the Olympics, and the future of sports media.

“It was incredible to have him come speak to our class,” said Taylor Cohen, BSBA ’22. “The way he recounted such prominent moments in sports history, through his perspective as a broadcaster and inspiring storyteller persona, made it feel like we were hearing him ‘re-call’ the games for us on-air.”

Shivani Jain, MBA ’21, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

The student consultant team: Ashish Vora (MBA ’20), Shivani Jain (MBA ’21), Yaohong Chen (SMP ’21), and Bruno Moreira Yamamura (MBA ’20)

In the fall semester, 2019, we, a group of four MBA and specialized master’s candidates, became a part of the St. Louis Impact Initiative (SLII), an organization known for “Bridging the gap: Empowering Entrepreneurs Together.”

It lies under the philanthropic arm of the BALSA Group, which supports first-time entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area by providing necessary support and resources to grow their enterprise.

We dedicated ourselves as student consultants to Karen Rogier, inventor, and sole proprietor of a unique product—the moving device by the commercial name of MOVEREZE. The name comes from the ease of gliding heavy boxes down the stairs.

Karen, our enthusiastic client, has a story of her own behind this bootstrapping venture of bringing the product to life. She was struck with the idea while helping her son and daughter-in-law move boxes from their apartment to their new home.

Using the MOVEREZE device, they were able to conveniently carry multiple boxes at once, saving time and reducing the effort of going up and down the stairs. Karen wishes to “bring her invention to the masses.” We feel energized every time we talk to her, and she responds with a refreshing attitude to succeed in this endeavor. 

Our team performed extensive market research suggesting that there’s no such product available currently; its simple design and ease of use by any age group or gender struck a chord with the focus group during the product testing we held at Olin Business School last month. This patented product looks similar to a yoga mat, with handles on both the ends to stack heavy boxes and pull them down the stairs single-handedly beating the brow sweat.

It is crafted to provide long term durability and can be effortlessly rolled and stored in any corner of your house or car, not requiring a dedicated space and is hazard-proof. It’s worth a buy for those tough moving or shopping days. It’s even nice and warm picnic days when you want to carry heavy picnic baskets to your car or your child’s car seat or stroller down the stairs with ease even if you’re not a regular gym-goer.

Karen Rogier with members of the consulting team

Moreover, it’s a boon, especially for those of us who live by ourselves or in a building without elevators. We are currently helping Karen market the product and bring the business to life.

This moving device is now available to be purchased on the website and we are working to partner with other retail and online stores to make it widely available. Check her website to buy the device and show her some support by spreading a word about this wonderful product to your friends and family.

Are you an angel investor or professional and want to know more about this enterprise or support Karen in building her business through marketing strategies or social media promotion? Please contact us!

Ben Dalton, MBA ’20, is an 11-year US Army veteran and lives with his wife and two children in Ballwin, Missouri.

Ben Dalton

Last week, in my final semester for an MBA from Olin Business School at Washington University here in St. Louis, I was supposed to be in Barcelona.

Three days before our departure, the trip was cancelled due to the global pandemic of COVID-19. When the class was cancelled, the fantastic staff and faculty at WashU utilized their networks and worked hard to provide an option for those students who needed the class to graduate on time.

Network contacts included Gerard Craft (Niche Food Group), Kevin and Chris Nashan (Peacemaker Lobster & Crab, Sidney Street Café), Chris Kelling (Elmwood) and JiaMin Dierberg (Hermannhof Winery). Charlie Downs and Dave Molina (Sugarfire) as well as Jason Bockman (Strange Donuts) previously prepared students for their trip to Shanghai, China, before the class was cancelled.

Businesses helped students finish coursework

These amazing local restaurateurs and hospitality hosts took time out of their businesses to help us understand what it took to run a business as well as wine distributor operations from different places in the value chain. This class was enjoyable for all students who opted to remain in St. Louis and complete the coursework, thanks largely to those local business owners who brought their expertise to our classroom.

A week later, guidance has been given to close these same businesses due to the global pandemic. Gerard Craft closed all locations (except Cinder House) immediately and complied with the plea for social distancing prior to any mandate, including not allowing pick up or delivery options because it would endanger his staff. Elmwood and Peacemaker dining rooms closed Thursday, and it sounds like pick up orders are still available.

Around the country, hourly workers for large sporting venues are getting help from the professional athletes and ownership. We need the same kind of help from our local community. Our local food scene is getting stronger with every new restaurant, and the community of small businesses seems to support and collaborate to the benefit of many St. Louis people.

Strange Donuts

Last year, I helped write a case study about Strange Donuts as they were supporting WashU with another learning objective and met some of the awesome people that work there as well. These are not people who make tons of money or could not work for a few months. While some of these businesses may be around in a few weeks, the livelihoods of many of their workers will not. Some options available include emergency unemployment benefits, elimination of payroll tax, and rent abatement for impacted workers.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll contribute to the Gateway Resilience Fund, set up to provide short-term monetary relief to employees and owners of independent bars, restaurants and shops in the St. Louis area affected by closures and other circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Photo: On March 9, Olin MBA students visited the Tin Mill Brewing Company in Hermann.