Author: Jill Young Miller


About Jill Young Miller

As research translator for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to highlight professors’ research by “translating” their work into stories. Before coming to Olin, I was a communications specialist at WashU’s Brown School. My background is mostly in newspapers including as a journalist for Missouri Lawyers Media, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. Also, I am the reigning Olin Cornhole Champion.

For Brent Sobol, the key to loving your work starts with understanding yourself and knowing what makes you happy. With that, he said recently, you’re in a position to make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Sobol found what he loved to do while he was a student at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School. In exchange for free rent, he managed his fraternity’s house and loved the work. Then, in the final days of Sobol’s last semester, a group of students asked a favorite professor for advice about starting their post-college lives.

“Follow your bliss,” the professor said.

“The message resonated with me to my core,” Sobol said in a recent talk at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown.

“That’s the only way you can really feel good about yourself,” he said. “When you feel really good about yourself, you’re in a position to help others and make a difference in their lives.”

Brent Sobol speaks about his mission to serve low- and moderate-income residents.

Sobol is president and founder of Legacy Community Housing Corp., a nonprofit he formed in 2009. The concept came out of lessons he learned over years of working in the affordable housing industry. During that time, he rehabilitated dangerous and blighted apartment communities, and he became a specialist in crime prevention and turning around multifamily communities.

“I got a reputation for being the guy who could turn around the apartments that were badly broken,” he said. “I was an owner and a property manager. Most apartments, there’s a great divide between the owner and the property manager.” That’s part of the problem with low-income housing, Sobol said.

Address root problems

Low-income housing could work well, he realized, if the goal was a safe community populated with good neighbors. And that goal can be achieved by providing social services that address root problems in the community and by having managers who are engaged in the community, said Sobol, who earned his bachelor’s in business administration from Olin in 1998.

Sobol moved to Atlanta in 2001, a few years after graduation, and became a millionaire by age 30. He also owns Sobol Realty Inc., a residential real estate company his father started in 1954. “My dad had a lot of good sayings,” Sobol said. Among them: “Giving is the path to happiness.”

Over time he has owned, managed, financed and invested in more than 6,500 rental and condominium units with values in excess of $128 million. He has overseen the successful repositioning of 14 apartment communities with capital improvement expenditures totaling over $27 million. During his talk, Sobol spoke about how his wealth and happiness grew alongside his mission to serve low- and moderate-income residents with respectable places to live.

Safety for his residents is paramount. “You need to feel safe in your home before you can do anything else. That’s fundamental,” he said. Landlords should always check tenants’ backgrounds, he said, but not enough do. In Atlanta, Sobol formed partnerships with the police, sheriff’s and fire departments.

Engage residents

Sobol also worked to engage residents. His properties have offered programs for all age groups, including bingo for seniors and daycare for children. “We hired really good teachers who had certifications, so the kids were learning when they came to our daycare.” His own daughter attended the daycare.

He also came up with other ways to add value to his residents’ lives. He created a community garden. He had an orchard of plum, pear and orange trees planted. Anyone can come and take the fruit.

And he was careful to put employees in jobs they love.

“Everybody benefited from that,” he said. “Customers loved us even more. We made more money. And, you know, the world is a better place when [people] love what they do.”

Learn how WashU Olin’s full-time MBA program — with global-mindedness, experiential learning and analytical rigor — equips future business leaders to confront challenge and change the world, for good.

If Philadelphia’s soda tax is any indication, local soda taxes don’t work as well as policymakers intend.

Olin’s Song Yao, associate professor of marketing, and two other researchers studied the effects of Philadelphia’s soda tax, which took effect in January 2017.

Several US cities have enacted soda taxes to raise revenue and fight obesity among their citizens. Berkeley, California, was the first, but Philly was the first big city to adopt one. It uses the revenue to fund schools and improve parks, recreation centers and libraries.

The city’s 1.5-cents-an-ounce tax led to a 34% price increase for soda. And soda sales in Philadelphia dropped sharply—by 46%, according to the working paper “The Impact of Soda Taxes: Pass-through, Tax Avoidance, and Nutritional Effects.”

Song Yao

But here’s the catch: Soda sales at stores just outside the city increased dramatically. Apparently, a lot of people leave Philly to buy their soda elsewhere.

“The cross-shopping outside the city offset more than half of the reduction” of soda sales in the city, Yao said. So the net reduction in sugary drinks consumption is only 22%, he pointed out.

The reduction in calories and sugar people consumed because of the tax is even smaller; 16% and 15%, respectively. “The health impact is mediocre at best,” Yao said.  

The tax also imposes a disproportionate burden on low-income people, he said. “Access to transportation is more difficult for low-income households, so they engage in less cross-shopping and end up paying more inside the city.”

So far, NPRMarketWatchNational Review and The Washington Post have reported on the findings.

Policy lessons

The findings in Philadelphia provide policy lessons on how to design soda taxes or other types of “sin” taxes, according to the paper by Yao, Stephan Seiler of the University of California in Los Angeles, and Anna Tuchman of Northwestern University.

“If taxes are localized (as is the case for all current soda taxes), high tax rates will be sub-optimal for generating revenue because they lead to cross-shopping, which reduces the tax base,” they write.

“A larger geographic coverage will make cross-shopping more difficult and therefore generate greater tax revenue.”

Dean Mark Taylor is definitely doing his part to contribute to Olin’s strategic priority to build a stronger and broader reputation for research with impact.

According to the latest from Research Papers in Economics (RePEc), Taylor is the third most influential researcher in international finance in the world. In addition, the dean is in the top 10 of international finance researchers globally in terms of research citations, according to Google Scholar.

RePEc is a collaborative effort of hundreds of volunteers in 101 countries to enhance the dissemination of research in economics and related sciences. 

Taylor has long been one of the most highly cited financial economists. His research on exchange rates and international financial markets has been published extensively in many of the world’s leading academic and practitioner journals. He is also the author or co-author of a number of books, including two of the leading European textbooks in economics and macroeconomics. 

The news is excellent, and it’s spreading quickly. WashU Olin’s first-year MBA enrollment this year is 49% female–putting Olin ahead of other elite business schools.

In other words, Olin is the closest school to achieving gender parity, according to Forté Foundation, a nonprofit focused on women’s advancement and gender parity in business school.

The Financial Times (subscription required) notes that for several years, Olin has run a women’s ambassador program, equipping students and alumni to encourage other females to apply. Olin also markets MBAs as a tool for getting an edge in interviews over male candidates without the degree.

“It is that extra qualification that will help to smash the glass ceiling,” Olin Dean Mark Taylor said.

As applications to US business school decline, the percentage of women enrolled in full-time MBA programs continues to rise, climbing this fall to an average of 39% at more than 50 of the top programs in the US, Canada and Europe, Forté Foundation’s new data show.

While Olin came closest to an even split between male and female students, others with high percentages of female students include the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Each had 45% or more women enrolled.

Nineteen Forté schools reported 40% women or more, up from 13 schools five years ago.

“Every year we see women’s enrollment inch up at business schools,” Elissa Sangster, CEO of Forté, said in a press release. “The progress over five-year intervals, in particular, demonstrates a significant shift in gender parity at top business schools.”

To learn more, see the article in Poets & Quants and The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

Domestic violence and illicit drug use plummeted among women who realized they could live decades longer than they’d expected because of a new HIV treatment, according to a new study.

The introduction of the medical treatment, Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy, dramatically improved the health and longevity of HIV-positive women in the study.

The women’s lives subsequently improved dramatically in two other ways: They experienced 15% less domestic violence, and their drug abuse plunged by 15-20%.

That’s according to “Health, Human Capital and Domestic Violence,” forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources. It’s the first study to show that interventions that improve women’s health and longevity can reduce both domestic violence and illicit drug use, the authors say.

The women’s improvement also could lead to increased labor market productivity, the authors point out.

“Innovations in healthcare can have indirect effects on things that you may not immediately expect,” said coauthor Barton H. Hamilton, Olin’s Robert Brookings Smith Distinguished Professor of Economics, Management and Entrepreneurship. Innovations in healthcare are among his research interests.

Hamilton and Robert A. Pollak, Olin’s Hernreich Distinguished Professor of Economics, collaborated with four other authors on the research: Nicholas W. Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University, Gwyn C. Pauley of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Mardge Cohen of Rush University and Tracey E. Wilson of the State University of New York.

‘A lot more health capital’

Participants in the study were recruited from HIV primary care clinics, hospital-based programs, research programs, community outreach sites, women’s support groups, drug rehabilitation programs, HIV testing sites and referrals from enrolled participants. The study began in 1994, and a second cohort was added to the sample in 2001-2002.

“Suppose all of a sudden somebody tells you that you’re going to live for another 30 years instead of expecting that you’ll die in the next five years? What are you going to do?” Hamilton asks.

“Now, all of a sudden, you have a lot more health capital than you ever thought you had. And how does that affect the kind of decisions and investments you make?”

One might be to get out of an abusive relationship. Another: to stop using cocaine, heroin and other drugs.

Relying on surveys and a series of robustness checks, the research focused on women who were HIV-positive but not yet symptomatic. For the women, the treatment known as HAART had no immediate impact on symptoms. But it did improve their expected health and lengthened their expected lifetimes.

“This incentivized them to make costly upfront investments with future payoffs,” Hamilton said. “We treat the avoidance of domestic violence, including leaving an abusive relationship, as such an investment.”

The cost of domestic violence

The annual cost of domestic violence—including direct medical expenditures and losses to productivity—is estimated at $5.8 billion. The authors point out that $5.8 billion is probably “a gross under-estimation” because it does not include costs to the justice system or social services.

“We view health as a form of human capital that not only increases longevity, but also improves the quality of life and increases labor market productivity,” Hamilton said.

The researchers used data from a longitudinal study, the Women’s Intra-Agency HIV Study, which provided rich information on health, sociodemographic characteristics, domestic violence and illicit drug use.

Improving their options

HAART enhanced the women’s expected well-being and economic resources, such as income, improving their options outside of violent partnerships.

Following similar logic, the researchers assessed the effect of HAART on another investment with upfront costs and future payoffs: reducing the use of illicit drugs. Upfront costs include withdrawal symptoms and depression, while benefits include better future health and fewer barriers to employment.

“In economics, we don’t have too many situations where we can study such a big shock—in the sense of now you’re going to get an extra 30 years of life,” Hamilton said.

HAART transformed HIV infection from a virtual death sentence into a manageable, chronic condition, reducing mortality rates by more than 80% within two years of its introduction.

“What we saw was a pretty drastic change in incentives,” the biggest one being a chance for a longer life, Hamilton said. “And, as a consequence, we saw a pretty significant response.”

Get gutsy! Live gutsy! That was the message from Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour during her high-energy talk Tuesday at WashU Olin.

A Marine, Armour made history as the nation’s first black female combat pilot.

“If you don’t take action, it wasn’t a gutsy move, it was a gutsy thought. It isn’t, ‘Are you willing?’ but ‘Will you?’” Armour said in her talk before Olin students, alumni, faculty and staff.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Armour completed two tours in Iraq.

“I never wanted to be ‘one of the guys.’ What I wanted was to be part of the team: with one mission, one goal, one team that impacts lives,” she said.

On Tuesday, she shared her story of setbacks, challenges, adventure and success.

“Everyone has challenges and obstacles. But the key is, acknowledge those obstacles, don’t give them power.”

She also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging.

“It’s all about access and exposure, and that’s why diversity is so much more than a buzzword. We are the gateway to how young people see and engage the world.”

We all have permission to engage, Armour emphasized. “You are your ground controller. If you don’t give yourself permission, who will?”

Diversity is one of Olin’s core values, Dean Mark Taylor noted when he introduced Armour. “We are gratified to have many different voices here at Olin,” he said. “And just as important is making sure those voices are included.”

Armour uses her voice. She now runs a consulting firm and gives motivational speeches. In addition, she’s the author of the book “Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals that Matter.”

The event was part of Olin’s Leadership Perspectives series. Watch FlyGirl’s entire talk here. You’ll be glad you did.