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.

Frans VanOudenallen, Olin’s director of executive career development, is retiring to spend more time with his 15 grandchildren and to travel. His last day is January 22.

VanOudenallen, 74, has worked for Olin for more than 12 years, sharing his wisdom, time and passion with Executive MBA students and alumni. He built Olin’s first career development program for EMBA students and managed a successful TEAM EMBA community, which now has 1,149 members who are at the ready to assist other EMBAs in their careers.

In all, VanOudenallen has coached more than 1,000 executives, including in Mumbai and Shanghai.

Frans VanOudenallen

“The effective career coach cares,” he said in a recent interview on Zoom. “I would rather have as a coach someone who has average skills and cares about the person than someone who has terrific skills but doesn’t really care and blows you off, changes appointments, etc. And that’s what really is the essence of coaching. We should have that feeling of doing whatever we can to assist them in their career.”

VanOudenallen’s own coaching skills are top-notch, according to pages upon pages of letters from numerous EMBAs.

“Frans has impacted so many people’s lives, and many are grateful for his advice and unwavering commitment to their career success,” said Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of Olin’s Weston Career Center.

‘Able to draw out the best in us’

Take Don Halpin, EMBA 46, a retired US Air Force colonel and pilot. “You know how you meet people in your life who are remarkably humble but have incredible impact?” he asked. “Frans is one of those.”

Halpin met VanOudenallen in 2014 when Halpin enrolled at Olin. In 2018, Halpin was transitioning from healthcare systems engineering and product innovation in Peoria, Illinois, to the unknown in St. Louis. “Frans was there, ready to help.”

VanOudenallen “was always able to draw out the best in us and help us see things that we didn’t see naturally,”  Halpin said. Essentially, VanOudenallen helped Halpin translate his military background into the language of other industries.

“He helped us draw out the gold that we didn’t know was there,” Halpin said. “He could take people like me, with a military background. He took doctors. He took people from the corporate world. It didn’t matter the background. He was able to draw out the essence of that person’s personal brand, their passion, what they’re really good at, and help them craft their message as these people are going into a new environment.”

Halpin himself became the chief operations officer of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, with 1,400 employees, a $100 million budget and 100,000 people served annually in the St. Louis region. “It was the perfect fit of my skills and passion,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened without Frans.”

He ‘truly cared about their success’

VanOudenallen, who founded the St. Louis-based nonprofit executive career coaching service Executive Connections, was hired in 2009 to work full time on helping Olin EMBA students find jobs.

Every day, VanOudenallen brought his personal, custom approach to supporting EMBAs in the program and as alumni in enhancing their careers, said Mary Houlihan, Olin executive career coach. “He got to know literally hundreds, if not thousands, of EMBAs both personally and professionally and truly cared about their success.”

Through one-on-one meetings and support groups for students and alumni, VanOudenallen honed in on some of the challenges particular to EMBA job-seekers.

“Executive MBAs have significant experience to draw on,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2010. “Most of the time it’s an asset. But at other times, it can be a perceived drawback because their experience often comes from one silo, industry or discipline.”

They may feel that their experience in one area is not transferable to other companies or industries, he said. “But that is absolutely not true. … These experienced folks have to learn that what they know is transferable to many companies and experiences. That’s where I focus and get them to talk about how they can be successful.”

In addition to his role at Olin, VanOudenallen donated his time as a mentor with Olin’s Hatchery, which is for entrepreneurship students. On top of that, he has a private practice in which he coaches executives to optimize their performance within their organization or to transition to a new opportunity.

Advice: Be ‘a positive giver’

Those who turned to VanOudenallen for career coaching will remember him as a giver. It’s a philosophy he embraces while encouraging others to do the same.

“I talk a lot about collaboration, about being a positive giver and giving as opposed to being a taker ,” he says. In fact, the first book he recommends to EMBAs is “The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea.” In it, a go-getter named Joe discovers that changing his focus from getting to giving leads to unexpected returns.

Oh, one more piece of advice before VanOudenallen packs his bags. It’s advice he offers to EMBAS —and to his grandchildren: “Find what you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Pictured at top: Frans VanOudenallen and his wife, Jean, with six of their 15 grandchildren.

Jaimie McFarlin, who received her MBA from Olin, has been named deputy associate counsel for the Office of White House Counsel for the Biden-Harris transition.

McFarlin earned her MBA in 2010 from Olin as a Consortium for Graduate Study in Management Fellow. She also received her Bachelor of Arts as a John B. Ervin Scholar at Washington University in St. Louis.

Originally from New York, she graduated from Harvard Law School, where she was a NAACP Legal Defense Fund Earl Warren Scholar.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced additional members of the Office of the White House Counsel on January 11.

The team will, under the direction of White House Counsel Dana Remus, “help restore faith in the rule of law and the accountability of government institutions,” according to a press release from the Biden-Harris transition.

“My administration has no greater task than restoring faith in American government,” Biden said in the press release.

“Our White House Counsel’s Office will be built upon a foundation of integrity and honesty. This qualified and crisis-tested legal team will ensure that this administration is accountable and always operates in service of the American people.”

Before joining the Biden-Harris transition, McFarlin worked in a legal and operations role for a fashion start-up. Prior to that, she was an associate at Sidley Austin LLP and clerked for Judge Paula Xinis of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. McFarlin was also an associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

Originally from New York, she graduated from Harvard Law School, where she was a NAACP Legal Defense Fund Earl Warren Scholar. Before law school, McFarlin played professional basketball in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Preventing conflicts aggravated by climate change requires a faster and different approach than addressing climate change itself, according to an op-ed by Tarek Ghani, Olin assistant professor of strategy.

Tarek Ghani

On average, economists report, a rise in local temperature of half a degree Celsius is associated with a 10% to 20% increase in the risk of deadly conflict, according to “Climate Change Doesn’t Have to Stoke Conflict: Politics Matter More Than the Environment When It Comes to War and Peace,” in Foreign Affairs magazine.

“If accurate, that means the likelihood of such strife is swiftly rising,” write Ghani  and co-author Robert Malley, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group.

United Nations climate scientists estimate that manmade emissions have generated 1 degree of global warming since preindustrial times, and they predict another half a degree of warming as soon as 2030.

“But millions of people around the world are already experiencing record heat waves, extreme precipitation, and rising sea levels—changes that disrupt livelihoods; exacerbate food insecurity, water scarcity, and resource competition; and spur migration,” writes Ghani, who is also chief economist and program director of the Future of Conflict at the International Crisis Group.

“Tackling climate change is a necessary but inescapably longer-term endeavor. Conflict prevention must happen now.”

Climate and conflict

The relationship between climate and conflict is neither simple nor linear, Ghani says. “The same climate impacts can produce very different conflict outcomes depending on the political response.”

In some instances, he points out, rising temperatures and uneven rainfall generate scarcity. In others, climate change and human responses to it unlock new resources.

“While some countries manage climate-induced competition well, others don’t manage it at all—making conflict more likely.”

The relationship between climate and conflict can also be inverted, the authors say. “Conflict and criminality can worsen climate change and impede mitigation efforts, as illegal logging has done in the Amazon.”

The impact of climate change largely depends on how states are governed.

“Climate matters when it comes to war and peace, but the politics and policies surrounding climate matter even more,” Ghani said.

“For this reason, the response to climate change cannot be limited to curbing its shocks. Rather, the focus will need to be on bolstering states’ ability to withstand those shocks and ensuring the resilience of their most vulnerable communities. Doing so will require understanding the complex political dynamics that either enable societies to manage environmental change or propel them toward violence.”  

Increasing risk of violence

Around the world, Ghani and Malley say, climate change is increasing the risk of violent conflict by discrediting central governments, prompting clashes over resources and boosting the appeal of nonstate armed groups.

One of many examples they cite is Northern Nigeria. With its decades of frequent droughts as a result of climate change, it is a “textbook case of environmental changes stoking deadly conflict.”

Many natural water sources have dried up, diminishing pastures and farmland and intensifying conflicts between herders and farmers. At times, communities have mobilized armed groups for protection.

“The resulting violence has overextended Nigeria’s military, which was already stretched thin from its war against the deadly jihadi group Boko Haram. Nigerian investigative journalists reported that armed violence by ‘bandits’—a term that refers to both herder-allied and criminal groups in the northern states— was responsible for 875 reported fatalities between January and September 2019. That number is more than twice the 370 fatalities attributed to Boko Haram over the same period.”

Read the full article here.

During the presidential campaign, Joe Biden said the idea that corporations only exist to deliver profits to shareholders is “an absolute farce.” Companies also have a responsibility to their workers and the country. Is the debate over “corporate purpose” heading toward a change when Biden takes office?

Taking a stand against a divisive president’s most extreme policies has been an easy way for companies to demonstrate their values. But could the bar for corporate responsibility soon get higher?

We asked Stuart Bunderson, director of WashU Olin’s Bauer Leadership Center and George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance, and Jackson Nickerson, Frahm Family Professor of Organization & Strategy Emeritus, to weigh in.

Stuart Bunderson

Stuart Bunderson

Pressure to adopt a social purpose and to consider the welfare of all stakeholders is influenced more by key opinion leaders in the business community than by who is in the White House, Bunderson said.

“In recent years—years when Trump has been in the White House—we have seen seismic shifts in the conversation around business social responsibility, driven by business community A-listers like the Business Roundtable, Larry Fink/Black Rock and The World Economic Forum,” he said.

“That conversation is what has been driving change, and the trajectory and momentum of that conversation seems unlikely to be affected by who is in the White House.

“In fact, a starting premise within that movement is that business has to step in not because we have morally flawed leaders in government but because government has shown itself incapable of addressing major problems in our society due to partisan gridlock. 

Under this view, business leaders have a responsibility to help solve broader societal problems because if they don’t, nobody will, he said.

“Although it would be great if Biden’s election signaled a new era in bipartisan collaboration on urgent social problems, early signs have not been encouraging. So I wouldn’t expect a change in the White House to lessen the growing conviction that businesses can and should step in where government is failing.”

Business leaders eager to score points will no longer have Trump as a punching bag for a cheap PR win. 

“But most business leaders are savvy enough to know that cheap PR wins are cheap and that a reputation for social responsibility is established not through a leader’s public comments on presidential actions but by developing a track record of socially responsible action.”

Jackson Nickerson

Jackson Nickerson
Jackson Nickerson

“The federal government has been in a political tit-for-tat stalemate for decades and, as a result, has failed to respond to the fact that the American dream is now unattainable for most Americans. This failure means that the government has not adjusted its policies and come up with a new social contract for America,” Nickerson said.

“Without a new social contract, Americans increasingly appeal to the only wealthy organizations that can tackle policy problems: corporations. The fact that we’re seeing growing appeals to corporations is simply an indicator of increasingly failed politics, which largely is driven by political parties to drive fundraising and control policy.”

The widening economic gap, the climate crisis and healthcare crisis are just some of the political problems that corporations are being asked to solve, Nickerson said.

To maintain legitimacy, it’s in corporations’ best interest to respond to these demands for socially responsible actions. However, corporations have failed to recognize they also have a role—and perhaps even an obligation—to influence Congress to function properly, he said. A properly functioning government is also in business’ best interest.

“Businesses want to know the rules of the game so they can make strategic investments. They are less willing to make these investments if the rules keep changing,” he said. “And, frankly, the irony is if we don’t change the fundraising incentives of the political parties, which drive wedge issues and lead to nationalizing every congressional election, our public policies will continue to vacillate as party control of the federal government keeps switching back and forth.” 

For instance, he said, the party in power provides healthcare, the other party when it comes to power later tries to take healthcare away. One party raises taxes and the other party later lowers taxes.

“Such policy vacillation is not like treading water. Instead, it causes the American dream to sink further for more Americans and reduces corporate America’s willingness to make strategic investments for growth.  With lower economic growth comes further difficulty in creating a new social contract and leads to even greater demands for corporations to increase their expenditures in social responsibility. This downward spiral is a classic vicious circle”

“Once business realizes it has deep economic as well social interests in a well-functioning Congress, they will see opportunities to pressure political parties and influence government to come together and solve real problems for the American public,” Nickerson said.

Until corporate America flexes its muscles and we collectively change the way our political system functions, then demands on firms to engage in corporate social responsibility will only increase—regardless of who is in office, he said.

Sara Savat, senior news director for WashU’s Office of Public Affairs, interviewed Jackson Nickerson for this blog post.

Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, knew in high school that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.

“It stemmed from my father,” a physician who went into private practice and also started opening other businesses, he said. Yates saw his father succeed not only for their family, but also for others.

“If I could create some jobs, I think it would be a very fulfilling feeling for me,” he said.

Yates was one of four Olin students and alumni who participated in a roundtable discussion on October 27, when Poets & Quants announced that, for the second year in a row, Olin claimed the top spot as the best MBA program for entrepreneurship.

John Byrne, Poets & Quants’ editor-in-chief who moderated the discussion, commented, “I think the best part of entrepreneurship is generating meaningful employment for others, frankly.”

Yates founded men’s clothing accessory site Tylmen while he was an undergraduate. Tylmen’s direct-to-consumer line of accessories includes ties, pocket squares, belts, scarves and even face masks that double as pocket squares.

How Olin supported their startup ambitions

The panel also included Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22, cofounder of S.T.L. Loaves; Byron Porter, MBA ’20, founder and CEO of HUM Industrial Technology; and Shannon Turner, MBA ’18, founder of the Maria Lida Foundation.

The video event featured a discussion of how Olin supported them in their startup efforts.

Turner said she was drawn to Olin because its curriculum offered options to focus her studies on social entrepreneurship. Her foundation is a nonprofit  dedicated to promoting self-sustaining economic development in Alausi, Ecuador, her father’s hometown.

“I’ve always felt extremely blessed to get the education that I’ve received in the States and have always had a passion to use that education to get back to my roots,” Turner said. She started the Maria Lida Foundation after she graduated almost two years ago. “We’re trying to use education and vocational training and tourism as vehicles for economic development in the area.”

Said Byrne, “I’m loving the fact that we have a social impact person on the on the crew here, because it just shows you the variety, the diversity of startup activity in business schools and particularly in Olin.”

The foundation recently began providing a business consulting program for the local indigenous community.

“Tourism has taken a big hit, unfortunately, during this time,” Turner said. “Something that we can help the local community do in the meantime is maybe promote tourism to the domestic population as people start to kind of move around within the country.”

‘I gave it a shot’

Porter said he had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur.

“I was hoping for a nice, cushy general management job when I entered business school,” he said. Then he talked with a good friend who’d spent 15 years at multinational conglomerate General Electric before he became an entrepreneur. Porter’s friend encouraged him to reconsider his goals. “So I gave it a shot.”

Just four or five months into school at Olin, Porter decided to start a company.

The first attempt evolved into a second. HUM “was a pivot,” Porter said. Using “vibration analysis” and machine learning software, Porter created a monitoring device about the size of a deck of cards to track railcar movements and anticipate necessary maintenance—before a big accident happens.

“This is  predictive maintenance,” he said. “Right now, the rail industry is on a reactive maintenance cycle.”

Porter said he can’t say enough good things about Olin faculty and classes. “I’m still in touch with a least a half a dozen professors.”

Yates said Olin “has been super helpful” with his startup.

“There’s definitely a multitude of different funding resources, different professors who are looking to help me grow and scale” his business, “whether that be with marketing, with strategy, with operations. And it’s been really fun. Well, fun and rigorous, taking these core MBA classes.”

The sweet spot

Feinberg, a passionate foodie who founded an e-commerce bakery business, said she applies what she learns at Olin to her startup.

“It was very hard for me coming from a food and beverage background, seeing a lot of these restaurants shutting down left and right,” she said. Then she lost her bartending job while she was studying for grad school.

She decided to open an e-commerce business based on Amish friendship bread. “The best way to someone’s stomach is through sweets.” Feinberg currently delivers in St. Louis and ships loaves to other places.

At Olin, she has made strong connections with her peers and students in the class ahead of her, she said.

“They’re really cheering me on and really spreading the word” about her breads “and buying them, and tasting and giving me constructive feedback, as well.”

Also, Doug Villhard, academic director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program, “has been truly amazing,” she said. He is cheering her on, as well. Feinberg recently entered the Skandalaris Venture Competition, which provides mentorship to new ventures and startups to ready them for commercializing their idea, launching and pitching to investors.

“I’m learning how to do the executive summary and going for the seed money so I can really grow this business,” Feinberg said.

At one point, Byrne asked a question from the audience: “Since business school costs quite a hefty sum for most students, how did you reconcile that with your desire to become an entrepreneur?”

Said Feinberg: “There’s always that lingering thing in the back of your mind about money, money, money. And there’s no doubt that this program is intense as far as financials.” But the school is “really there” for students, she said, plus financial aid and scholarships are available.

“It’s about your passion. If you’re really passionate for your business, you go for it.”

Mell Ellen

Ellen Mell, MBA ’12, is featured in this month’s Authority Magazine in a series on Inspirational Women Leaders of Tech. Mell discusses her career path, five things to know to build a successful company, and a movement she would like to inspire.

Mell is CEO of Custom Technologies,  an engineering and manufacturing business in Brentwood, Missouri, that provides product development, manufacturing and business services for clients. She is also a registered US patent attorney and an adjunct professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

Here are her five tips, abbreviated for the Olin Blog:

  • Recognize that the lines between your professional and personal lives are going to be very blurry. Be ready and willing to live and breathe the business for a long time. That’s why it is crucial to surround yourself with people who support the effort of growing your business.
  • Expect to be a jack-of-all-trades in the early stages of your company and be ready to constantly shift gears. If you are the type who is best at focusing on one large and in-depth task, then you need to surround yourself with other team members who can each do a whole lot of diverse things.
  • Build your core team with equally motivated, self-starting individuals. Make sure the motivations and goals of your core team are properly aligned with your own.
  • Focus on launching a minimum viable product. Don’t be seduced into thinking that every bit of feedback from every potential customer should go immediately into your first product launch. Get your product to market in its simplest form that solves a novel pain point.
  • Be agile and ready to pivot. Don’t become so in love with your tech creation that you cannot recognize when something needs to change. It has been said many times that the true key to success of a startup is its ability to change plans along the way.

Environmentalists and business owners

The magazine also asked Mell, “If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?”

Mell replied: “What if we could find a way for environmentalists and business owners to be on the same side for once? Wouldn’t that be powerful? In today’s hyper-polarized political climate, it seems that nobody wants to find middle ground anymore, yet I believe it is there. There are people on one hand (including me!) who are very worried about the environment. …

“My inspired movement is simple: Encourage laws that help the environment and our US-based businesses at the same time. Do this by requiring imported goods to be produced under proper environmentally friendly conditions that are on par with what we require of our companies here at home. Specifically, I propose to initiate an import tax that is based directly on each country’s environmental-friendliness score. It would be good for our local businesses, and it would be good for Mother Earth. I think that is something both sides can agree on.”