Author: Kurt Greenbaum

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About Kurt Greenbaum

As communications director for the Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I'm also on the U College faculty in the journalism sequence. My background includes a stint at the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.


Joseph Polikkottil, MBA
Grey Matter Dialogues

Grey Matter Dialogues

A three-year journey to tell the story of where technology is headed has concluded for Olin MBA student Joseph Polikkottil with the publication of his new book, Grey Matter Dialogues: A Journey on Economics and History of Science and Technology.

The 185-page book covers a wide array of technological landscapes, from food to data storage, and transportation to finance.

With intriguing chapters such as “The Curious Case of Smart Contracts” and “Where Are We Evolving To?” Polikkottil leverages his pre-Olin expertise in financial technology with 5nance.com, his background in banking with Citibank, and his education in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology in Calicut and the National Institute of Industrial Engineering in Mumbai.

“In terms of writing a book, I always wanted to do something on technology,” said Polikkottil, MBA ’19. “I spoke to a lot of professors, a lot of internet enthusiasts. They gave me a lot of insights into how the topics should be selected.”

“The audience is people interested in learning about how technology is moving ahead,” he said, “and those who like to understand what technology is really about, what they should look for in the future.”

Polikkottil started working on the book in 2014, took about two years to finish writing it, and the rest of the time getting it published. It was released in October.

He came to Olin to get his MBA after working at 5nance.com and decided he wanted to delve further into entrepreneurship in the fintech space. He concluded WashU is where he’d get the best preparation.

“After I was doing my fintech startup, I got quite excited about St. Louis,” he said. “There’s a lot of activity in fintech.”




Chad Ham and his paper on narcissism in CFOs.

Does a CFO with an outsized signature make more questionable choices while keeping the company books? According to Olin professor Chad Ham, the answer is yes.

Researchers connected the dots between the size of a CFO’s signature, the CFO’s level of narcissism, and the quality of their firm’s financial reporting in a recently published paper in the Journal of Accounting Research.

The authors’ research showed a link between large signatures and higher levels of narcissism. From there, they showed that “narcissistic CFOs are less likely to recognize losses in a timely manner…consistent with a willingness to cover up past mistakes.”

That paper, published in December, was part of a one-two punch Ham and his collaborators delivered linking management results from both CFOs and CEOs with their level of narcissism. A second paper focused on CEOs has been accepted for publication in the Review of Accounting Studies.

Unique approach to measuring personality

“Part of what’s unique about our research is how we’re capturing narcissism,” said Ham, an assistant professor of accounting at Olin. Because, of course, they couldn’t ask top corporate executives to submit to a personality test, signature size became a proxy for their level of self-love.

Ham, along with researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Maryland, College Park, staged a laboratory experiment to confirm previous research linking signature size and narcissism.

The researchers paired student volunteers and asked them to allocate $5 between themselves and their anonymous partners. Each was given a default allocation of $2.50. The students could stay with the default amount or decide to keep a larger or smaller amount for themselves—knowing that their anonymous partner was given the same task. After that assignment, the students had to fill out a personality test and sign their names.

The results confirmed that the students with larger signatures tended to be more narcissistic and, Ham said, “the more narcissistic participants were more likely to keep a larger share of that $5 endowment for themselves—to misreport their default allocation.”

The researchers then expanded their view with a field experiment reviewing data from more than 500 companies whose CFOs’ notarized signatures could be found on public SEC documents.

“We were able to show a relationship between CFO narcissism and aggressive financial reporting choices,” Ham said. The errors or misreporting took the form of overly aggressive accrual choices; a higher-than-expected level of restatements; and real activities (such as slashing advertising expenses near the end of a year to depress expenses and increase earnings).

Confirming results

Ham and the research team also compared the performance of the companies before and after the CFO was appointed. In the case of the narcissistic CFOs, Ham said, “the firms became more aggressive when these CFOs were appointed.”

The researchers found much the same pattern in the CEO study due for publication in the Review of Accounting Studies. Though not directly responsible for the financial reporting in the company, the paper shows that narcissistic CEOs—those with larger signatures—tended to over-invest in riskier projects and received higher compensation in spite of poorer financial performance.

So, should corporate boards just steer clear of CEOs and CFOs who sign their John Hancock like…well, John Hancock?

Ham says no. It’s not that simple.

“The purpose of our work isn’t to advocate for signature size as a measure of narcissism. It’s to study how executive narcissism affects firm behavior.”

A narcissistic CFO might benefit the company in other ways—ways that aren’t measured in this study.

At most, he said, corporate leaders should be aware of their C-suite occupants’ narcissistic tendencies and “you might want to make sure you have appropriate checks and balances in place.”

“If you want to glean anything from signature size,” Ham said, “you need to have a large sample. It’s an ‘on-average’ effect.”

Pictured above: Chad Ham with two sample signatures his research paper referenced from SEC documents, showing the relative different sizes in the signatures.




Pictured above: Roger, Fran, Elke, and Paul Koch, attending the 2018 Family Business Symposium where their $12 million gift to the university was announced.


Four members of St. Louis’s Koch family have contributed $12 million to endow and establish the Koch Center for Family Business and two professorships—one at Olin Business School and the other at the Washington University School of Law.

The family provided the gift to raise awareness about the complexities of family businesses and engage students in understanding the career opportunities available in such enterprises.

Paul, Elke, Roger, and Fran Koch at the third annual
Family Business Symposium on Feb. 20, 2018
(in front row with Dean Mark Taylor
and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton).

Roger and Fran Koch and Paul and Elke Koch “have been passionate about seeing a greater focus on family businesses here at Olin for many years,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, as he announced the gift.

“There’s a lack of perception about how many family businesses there are and what role they play,” Paul Koch said, following the announcement. “There’s also a lack of perception about the complexities of family businesses.”

The announcement kicked off the third annual Family Business Symposium at Olin—part of a family business initiative the Kochs established several years ago. The brothers noted how frequently family businesses fail to survive past the third generation of family ownership—a phenomenon Paul Koch said was “a waste of resources.”

Paul A. Koch (BSBA ’61, JD ’64, MBA ’68) and Roger L. Koch (BSBA ’64, MBA ’66) are co-chairmen of the board, and the third generation in leadership at Koch Development Co., a St. Louis-based developer and manager of commercial real estate and owner/operator of select entertainment attractions.

“It was clear from the moment I arrived in St. Louis that family business is integral to the community,” Dean Mark Taylor said during the announcement. “Some of the very first people I met—even before I became dean—were Roger, Fran, Paul, and Elke Koch. They have been extremely instrumental in thinking about how we can move forward scholarship in family business.”

Taylor noted that family businesses are a substantial driver of the global economy, responsible for 80 percent of new job creation. Family businesses contribute more than $68 trillion to global GDP and drive 64 percent of the US economy.

With the announcement, Olin will launch a search for the Koch Distinguished Professorship in Family Business, who will lead the new family business center, contributing to a curriculum for students and research in the field.

The center “will have a strong practical application and will also have a very, very strong research side,” Taylor said. “The Kochs were keen in their discussions that we should have a strong research leader.”

The Kochs’ $12 million gift also creates a distinguished professorship at the Washington University School of Law. Wrighton noted that the Kochs will “be providing additional expendable gifts, which will help with the ongoing growth and development of the Family Business Center and the endowed chair holder who will lead that center.”


Ashley Hardin

Originally from Michigan, Ashley Hardin, assistant professor of organizational behavior, earned her undergraduate degree in business from Michigan’s Ross School of Business and later worked in strategy consulting. However, after consulting and observing people at work up close, she realized she wanted to pursue her passion: Understanding how people relate in the workplace.

She returned to Ross for her doctorate and is now dedicated to understanding why people treat one another well, with responsiveness, or treat each other in an undermining fashion.

“When I was deciding where I wanted to join as a faculty member, it was really important for me to find a strong community, since I study the importance of relationships at work,” Hardin said. “I wanted to go somewhere where there were great relationships and I could form those bonds.”

Area of Expertise:

Organizational Behavior, Team Development, Negotiation

Research Interests:

Relationships, Affect, Work-Life Boundaries, Unethical Behavior

Selected Publications:

  • “Cooperation in multicultural negotiations: How the cultures of people with low and high power interact”,Journal of Applied Psychology, Issue 5, 721-730, with S. Kopelman, C. Myers, L. Tost, 2016
  • “Respect as an engine for new ideas: Linking respectful engagement, relational information processing, and creativity among employees and teams”Human Relations, Issue 6, 1021-1047, with A. Carmeli, J. Dutton, 2015
  • “Compassion and work organizations”Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, Issue 1, 277-304, with J. Dutton, K. Workman, 2014



“Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, but not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy; for the apparel oft proclaims the man…” (Hamlet act 1, sc. 3)

By now, it’s no secret that Olin Dean Mark Taylor is something of an expert on William Shakespeare. Sure, he’s got degrees in economics and finance, but he also has a master’s degree in English renaissance and romantic literature.

He’s spoken frequently about the still-valuable messages Shakespeare conveys about business leadership and management and has collaborated with the UK’s Royal Shakespeare Company.

None of that has stopped him and members of his staff from having a bit of a laugh at The Bard’s expense, however. You can find the soul of this man in the dean’s office.

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