Author: Kurt Greenbaum

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About Kurt Greenbaum

As communications director for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I'm also a U College adjunct faculty member in communications. I've worked for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management as communications director and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.


Doug Villhard on stage at one of Second Street

Doug Villhard, EMBA ’14, academic director for WashU Olin’s entrepreneurship platform, announced today the $30 million sale and acquisition of the startup he co-founded in 2007.

St. Louis-based Second Street, co-founded with Matt Coen, gives publishers and other clients the capacity to provide contests, interactive content and emails to grow revenue, database and engagement. The company has more than 500 clients, including news publisher Gannett, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and WGN-TV in Chicago.

According to a news release today, Upland Software, which provides cloud-based tools for digital transformation, agreed to acquire Second Street for $25.4 million in cash at closing (net of cash acquired), paid out of cash on hand, and a $5 million cash holdback payable in 12 months.

“At Olin, I teach students to first ‘fall in love with the customer’s problem,'” said Villhard, who is also professor of practice in entrepreneurship. “If you get that right, it can lead to amazing things.”

Villhard said he worked on growing Second Street at the same time he was working on his MBA. “Every class I took I applied it to the company I was growing.” he said.

“Our customers’ business is only going to accelerate with Upland, which is tremendously gratifying for all of us who have been involved over the past 14 years in building such a special product,” Villhard said in a blog post on Upland’s website, co-founder and president of Second Street.

Other highlights from Upland’s announcement of the acquisition:

  • “Our customers need to deliver content experiences consumers enjoy interacting with and benefit from,” said Jack McDonald, chairman and CEO of Upland (which is publicly traded on Nasdaq: UPLD). “Contests and interactive content are a proven and effective way to engage, attract, and retain consumers, and Second Street delivers this at scale.”
  • Upland expects the acquisition to generate annual revenue of approximately $9.4 million, of which all is recurring.
  • The Upland Cloud enables thousands of organizations to engage with customers on key digital channels, optimize sales team performance, manage projects and IT costs, and automate critical document workflows.

Villhard is also a partner with his brother in Villhard Growth Partners, a private equity firm that invests in, partners with and grows strong, tech-enabled business and healthcare services companies. He has been involved in the launch and operation of two other startups. And he started Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, Illinois.

Pictured above: Doug Villhard on stage at one of Second Street’s annual customer summits (photo courtesy Doug Villhard).




Images from the 2020 most-read Olin Blog posts.

Sure, 2020 was a rough year. But let’s remember this: The staff, faculty and students at WashU Olin showed great resilience, agility and fortitude while grinding through one of the most challenging events in global history. Through it all, we documented the noteworthy alumni, program improvements, special moments and incredible people who make up the heartbeat of Olin Business School.

Here are the 10 most-read posts published this year on the Olin Blog based on pageviews accumulated since they were published.

Olin rockets up 10 spots in Financial Times MBA ranking

The rise in ranking came thanks to growth in MBA starting salaries, strong scores for career services and admirable faculty research productivity.

Poets & Quants names WashU Olin MBA as its 2019 program of the year

WashU Olin’s “new MBA experience is one of the boldest and most innovative program changes any business school has made,” the online magazine reports.

Olin mother and her son: Crisis keeps one at home, the other at Knight Center

Olin colleague Jaya Bhat started her job after the crisis began. Meanwhile, her son is among the health workers hosted on campus.

Olin alum competes in newest season of ‘Amazing Race’ for a shot at $1M

Chee Lee, BS ’04, and wife Hung Hguyen, are one among 11 teams who start today on season 32 of the hit CBS reality television competition show.

Olin Expert: COVID-19 crisis will bring ‘permanent changes’ to supply chain risk management

Olin’s Sergio Chayet foresees changes ahead, including making workers safer and strategies to guard against future massive supply chain stresses.

Olin alum’s startup redefines hiring for military vets

While the resume is the currency job seekers barter for opportunities, Jeff Gibson sees it as a barrier his firm’s technology can sweep away.

Olin introduces STEM option for full-time MBA

“This designation formally acknowledges the WashU MBA as a rigorous program, driving students to apply a data-driven mindset to business decisions.”

Olin’s faculty hiring strategy pays dividends for research, student learning

The Desk of the Dean column for October: “As pleased as I am that the strategy is working, I’m also gratified by the support it’s received from existing faculty.”

Out of a job because of COVID-19, EMBA finds support at Olin

Early in the pandemic, Carolyn Feltner, EMBA 50, wrote this for the Olin Blog: “I am one of thousands whose position was eliminated. I came home from spring break with my daughters on a Saturday night. Less than 12 hours later, I went to the office to catch up on work, only to walk into my own layoff.”

Business fundamentals for nonbusiness students

Gateway to Business will give undergraduate students and recent college and high school graduates a leg up on the competition.

What will make headlines from Olin in 2021? Don’t wait to find out: Follow us in real time on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn (and of course, submit to the Olin Blog). See you next year!




Dr. Danielle McPherson

Danielle McPherson, who describes herself as “a whole nerd,” earned her doctor of business administration degree on December 19, achieving a personal milestone and, at the same time, breaking an institutional barrier at WashU Olin: She became the first African American at the school to earn the DBA and the first to earn a doctoral degree in finance.

Students interested in applying their terminal business degree to work in industry—as opposed to academia—typically pursue the DBA rather than a PhD. And African Americans tend to be extremely underrepresented among doctoral students in general. In 2018, for example, 5.5% of doctoral recipients in the United States were Black or African American, according to a December 2019 survey by the National Science Foundation. By contrast, 52% were white.

Dr. McPherson is director of managed care contracting and payer relations at Mercy Health and focused her dissertation on a related topic, “Social Determinants of Health: Impact on Health Outcomes and Hospital Profitability,” which she discusses in the Q&A below.

Were you aware when you began your doctorate that you were treading new ground for WashU Olin?

I had no idea. It was not in the forefront of my mind. However, I did understand that I was now part of a small group of people pursuing a doctoral degree and if I finished, that group would be a lot smaller. I was just excited about starting a new journey in finance (I am literally a whole nerd).

Why did you decide to get your doctorate at Olin? How do you intend to apply it?

I knew I wanted a doctoral degree because it would allow me to take my passion for research, finance and problem solving and apply it professionally in the field that I am in. I also knew how important it was to obtain that level of a degree from a well-respected, nationally ranked, reputable institution. And I needed to be able to go to school and work. That literally narrowed my choice down to one school … Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School.

Can you tell us a little about your dissertation? What drew you to the topic and what did you conclude?

I was drawn to this topic because I have always been fascinated with how social determinants can influence a person’s well-being.

I am also equally as fascinated with our healthcare system and how it is supported financially. I have a unique perspective on this topic because I have been a patient—I’m a 10-year Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor—and had to rely on the healthcare system. It worked for me because I had insurance and was financially secure, but others who were not in my financial situation with the same illness were not as fortunate.

I have worked for a large healthcare insurer and understand how difficult it is to maneuver through trying to provide services and access to members at low cost, but also having a responsibility to stakeholders and shareholders to be profitable.

I work for a large healthcare system (Mercy) and it is constantly faced with balancing both ends of the healthcare spectrum. My research explores the extent to which social determinants of health directly impact health outcomes and whether improvements in those social determinants would yield improvements in hospital profitability.

I conclude that hospital profitability improves if social determinants of health are addressed.

What does it say that you’re the first African American to earn a doctorate in finance here—and the first to earn a doctorate in business administration?

It says that Olin and the higher education system has come a long way, and has a long way to go. All disciplines in academia and in corporate America should understand the importance of representation and how much it matters.

Diversity is the backbone of this country and it must be reflected in every classroom and every boardroom. I am happy to be part of herstory (that’s not a typo 😊). I will be happier when our elite education institutions no longer have “firsts.”

How did you land in your role at Mercy Health? Where do you see yourself going?

I was drawn to my current job as director of managed care contracting and payer relations at Mercy Health because it is a perfect mix of finance, operations and game theory. I absolutely love problem-solving and quantifying solutions. In the future, I hope to continue working in a capacity that will allow me the opportunity to solve complex business or policy issues in the area of corporate strategy, finance and healthcare.




Ryan Richt and Byron Porter

Two alums of WashU Olin’s MBA program nabbed $50,000 awards from Arch Grants, which provides non-equity funding to early stage companies committed to moving to or growing within the St. Louis area.

Byron Porter, MBA ’20, won a grant for his startup, Hum Industrial Technology, featured in the 2019 edition of Olin Business magazine. Porter’s company is described in Arch Grants’ news release for having “developed a wireless sensor system for freight railcars. Hum’s technology combines low power, wireless communications, geospatial tracking, and predictive analytics to make rail shipping transparent and reliable.” (Related story on the Olin Blog here.)

Ryan Richt, MBA ’08/BA ’08, also received a grant for his company, Well Principled, described as “an A.I. management consultant that optimizes marketing and supply chain strategy for major CPG brands and retailers. (Related story on the Olin Blog here.)

Of the 173 companies Arch Grants has funded, about 25% have had founding team members affiliated with Washington University.

The two entrepreneurs were among 19 Arch Grants recipients announced at a virtual gala on October 28—the eighth year the grants have been awarded. Arch Grants’ 2020 cohort includes companies moving to St. Louis from cities around the country, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Charlotte, and several others.

In addition to the funding, each winner receives pro-bono and heavily discounted professional services from respected local firms. In turn, the startups commit to operating their business from St. Louis for a period of at least one year.

Arch Grants receives hundreds of applicants annually and involves members of the St. Louis community with expertise in industries, business, entrepreneurship and academia judge two rounds of presentations toward the results.

With the expansion of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Arch Grants committed to award at least five grants over the next several years to startups engaged in using geospatial or related technologies.

HUM was one among seven in this year’s Arch Grants cohort that will contribute to the growing Geospatial Sector in St. Louis. See the complete list of Arch Grants recipients here (filter the list by cohort).




Pictured above: Students and workshop panelists Amber Grace, Kesha Kent, LaShana Lewis and Crystal Ross-Smith participate in the November 20, 2020, workshop, "Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization."

Engage white managers from the outset. Separate the human resources function from corporate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Build relationships. These key takeaways and more headlined “Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization,” a recent workshop for WashU Olin MBA students featuring four DEI professionals who have been engaged in the work for years.

The workshop, organized by Olin’s Weston Career Center and moderated by Lori Whitherspoon, MBA ’21, provided insights from Amber Grace, advisor for diversity and recruiting partnerships for Raymond James; Kesha Kent, CEO and founder of MrsKeshSpeaks and national diversity and inclusion, community engagement talent specialist for Ascension; LaShana Lewis, of the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective; and Crystal Ross-Smith, MHRM ’17, director for diversity, equity and inclusion at Ameren (see their full bios here).

Here are a selection of the takeways from their session on November 20.

Create relationships

“We want to know what we can do to make everyone at Ameren be successful and bring their authentic selves to work,” Smith said. Kent added: “It was always my goal to make sure that individuals who had amazing experience could get in front of those hiring managers. It was about creating relationships with those hiring managers.”

Focus on entry-level positions

“Cultivate that talent,” said Grace. “We work on making sure our internship and entry level programs are highly, highly diverse. Then, making sure we have mentorship opportunities, exposure to executive-level leadership.”

Make sure the interview panel is diverse, while at the same time making sure the group of prospective hires is representative as well. “Allyship and ambassadors are very very important,” Lewis said. “Seeing that the interviewees were looking through my shoes made me feel like I would be welcome.”

Separate DEI from HR

Said Smith: “We are separate from HR. Our VP for diversity reports directly to our CEO and she is a peer of the VP of HR. That really works. It creates checks and balances. When we sat down to create the diversity of the hiring pipeline, HR showed us what we were doing. We were able to independently challenge what they were doing.”

Involve and engage white men

“Be intentional. Be honest and say that white males are the ones who feel most attacked, but you need white males to be involved in this,” Grace said. “Be intentional about constructing the conversations. You’re bringing the decision-makers into the space of allyship. Explain that this is the problem and make them feel part of the solution. That is a skill I had to learn. If I’m trying to make change, I want it to be solution-oriented. It’s not about me. I want this to be a safe space for everyone. Understand what your resources are, who your allies are, so you’re not internalizing these issues.”

Be creative about problem-solving

Lewis knows some organizations aren’t large enough to provide a full-time person dedicated to initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion. “A lot of us consultants have come together and came up with the idea of a ‘fractional’ chief diversity officer,” she said. That’s a professional who provides a share of her time to a variety of organizations each month. “Employees are supposed to be doing their jobs, not doing the volunteer service of being a DEI officer.”

See video of the workshop

Pictured at top: Students and workshop panelists Amber Grace, Kesha Kent, LaShana Lewis and Crystal Ross-Smith participate in the November 20, 2020, workshop “Incorporating DEI Practices into your Organization.”