Author: Kurt Greenbaum


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.

Students in the global operations course in Shanghai over spring break 2019 evaluating fashion retailers on Nanjing Road.

In the corner of a fluorescent room humming with sewing machines and dappled in shocks of orange, yellow, black and green fabric, Hyrum Palmer spoke to the operations manager of a Shanghai company that connects the New Zealand native’s favorite rugby teams to the process of supplying sportswear to the world.

Meanwhile, 6,100 miles and seven time zones away, Jose Reynoso strolled among columns of oak barrels and regiments of knotted grapevines on a cool Barcelona afternoon to learn about the billion-dollar wine industry and work on strategies to better connect producers and consumers.

Palmer and Reynoso, both MBA ’19, were among more than 100 first- and second-year students dispatched for a week abroad, spending spring break immersed in new classes focused on global business and participating in a test run for a bigger global experience designed for the next class of Olin MBA students.

“It’s bizarre to be a New Zealander—studying a business education in St. Louis in the middle of the United States—to come to China as part of this program and to be in a factory that is all about New Zealand and our culture,” Palmer said. “It’s a surreal and tremendous opportunity.”

Palmer’s group of 35 students in Shanghai toured Mudoo Fashion Co., a sportswear manufacturer founded in 2004 by WashU alumna Judy Yu, EMBA ’16, who earned her degree in Olin’s program with Fudan University in Shanghai. And Palmer—a devout fan of rugby—wasn’t too shy to geek out over the brands Yu’s company supplies, including Pacha, Armani, Ezibuy and Canterbury of New Zealand, which sponsors the country’s national rugby team, the All Blacks.

While his group focused on global business operations in a class by Fuqiang Zhang, tracking the connections from production, distribution, marketing and retailing in the fashion industry, Daniel Elfenbein taught another Shanghai group of 35 MBA students focused on global business models. Their goal: understand the baked-goods market in the context of global demand and develop a recommendation for St. Louis-based Strange Donuts about how the company should enter China.

A continent away, another 35 students in Barcelona took Sam Chun’s class in general management practice, immersing themselves in the wine industry. Half the students focused on strategies to help luxury brands differentiate themselves in an international market while the rest focused on a distribution strategy for a wine brand anchored in a unique philosophy of “biodynamics.” As part of their week, the students visited the Gramona and Pere Ventura wineries and took coursework at Olin partner ESADE Business School.

Olin MBA students learn the process of biodynamic farming at Gramona winery in Barcelona during their March 9-16, 2019, global business immersion trip.

“Wine is a pleasure, but it’s also a business with a retail value above 200 billion euros,” Xavier Ybargüengoitia, former CEO of Moet Hennessey, told the students—one of many experts the students encountered during their week in Barcelona.

“The insights we received helped us look at the problems our wineries were facing with different perspectives, focusing on key ways they could leverage their competitive advantage to differentiate themselves from others,” Reynoso said.

All 100-plus students left St. Louis for their respective destinations on March 9, 2019. The Shanghai students arrived late the next evening, thanks to a late departure, a 15-hour flight from Dallas and a 13-hour time difference. After an evening departure, the Barcelona students arrived in time for a breakfast March 10 provided by ESADE and the hotel. Shanghai students returned March 16, while east coast storms delayed the Barcelona students’ return until the following day.

The dense, content-packed spring break immersion trip also served as a pilot run for the coming summer immersion semester aimed at incoming MBA students in the class of 2021. After spending two weeks in orientation and coursework in St. Louis, the entire MBA cohort will head for a round-the-world immersion into global business with a week at Washington, DC’s Brooking Institution, two weeks in Barcelona and 17 days in Shanghai.

“The pilot was extremely successful,” said Steve Malter, senior associate dean of undergraduate and graduate programs. “The student experience and global business education was impactful and it is clear Olin has an incredible new signature program for our MBA students.”

Students on the spring break trip seemed to agree that the experience, while intense, would be an amazing opportunity, showcasing WashU Olin’s strengths.

“It speaks volumes to the quality of the education at WashU and the opportunity it affords,” said Palmer while still in Shanghai. “But also to the quality of the connections and the network of Washington University.”

Cash Nickerson

The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni faced with a business decision requiring them to weigh data with their values. We featured these stories to support Olin’s strategic pillar focused on equipping leaders to confront challenge and create change, for good. This is one of those vignettes.

Data and values are important in making big decisions, but as Cash Nickerson, JD ’85, MBA ’93, points out, “there are really very few momentous decisions.

“We make hundreds of decisions in a day,” said Nickerson, an author and president/principal at PDS Tech Inc., one of the largest engineering and IT staffing firms in the United States. “Many are trivial. But many of the trivial decisions come back to you in one form or another.”

Nickerson thinks in terms of a “structure of thought,” a muscle he’s developed so those everyday decisions are still based on data and values. “What fascinates me more than how someone makes the big decisions is the algorithm an executive uses for making the everyday decisions,” he said.

For him, that algorithm focuses on people.

“I like to think of myself as very numbers driven as well as values driven,” Nickerson said.

“My philosophy is that I wake up every morning and remind myself of the uniqueness of humans. To me, it’s a value to treat each person as an individual.”

For WashU Olin

A standing room-only crowd of enthusiastic visitors—along with another 140 by live stream—attended WashU Olin’s second annual “She Suite” event commemorating International Women’s Day. The wide-ranging panel discussion featuring five Olin alumnae (and one professor) touched on issues including confidence in the workplace, pay equity, the worst workplace advice, work-life balance and “something you believed early in your career that you now think is wrong.”

“A common notion when I started in the ’80s was in order to advance you had to leave others behind. The second was you had to wait your turn,” said Leann Chilton, EMBA ’99, vice president for government relations at BJC HealthCare. “Both of those notions were completely ridiculous. Being the youngest of five, I was not going to wait my turn.”

The panel, moderated by Linda Haberstroh, EMBA ’10, president of Phoenix Textile Corporation, also included:

  • Ratna Craig, EMBA ’11, account executive at Slalom Consulting.
  • Hillary Anger Elfenbein, WashU Olin’s John K. Wallace, Jr. and Ellen A. Wallace Distinguished Professor and professor of organizational behavior.
  • Vicki Felker, EMBA ’12, vice president and general manager, Golden Products Division, Nestlé Purina.
  • Valerie Toothman, BSBME/BSAS ’01, MBA ’08, executive vice president for brand and beverage marketing at Drinkworks.

“Especially before coming to WashU, I believed if you did an excellent job you’d get promoted,” Toothman said. “But you have to do a lot more than that. That’s table stakes. It’s about understanding the politics—not necessarily participating, but understanding it—and understanding the gaps between where you are and where you want to go. You have to be thinking one step, two steps, three steps ahead.”

In her response to the same question, Craig noted that her expectation for her career included “a recipe for work-life balance, which is complete BS. It’s about work-life integration.”

Later, members of the panel further explored the question of balance—the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day.

“The research is very clear that we have spillover from one domain to another, from work to your home life and from your home life to work,” Elfenbein told the audience. “If you’re carrying stress from your home-life you’re going to be a lesser employee. The research is very firm about that.”

“The word balance means you’d better figure out what matters to you personally,” Felker said, “and then figure out how what matters to you affects the people who matter to you.”

View the entire March 8, 2019, She Suite event here.

Xing Huang

Xing Huang

With a web browser or a cellphone, consumers today are making decisions about causes to fund, stocks to pick, movies to watch, restaurants to visit, products to buy, and music to hear partly based on the answer to a single question:

What does everyone else think?

Sites such as Yelp, Amazon, Rotten Tomatoes, and Kickstarter harness the collective wisdom of past consumers to guide future customers. But before those customers jump on the bandwagon and buy a dinner, a book, or a movie ticket, suppose there were a way to make the bandwagon better?

That’s the central question behind “Harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds,” a research paper by Olin’s Xing Huang published in the journal Management Science. Huang and Zhi Da of the University of Notre Dame used data from financial platform, where professional analysts, amateurs, and students provide quarterly earnings-per-share estimates for publicly traded companies.

The researchers found that the less each Estimize user knew about other users’ estimates, the more accurate the crowd’s average estimate became. In fact, the difference was profound: When Estimize users could see other users’ estimates, the consensus estimate beat the Wall Street consensus nearly 57 percent of the time. When they couldn’t, however, the consensus was more accurate 64 percent of the time.

“The problem with seeing others’ information is that people tend to herd with others,” Huang said. “That makes individual forecasts more accurate, but … reduces the consensus accuracy.”

The observed herding behavior was among the paper’s key takeaways. When individual users have access to forecasts from the community at large, they tend to “herd” along with other forecasts. But even further, herding behavior makes users “individually smarter, but collectively dumber.” The paper also noted that herding matters most when “influential users” make their forecasts early.

Results covering data from March 2012 to June 2015 were so stark, Estimize changed its platform by October 2015 to prevent users from seeing other users’ estimates before posting their own. “We were floored by the results,” the Estimize blog reported. “The ‘blind’ data set was unequivocally better.”

“We were also quite lucky to collaborate with Estimize to run experiments where we can randomize the information sets of users,” Huang said.

The researchers used data from 2,516 Estimize users who made estimates ahead of 2,147 earnings releases from 730 firms. But Huang said the results could be instructive for any site that aggregates crowd wisdom—including voting platforms, crowd-funding sites, or product review pages—if they can segregate individual views from those of the community at large.

For a period of time in March, an Olin Business School student will always be able to gaze up toward the sun. Nearly 300 students will be spread around the globe on various study abroad trips, exchange programs, career treks and practicum projects. They’ll be in 21 countries on six continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

The travelers include students in Olin’s MBA, BSBA and specialized master’s degree programs, as well as students from other WashU schools who are working on second majors in business.

And they’ll be as far-flung around the globe as they have ever been. For example, one group will be dispatched to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for a practicum project. Two days after they return, another starts working on a project 8,822 miles away in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

We’ve put together the interactive map below to show you where Olin students will be and what’s going on while students are there. Click on each map “pin” to reveal details about who is going and what they’re doing. Click the icon in the upper right to expand to a larger view of the map.

Note: We’ve kept the pinpoint for a practicum project based in Nigeria, although that trip was unfortunately canceled because of political instability in the region. The students will still be working on the project without the benefit of traveling to the location.

How far are students going? Here’s a selection of locations and their distance from St. Louis.

  • Antananarivo, 9,562 miles.
  • Barcelona, 4,636 miles.
  • Copenhagen, 4,508 miles.
  • Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 4,097 miles.
  • Quito, 2,781 miles.
  • Seoul, 6,662 miles.
  • Shanghai, 7,193 miles.
  • Stockholm, 4,534 miles.
  • Tokyo, 6,391 miles.