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.

Jen Flaxman, MSW

A beloved alumnus who displayed unfailing mentorship for students and support for Olin Business School now has another enduring legacy in his name: An endowed scholarship that will provide full tuition for undergraduate students for years to come.

Jon Flaxman
Jon Flaxman

Jon Flaxman, MBA ’81, died in March 2018, just a few months after taking part in the sort of alumni support that came naturally: He welcomed 21 Olin students to HP Inc. headquarters, where he served as COO, during the students’ west coast career trek.

Flaxman had risen through the ranks during a 36-year career at Hewlett-Packard before becoming second-in-command at HP Inc. To honor Flaxman, his former company established and endowed the Jon & Lauri Flaxman HP Inc. Scholarship at the $1 million level.

The company made the announcement at the time of his death.

“Supporting this scholarship was an easy decision for the company. Jon was a longtime, dedicated contributor to the HP community. Anyone who knew him also knew how dearly he loved Washington University and Olin Business School,” HP Inc. said in a statement. “We are honored to carry on Jon’s legacy in this way.”

Contributions from colleagues

Even beyond the company’s gift, hundreds more family members and former colleagues contributed privately to the fund, bringing the total amount raised for the endowed scholarship to more than $1.1 million.

The Flaxmans had funded annual scholarships at Olin since 2011, supporting several students in the process.

“Through their long-term support of the university, the Flaxmans embody the community-wide spirit that makes WashU such a special place,” said Andrew Martin, Chancellor of Washington University. “This scholarship established in their honor will continue to sustain the university and make a significant difference in the lives of our students.”

One such student, Aman Grover, BSBA ’21, said he had an opportunity to meet Jon and Lauri in October 2017. The following year, Grover was named the inaugural recipient of the newly established Jon & Lauri Flaxman HP Inc. Scholarship.

“This has taken a huge burden off the shoulders of my family, and I get to experience college as someone with immensely more financial freedom as a result,” Grover said. “The scholarship in his name—that’s going to similarly help change the lives of many students coming after me as well.”

Generous contributions to Olin

Jon Flaxman’s postgraduate work with Olin went well beyond scholarship support. He gave generously to name a study room in Knight Hall in 2014; served on the San Francisco Regional Cabinet; volunteered as the San Francisco leader for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University; and served on Olin’s National Council as well as the university’s Parents Council.

Jon and Lauri Flaxman’s son Brian earned his undergraduate degree from Olin in 2012. Their niece, Jen Flaxman, is a graduate student in the Brown School.

“Jon’s influence on Olin Business School—and on our students—will not be forgotten,” said Dean Mark Taylor, the Donald Danforth Jr. Distinguished Professor of Finance. “We are truly grateful for HP’s extraordinary generosity in honoring Jon with this endowment. This gift shines a bright light on the company’s deep commitment to its employees and its worldwide philanthropic support for education.”

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., HP Inc. creates technology designed to improve lives for people around the world, with a product portfolio that includes printers, PCs, mobile devices, solutions, and services. The company employs more than 40,000 people in offices spanning the globe, including the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Pictured above: Jen Flaxman, MSW ’20; Aman Grover, BSBA ’21; Lauri Flaxman; and Brian Flaxman, BSBA ’12.

Moderator Peter Boumgarden with Gerard Craft, Kevin Nashan, Zoë Robinson and Danny Meyer.

Danny Meyer wasn’t always able to convey a sense of sprezzatura in the restaurants he’s created. That ability to make the difficult look easy—well, that took some time for the Shake Shack founder and restaurateur.

“A new restaurant doesn’t get good until it gets broken in,” Meyer said. “The way you scale it, which is not easy, is to hire people whose greatest joy and pleasure is to make other people feel better.”

Meyer, a native St. Louisan and CEO of New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group, took the WashU Olin stage today for “At the Table: Chef as Artist and Executive,” a standing-room-only event that kicked off the school’s new minor in the business of the arts.

Meyer began the program with a one-on-one conversation with Olin’s Peter Boumgarden, professor of practice, strategy and organizations. Later, Boumgarden moderated the discussion with a quartet of celebrity chefs and restaurateurs—including Meyer—who confessed the learnings they gained in their careers.

Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer on stage with moderator Peter Boumgarden.

They also promoted the need for business and arts to converge in order to promote the vision of chefs, painters, playwrights, singers and other creative souls.

The panel included Meyer and St. Louis-based restaurateurs Gerard Craft, James Beard award winning founder of Niche Food Group; Kevin Nashan, also a Beard award winner and founder of Sydney Street Cafe and Peacemaker; and Zoë Robinson, owner of St. Louis restaurants I Fratellini, Bar Les Frères and Billie-Jean.

The four spoke about the ways they’ve been inspired to create their restaurants and the importance of creating a culture within their companies that prioritizes employees, customers, the community and investors in a “virtuous cycle,” according to Meyer, whose restaurant group includes Gramercy Tavern, The Modern and Maialino.

Thursday’s event drew the restaurateurs into discussions about the global influences they’ve gained that have informed their restaurants and the challenge of tracking the evolving values of restaurant customers while maintaining profitability.

They also spoke plainly about why an artistic vision—even a great vision—dies without the savvy to get it commercialized.

“I really have had to learn how to be an executive second. I’m still learning,” Craft said. “Artists don’t want to talk about money, they don’t want to think about money, but at the end of the day, if you want to go on, you have to make money.”

The minor in the business of the arts launched this semester with six students—five of whom are students in the Sam Fox School. Rich Ritholz, BSBA ’84, and his wife, Linda, made the program possible with a $1 million donation announced in April 2018. At the time, he said his daughter’s experience inspired the program. She started as a Sam Fox fashion design student who quickly realized she needed business skills to make her vision come to life.

“This was really incredible. Just incredible. I couldn’t be more pleased,” Ritholz said after the morning’s event. “Now we just have to keep the momentum going. We want this minor to be all it can be, and that just means getting the word out.”

Meyer said a key ingredient for any new restaurant is the answer to one series of questions.

“What problem does this solve? Why does the world need it? What do we have to add to the dialogue around this topic?” he asked. A new restaurant might serve familiar food—but better than customers knew it could be prepared. “People are not willing to park quality or taste in the back lot,” but they still want fast, affordable food.

Pictured above: Moderator Peter Boumgarden with Gerard Craft, Kevin Nashan, Zoë Robinson and Danny Meyer.

Jan Snow

After 38 years, working with thousands of undergraduates and hundreds of MBAs and PMBAs, traveling on dozens of recruiting trips overseas and domestically, serving two WashU schools and even suffering through one five-month layoff, Jan Snow is about ready to close this chapter and move into retirement.

Snow, who has served for more than 13 years as the unofficial “mama bear” to hundreds of PMBAs in her role as director of professional MBA student services, has announced her retirement effective November 1, 2019.

“I announced it pretty early because I wanted to see if my replacement would come and I could help with the continuity,” Snow said, typically thinking as much about the school’s future as her own. “I’m leaving now because I’m still healthy enough to do some traveling and can do some volunteer work.”

Until then, Snow’s third-floor office retains the look of an archivist’s closet, adorned with a crush of statuettes, figurines, paintings, icons and images recalling her many overseas trips and the scores of students—international and domestic—who have expressed appreciation for her counsel, friendship and shoulder while they attended WashU Olin.

“Every evening when arriving for class, like clockwork, Jan would always be standing by the door greeting us with a smile and kind words,” Melissa Arning Leuthardt, PMBA ’09, said, recalling her time as a student at Olin.

In Snow’s office, there’s the bedazzled green dolphin from the Dominican Republic, the Japanese kanji spelling her name, the African dolls she had made during a recruiting trip, the jade dragon, at least four fans and so much more from trips and students representing Venezuela, Lebanon, China, Korea and significant portions of Europe.

And there are pictures—so many pictures of current and past PMBA students. There’s the “Indian Mafia”—her nickname for several Indian students who leaned heavily on her help and included her in numerous social gatherings. There are yearbook-style sheets of past PMBA classes. Group shots from social outings and overseas gatherings. A picture of one alum cradling his infant son in the crook of his arm.

Jan Snow in her office adorned with mementos and souvenirs from her trips and students.
Jan Snow in her office adorned with mementos and souvenirs from her trips and students.

“I became unofficial mother, so I got to know lots and lots of the international students,” she said. The students are what gets her up in the morning. “I honestly feel close to all of them. When someone asks who do you want to have at your retirement party? Well, I want the students. The students are the reason I’ve been doing this.”

Students took Snow’s role to heart.

“During GO! Weekend, I was making my plate for lunch and Jan called me out for not having any vegetables,” said Tom Dart, PMBA ’22. “I took them because I was afraid she was going to call my mom.”

Jan Snow with a crowd who surprised her in Frick Forum for a party on October 25, 2019.

Snow has worn Diwali sarees and attempted to cook Indian food for students. She’s attended happy hours after PMBA classes. She’s kept in regular touch with students as far flung as the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Shanghai.

The high regard she holds among students and colleagues came to the fore the week of August 4—the day she arrived in Shanghai to accompany the first-year MBA students on their global immersion. Two days later, she awoke to news that the second floor of her Maplewood home had been gutted by fire, killing one of her cats and ruining most of her belongings with water, smoke and fire damage.

The Olin community rallied with a fundraiser, raising a substantial amount that has helped her meet urgent needs that insurance can’t or hasn’t yet addressed. “You can’t even imagine this outpouring of money and love,” she said. “It’s been hard for me. I told the dean that my father would be rolling in his grave if he knew I was accepting money.”

Snow is determined to make sure the personal tragedy isn’t the defining moment of her time at WashU, which included five years doing undergraduate recruiting for the School of Engineering, a five-month layoff from that position, three years as associate director of MBA student services and 13 in her current role.

“I’m going to miss the students. My nephew has three boys and they asked me whether I had any children. I said I have 300,” Snow said. “It’s going to be hard saying goodbye.”

Bill Kindle along with WashU alums Ryan Hwang, Jeremy Friedman and Timothy Trinidad — who developed the social networking site that helps keep kids focused on their studies.

A company founded by students in Olin’s Hatchery course in 2009 has reached a major milestone with the announcement Thursday that it will be acquired by a rival in the industry.

Schoology started as a website three WashU students built to share class notes, evolved into a nascent company a year later and grew to become a full-fledged learning management system that drew more than $57 million in venture capital.

Now, founders Jeremy Friedman, AB ’09; Ryan Hwang, BSBA ’09; and Timothy Trinidad, BSBA ’09, BSAS ’09, have agreed to sell their firm to PowerSchool for an undisclosed sum. The California-based company provides K-12 education technology to 45 million students. Schoology’s platform supports more than 20 million users.

“With the scale and investment we will get being part of PowerSchool, we can further advance what is possible in education, and take Schoology to a whole new level,” cofounder and CEO Friedman said in a statement posted to the Schoology website.

Schoology—which competes with learning management software providers such as Canvas, Moodle and Google Classroom—has about a 17 percent market share in small- to mid-sized districts, and a 14 percent share in large districts that serve more than 6,500 students, according to a report on the acquisition by EdSurge.

The Schoology announcement said the two companies would continue to operate separately until an official close has been announced.

Pictured above, Schoology founders: Bill Kindle along with WashU alums Ryan Hwang, Jeremy Friedman and Timothy Trinidad — who developed the social networking site that helps keep kids focused on their studies.

WashU Olin Business School placed first globally for its MBA entrepreneurship program, according to a first-ever ranking of such programs from leading business magazine, Inc., released on Monday, October 28.

The magazine’s ranking, powered by Poets & Quants, evaluated a long list of statistics and program details—including metrics such as the percentage of recent graduates in startups or venture capital jobs, the number of entrepreneurship-oriented courses and funding raised at startups founded by recent MBA graduates.

After WashU Olin, Stanford, Babson College, the University of Michigan and ESADE rounded out the top five entrepreneurship programs in the Inc./P&Q ranking. Twenty-seven schools were included in this inaugural ranking, all but three US-based.

“It may come as little surprise that atop the list is the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis,” the ranking’s authors wrote. “From 2016 to 2018, some 20.7% of Olin MBAs launched companies within three months of graduation — more than any other ranked school.”

Dean Mark P. Taylor lauded the results as good news for Olin students, prospective students and the alumni community.

“This ranking affirms the focus and priority we place on entrepreneurship at Olin,” Taylor said. “As always, our challenge is to maintain our momentum. Making entrepreneurship a key pillar of our strategic plan means we’re well-positioned to do so.”

Experiential focus

Olin’s 2018 strategic plan articulated four “pillars of excellence” defining the program we want to offer: entrepreneurial, values-based and data-driven, global and experiential.

“In eight months at Olin, I went from a loose idea to attracting paying customers and have now been running a profitable venture-backed company since graduation,” said Megan Berry, MArch ’15, MBA ’15, founder of By REVEAL, which creates customized pop-up boutiques for retailers looking to reach customers where they are.

The Inc./P&Q ranking comes on the heels of another analysis that offered good news for Olin: an independent review of Crunchbase business directory data showed WashU Olin had the world’s highest percentage of female startup founders among its alumni. Those Olin women secured the world’s highest average funding amounts for their startups.

“The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep here at Olin,” said Doug Villhard, professor of practice and academic director of the entrepreneurship platform. “All day long, we’re teaching people how to fall in love with problems—and how to do something about them. We have a unique ecosystem to support their work both on campus and in St. Louis.

Berry added: “I am tremendously grateful to Olin and cannot thank the faculty enough their passion in developing the next generation of leaders and generosity in time and connections that are instrumental to budding entrepreneurs.”

Affirming our work

The ranking was particularly gratifying for Villhard’s predecessor, Cliff Holekamp, who launched the entrepreneurship platform at Olin 12 years ago and retired in June to focus on his venture capital company.

“With Dean Taylor’s arrival and the new strategic plan we developed, we made the conscious decision to move entrepreneurship from a subspecialty to a key part of the program,” Holekamp said. “The key to maintaining our ranking is recognizing that entrepreneurship and innovation is an educational foundation for all Olin students, not only the entrepreneurship majors.”

Villhard added: “We also like to practice what we teach in thinking innovatively and entrepreneurially, and many of the key strategic initiatives at Olin—such as our new global immersion MBA program—may be viewed as entrepreneurial in spirit.”

Inc. used an analysis of data gathered by Poets & Quants for the new ranking, which was based on surveys of educators at eligible schools. The 33-question survey gauged metrics such as seed funding available for student-launched startups, the percentage of students who take at least one entrepreneurship course and the percentage of student-run clubs. The magazine also looked at the amount of related faculty research and a survey of entrepreneurship directors ranking their top programs.

“To measure the best, we first consulted with entrepreneurship directors at some of the world’s top B-schools to come up with an authoritative approach,” the ranking authors wrote. “Those consultations resulted in a ranking that takes into account 10 metrics.”

Additional insights from the ranking

Where Olin ranked in specific categories: