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.

Under any other circumstances, the classroom guest in Doug Villhard’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship class would have been impressive—but not noteworthy. Maxine Clark, founder of St. Louis-based Build-A-Bear Workshop, is a WashU Olin booster, a friend of the university and a frequent guest speaker in Olin classrooms.

But on Thursday, March 26, she joined a mosaic of students in a Zoom video classroom—another example of students, instructors and special guests making the Olin experience work in the midst of a global pandemic.

On the fourth day of online instruction after the campus closed to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Clark shared the story of how she created her Build-A-Bear concept. Nearly 30 MBA students aimed their webcams at the St. Louis entrepreneur and dropped questions into a chat window.

The focus of the class was social entrepreneurship—an area where Clark has been active since retiring as Build-A-Bear’s CEO in 2013. But first, there were questions about her big retail hit.

“I wanted to ask if the original idea of Build-A-Bear was the idea that was launched,” wrote Derek Leiter, MBA ’21. “Or did the idea change (like most of ours in class have) after researching the market?”

Maxine Clark (center, right column) shares a slide from her presentation about the day she appeared on Oprah’s television show as she was ramping up new Build-A-Bear Workshop stores.

Clark said the more people who got involved, the more the concept evolved. For example, store patrons who build their own teddy bears carry out a step that wasn’t part of the original idea: including a small red heart with the bear’s stuffing.

“Someone else came up with the idea of the heart,” Clark said. “We had no idea people would grab onto the idea like they did. People started putting three and four hearts in a bear. They’d put a wish on the heart. We got so many ideas from our customers.”

Dean Mark P. Taylor also stopped by the class for a few minutes to bid Clark and the students a hello. He thanked Clark for visiting the class under today’s unusual circumstances and thanked everyone for how they’ve adapted. “Today’s a great example where we have a great class and a great entrepreneur who can share her experience,” Taylor said. Later, in the classroom’s chat, he said, “So proud of you guys.”

Clark also spoke to the class about Delmar Divine, a project to rehabilitate the former home of the St. Louis region’s St. Luke’s Hospital—north of Delmar Boulevard and east of DeBaliviere. Her vision is to convert the building into “Cortex for nonprofits,” referring to a St. Louis-area business incubator. Delmar Divine would include retail, housing and office space and is planned to open in the summer of 2021.

Nine tiny lines of type near the back of Olin Business magazine’s 2017 edition announced Nate Maslak’s new venture, HealthWiz, “which helps lower healthcare costs for employers and payers by helping consumers navigate their healthcare costs and access high-quality, cost-efficient care.”

Three years and one brand change later, Maslak, BSBA ’11, and the company he runs—Ribbon Health—landed a $10.25 million round of Series A funding led by well-known venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The infusion marks the first investment from Andreessen’s new $750 million healthcare fund.

“Nate was a rock star entrepreneurship student as an undergrad at Olin,” said former Olin entrepreneurship professor Cliff Holekamp in an email about the investment. “His success is no surprise.”

The company had nailed down two earlier seed funding rounds, according to the Crunchbase startup directory. Details on those early rounds were not available. The Series A round led by Andreessen closed on February 27, 2020.

A story about the funding round on TechCrunch explained that Ribbon Health “is trying to create an accurate database of what doctors and health plans have, which specializations offer their services to which insurance providers, and produce the best outcomes for patients.”

Nine individuals or firms participated in the Series A investment for Ribbon Health, including Y Combinator and New York-based early-stage investment fund BoxGroup, according to Crunch Base.

“This funding will help us bring our healthcare data platform to more payers, providers, and other healthcare stakeholders, allowing them to break through the information barriers in healthcare,” Maslak, CEO and cofounder, wrote in a blog post on the Ribbon Health website.

Trust actually has economic value. Narcissists aren’t the leaders they think they are. Organizational leaders need to be realistic about the balance between driving productivity and incentivizing good behavior.

These were among the takeaways from a 75-minute Century Club program on leadership, summarized in a series of three TED-style talks by WashU Olin faculty members on February 26. The professors summarized their research under the umbrella “The Importance of Character for Leadership.”

Kurt Dirks, Bank of America Professor of Leadership, presented on whether trust had more than simply moral value for organizational leaders. Emily Grijalva, assistant professor of organizational behavior, outlined the state of research in her specialty—narcissism. And Lamar Pierce, professor of organization and strategy, focused on organizing incentives around character in the workplace.

Kurt Dirks

When he cofounded the Bauer Leadership Center at Olin, one of the questions he hoped to address was whether “we could think about character as something that doesn’t just have moral value, but whether it has economic value.”

Dirks, who also serves as vice chancellor of international affairs for Washington University, explained to the audience that trust is an outgrowth of having good moral character. He was musing about how to quantify the effect of trust on performance while watching college basketball—and it occurred to him that might be a laboratory to test the question.

“Is there something about coaches and their ability to create trust?” Dirks wondered? As it turns out, there was. “The effect of trust was just below the effect of talent on the ability to win.”

So, through the research, Dirks concluded that trust not only feels good and serves as a moral attribute but also produces results.

The next question: Why is creating trust so difficult? Dirks outlined three elements in the chemistry of trust: character, competence and caring.

“Trust is something that has social good as well as instrumental good,” he said. “It may be harder to create than most of us realize.”

Emily Grijalva

Emily Grijalva

Grijalva confessed that “I started to get nervous when a journalist asked me for tips about how a person could cultivate their narcissism.” That was based on the popular misconception that narcissists make bold, charismatic leaders.

As an expert in the field, however, she has surveyed the research on narcissism thoroughly and produced original research. Her conclusion: Not every narcissistic leader is destined to enjoy the success of her favorite example, Steve Jobs.

“He’s a great example of the many aspects of what it means to have this trait,” she said, because he embodies both the positive and negative attributes. They match our conception of the prototypical leader: They’re dominant, self-confident, charismatic, inspiring and persuasive.

On the other hand, they also tend to be overly grandiose, entitled, exploitative and arrogant. Bottom line, she said, studies are inconsistent about whether narcissism creates positive or negative leaders. But in her review of 42 studies, narcissistic people tend to emerge as leaders, but that trait doesn’t necessarily make them effective leaders.

“Narcissism is best in moderation,” she said. So should you cultivate your narcissism? “If you value character, my answer would be no. I recommend you develop your humility.”

Lamar Pierce

Lamar Pierce

Growing up, Pierce—who is also associate dean for the Olin-Brookings Partnership—”couldn’t understand why other people couldn’t follow the rules, why they couldn’t achieve. It continued to be a mystery to me.”

When he became ill with lymphoma at 26, went through treatment and emerged, he felt like his life had changed. He was a graduate student, but he was angry, narcissistic, arrogant. “What I realized that the myth I grew up with, it was not true. The world was not about people with character and people without character.”

He started to think about the world as a crucible and started to study misconduct. “I really started to do some stupid stuff. I started asking why am I doing these things?”

Over the years, he’s come to realize that “life is a series of decisions that we make”—decisions made without full information, decisions made with biased information, decisions made with emotion.

His research also led to the conclusion that everyone has to make an honest assessment of who they are and what their character is. But mostly, his research has led to conclusions about how to balance incentives that drive productivity with incentives that promote good behavior. Too often, organizational leaders incentivize performance—and then they’re surprised when bad behavior emerges among employees who cheat on their way to hitting their marks.

Alternatively, leaders who don’t think carefully about how they incentivize good behavior—a zero-tolerance policy for theft, for example—may find their employees hate them. Draconian measures can drive low morale.

“We care about performance and productivity, but we also care about how we get there,” Pierce said, recommending that leaders draw a line in the sand on the behavioral issues they really care about—sexual harassment, for example. “You have to have that conversation up front or you’ll find ways to equivocate and make excuses when people cross that line.”

Pictured above: Kurt Dirks presenting to the gathering of the Century Club, February 26, 2020.

In an event livestreamed to the audience of Poets & Quants, Editor-in-Chief John Byrne praised WashU Olin for boldly reimagining its full-time MBA program, interviewing four students, two career center representatives, two faculty members and Dean Mark P. Taylor.

The event today, February 20, 2020, in Frick Forum was the capstone event after P&Q named Olin its MBA Program of the Year last month. In an article at the time, Byrne had written that Olin’s faculty and staff had basically broken the mold for full-time MBA programs with the three-continent global immersion at the outset of the first-year student experience.

First-year MBA students Kendra Kelly and Jennifer Lanas flank John Byrne and Dean Mark Taylor at the “program of the year” party.

Today, addressing a crowd gathered for the livesteam in Frick Forum, Byrne remarked that he visits a lot of full-time MBA programs and sees a lot of tinkering around the margins as educators work on improving their programs.

View the recording of the livestream

“It’s highly unusual for somebody to take out a blank piece of paper and reimagine what an MBA experience can be,” Byrne told the crowd. “There are precious few schools in the world that would bring their entire student cohort out on a 38-day learning experience—around the world—and then pay for the entire trip out of the school’s budget.”

Schoolwide celebration

His remarks came in the midst of a post-livestream celebration featuring internationally inspired finger foods, T-shirts for students, faculty and staff and tables adorned with beanies and berets—a takeoff on the Poets & Quants‘ logo. Visitors were offered the chance to record a video testimonial about the program or take selfies with Byrne-approved John Byrne masks.

As displayed in Frick Forum, John Bryne interviews first-year MBA students Zach Frantz, Jennifer Lanas and Lungile Tshuma.

Byrne came to campus specifically to highlight Olin’s program in an hourlong livestream broadcast live on the Poets & Quants website and into Frick Forum. He broke the hour into three 20-minute segments.

MBA Program of the Year cookies!

First, he focused on the overall experience by interviewing Dean Taylor along with Olin professors Sam Chun and Andrew Knight, who taught during the global immersion. Segment two focused on the student experience with first-year MBAs Zach Frantz, Jennifer Lanas and Lungile Tshuma. The final segment focused on career outcomes with Jen Whitten, director of the Weston Career Center, career coach Chris Collier and first-year student Kendra Kelly.

“We were all outside of our comfort zones—but safely outside of our comfort zones with the help of the program,” Tshuma told Byrne during his segment, explaining in part why the program was so important to his development as a business student.

Focusing on the student experience

Ashley Macrander and Katie Wools — a poet and a quant.

Byrne focused many of his questions on the core experience of working on projects and experiencing the business world in the very earliest stages of their MBA experience. Chun, professor of management practice, spoke of the importance and depth of field excursions to Barcelona vineyards, for example.

“These are meaningful trips—not just going on a winery tour,” Chun said. “We’re thinking about how a family (at the vineyard) thinks about wine and thinks about their values.”

“We learned business by actually doing business,” Lanas said.

Pictured above: John Byrne, editor-in-chief of Poets & Quants, interviewing Dean Mark Taylor, Sam Chun and Andrew Knight for the livestream broadcast today.

Samuel Roth, wife, Daisy, and daughters Adalynn (10 months) and Abagail (5).

UPDATE: March 2, 2020

The ordeal of the Roth family is over. After spending weeks in Wuhan, China, Olin alum Samuel Roth’s wife and two daughters are finally home. Originally, the threesome went overseas without Roth to visit grandparents.

When the coronavirus outbreak began, they were stuck in China for weeks until they could get space on a flight back to the United States. Roth reported on Fridaythat his wife and two daughters returned to Wisconsin on Sunday, February 23, during the night, after spending two weeks in quarantine upon their return to the states.

“Everyone is healthy, happy and relieved that it is over,” Roth said in an email to the Olin Blog. He forwarded a link to a profile piece done by a Milwaukee local station.

UPDATE: February 6, 2020.

Samuel Roth’s wife and children landed around 6 a.m. today, February 6, 2020, in Riverside, CA, on the second evacuation flight to leave Wuhan, according to an update on the FlightAware website Roth posted on Facebook a day earlier.

Media reports say the flight was to land at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “They landed at Travis (Air Force Base) this morning. I think they will be there quarantined for two weeks,” Roth confirmed in an email on Wednesday afternoon.

Roth’s daughters, Adalynn, 10 months, and Abagail, 5, playing after landing in the states following their ordeal in Wuhan.

Original Story

A WashU Olin alumnus is working to bring home his wife and two children from Wuhan, China, where they arrived last week intending to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with family—and instead, found themselves at the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak.

Samuel M. Roth, MBA ’19, learned almost immediately upon their arrival in Wuhan that Daisy, his wife, and children Adalynn, 10 months, and Abagail, 5, had been told to hunker down in his in-law’s apartment and stay put. Roth’s in-laws live in Wuhan’s Xinzhou district in the northeastern part of the city.

He told CBS News they were told to avoid big gatherings. The network reported today that 106 people have died of the virus since the outbreak began and about 1,000 Americans are in the city of Wuhan.

“My family wasn’t able to get on the most recent chartered evacuation flight,” said Roth, an associate brand manager for Kimberly-Clark in Neenah, WI, in an email to Olin Blog. The US State Department has said priority for air transport from Wuhan would be given to those at greatest risk for contracting the virus.

“We’ve got a 10-month-old, we’ve got a 5-year-old,” Roth said in his interview with CBS News. “They’re susceptible, and they should be prioritized.”

“Initially I was trying to get ahold of the embassy and get them on the chartered flight. That ship has sailed, literally,” Roth told Olin Blog. “At this point, we’re hoping there will be subsequent rounds of evacuation. I’d like her out of there, but I’m not overwhelmed with anxiety. They’re staying at home and washing often.”

Roth’s congressman, US Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-WI, relayed a message from the US embassy in Beijing saying there wasn’t enough space to accommodate Americans wishing to depart by air. “The Department of State is working diligently with the government of China to identify alternative routes for U.S. citizens to depart Wuhan over land,” the embassy statement said, in part.

Roth has stayed in touch with his family throughout and said that for now, boredom may be the biggest issue his wife and kids have to confront.

“We are hopeful that there will be more opportunities for them to get out of Wuhan,” he said. “For now, they are just staying inside, keeping hands washed and trying to stave off boredom with books, movies, games and the like.”