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.

The latest ranking of global Executive MBA programs by The Economist magazine places WashU Olin 18th in the world and places us third in the world for teacher quality.

Among 40 ranked EMBA programs with a 100% domestic presence, WashU Olin placed seventh. Among US programs, Olin also notched sixth for career development, second in faculty quality and third for the “percentage of alumni who have been promoted or grown their company since graduation.”

Olin last appeared in the magazine’s ranking in 2015. Since then, the program rose 20 spots, with the biggest increase coming in career development, where Olin rose from 41 to 17 globally.

In terms of faculty quality, the Economist ranking looks at five separate qualitative and quantitative dimensions. Students surveyed for the ranking rated Olin faculty 4.8 on a five-point scale for teaching quality, which placed Olin No. 1 for that dimension. And because 100% of Olin’s EMBA faculty holds a PhD, the school placed first in that dimension as well.

Olin placed fourth in the world on the “percentage of alumni who have been promoted or grown their company since graduation,” one of nine dimensions contributing to the “career development” ranking category.

In general, the ranking was a strong showing for WashU Olin’s EMBA program, which improved in eight of nine major ranking categories.

The EMBA program at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business placed No. 1 in the Economist ranking.

Jeff Gibson, MBA

Jeff Gibson saw 200,000 service members transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce each year—and he saw an opportunity. Leveraging his own 10 years as a Navy SEAL, 15 years as a government recruiting contractor—and a hefty dose of artificial intelligence technology—the WashU Olin alumnus is streamlining the way veterans match their skills with employers.

Gibson—who received his WashU MBA in 2002 and cofounded the Olin Veterans Association—is one of the entrepreneurs behind Oplign, an online recruiting site that helps vets find prospective opportunities with a few mouse clicks based on regimented data associated with their military training and work assignments.

The company also helps clients such as Verizon—which Gibson says gets 500 applications each day from veterans—sift through the prospects to find candidates who truly match the qualifications for their various openings.

“They have no way of sorting through those in a reasonable manner,” Gibson said. He said their director of military hiring works with 20 recruiters, but they can’t see everybody. “It’s a way for them to improve their applicant experience. They can say why candidates are not qualified— or what they are qualified for.”

Gibson credits his time at Olin for opening the path for where he is today. “Olin led me to one step, which led me to another, which led me to another,
charting his path from the military to a Fortune 500 employer and then back to applying his skills as an entrepreneur focused on hiring vets.

Supply and demand for hiring

On the applicant side, Oplign (“opportunities align”) simplifies the process by inviting job seekers to walk through a few simple screens to enter their service information. For example, with a handful of clicks, a vet can indicate they served eight years in the Marines, achieving the rank of E5, with a “military occupation code” indicating logistics experience.

A few more clicks can highlight a service member’s security clearance, special training opportunities and other pertinent experience. Behind the scenes, Oplign uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to translate that vet’s military experience into the language of civilian employers—highlighting the skills and experience relevant to recruiters. In 60 seconds, the applicant is done. Job openings matching the vet’s skills appear on the screen.

“There are really only about 30 things the labor market thinks are important for accounting,” Gibson said. Meanwhile, Oplign’s algorithm identifies about 15 skills and experiences employers value when looking at HVAC technicians.

On the recruiting side, Oplign scrapes websites for job opportunities—and directly links to client sites such as Verizon, American Electric Power in the Ohio River Basin, Pike Electric, aviation companies such as MAG Aerospace and a small number of government contractors. That’s where Oplign generates its revenue.

“Companies can see instantly whether candidates are qualified,” he said.

Ready to break out in the industry?

Gibson said military hiring represents a $1 billion market—one Oplign is only beginning to tap. In its third year of operation, Gibson and his cofounders have bootstrapped the company, which has $1 million in annual revenue. “The first year, we were proving the tech. The second year, we started getting customers. The third year, we feel we’re about ready to break out,” Gibson said. “We just picked up some pretty big customers who like what we’re doing.”

The focus on military hiring derives from the experience of Gibson and his cofounders, all veterans. After serving as in Navy, he worked three years at 3M and felt the call to return to more direct work with the military after 9/11. He worked for a recruiting firm, fulfilling federal government hiring contracts by filling roles for agencies such as the Department of Defense, State Department, Drug Enforcement Agency and the CIA.

“The military hiring market is a good place for us to prove our system,” he said. “A military resume is even more confusing than a regular resume with all the acronyms.”

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

“We’re trying to get rid of the resume. You spend so much time trying to put the right information there, tailoring it to each job—and leaving out so many other skills,” he said. “We pull information from the individual. We help them build their own online resume—one that’s important to the labor market, not one that they think is important.”

Pictured above: Jeff Gibson, MBA ’02, with his wife, Karen.

Dr. Ashley Jacob, EMBA Mumbai 2017, installed a plastic sheet between patients and clinicians to protect health and save substantial amounts of money previously used to equip his staff with PPE.

Three days after Dr. Ashley Jacob complied with public health regulations and shuttered his eye clinic, he petitioned to reopen. The need for emergency ophthalmology assistance continued, even with the quarantine, as neighbors in the Indian state of Kerala occupied themselves by clearing brush, gardening and staring into screens.

Dr. Ashley Jacob

Then the WashU Olin EMBA alum confronted another problem. His patients only pay about 100 rupees—about $1.32—for their emergency eye exams. Yet he and his staff were spending 33 times as much to don the face shields, masks, gloves and gowns the new coronavirus-inspired safety protocols demanded.

That was in late March. At his emergency eye clinic, the only one in the southwestern edge of India at the time, he was seeing 50 patients a day and the cost was adding up.

“I was thinking, ‘What can I do about this?’” recalled Jacob, EMBA ’17. “I have to see the patient’s eyes and the solution has to be reasonably good optical quality.”

The solution turned out to be available at a local hardware store: A large clear plastic sheet that he could buy for about $33. Bolted and glued to the floor, ceiling and walls, the sheet divides his examination rooms in half. A patient sits on one side of the divide while Jacob’s technicians aim their examination equipment through the barrier into the patient’s eyes.

“This is frugal engineering,” said Jacob, who used the Indian word juggad—a cheap workaround—to describe his innovation. In other words, he “MacGyvered” it.

“We have tested it. Nothing passes through,” Jacob said. “We fumigate the whole thing after a patient visits. That is an operation room protocol. What is done on the operating table is being done in this room.”

He said the patients seem to be delighted with the solution as well because they don’t want to do anything to endanger the health of their healthcare providers. Jacob has shared what he’s done with doctors at other eye clinics around the country now that more of them are allowed to open.

“Many have started implementing this,” he said. “Many had not opened their clinics because of the expense.”

Pictured above: One of Dr. Jacob’s assistants examines a patient’s eyes through the plastic barrier he had installed.

If you’ve eaten a slice of pizza from a triangular clamshell box or bought a clear tray of muffins from the supermarket bakery, you’ve probably touched a product produced by Novolex. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the company’s portfolio included a range of packing products and industrial goods—and almost no medical equipment.

That changed in early March. In just weeks, the firm pivoted its manufacturing capacity to design and produce critically needed pieces of protection for under-resourced healthcare workers—and WashU Olin alumnus Phil Rozenski is one of the people at the center of that pivot.

Today, Novolex is producing more than 6 million isolation gowns and more than 2 million face shields each month—products the firm designed and launched in weeks.

“Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple associations and state governments asked me if we made various medical supplies—items that faced critical shortages across the globe,” said Rozenski, EMBA ’11. “The direct answer was no—but it got me thinking.”

As Novolex’s vice president of public affairs, Rozenski connects the company with local governments, trade associations, the communities that surround their communities and others. In that role, he heard from organizations alarmed by anticipated shortages for personal protective equipment as the reality of the pandemic set in.

He recalled a recent visit to a Novolex facility in Brampton, Ontario, that uses a clear plastic sheeting material to manufacture containers for muffins and other baked goods. His instinct was that the material might be suitable to make face shields, the protective medical visors we now know healthcare workers rely on for their protection.

A plan emerged

With his experience from WashU Olin—and his background as a logistics planner in the US Air Force—Rozenski knew that even if Novolex had the know-how to make medical items, it would take more than an idea. Novolex would need to find the markets, understand the demand, identify the specifications for medical markets and more.

“Having been part of the Novolex team for more than 10 years, I knew our people are capable of incredible things,” he said. “That said, a new product launch can often take months. We had only weeks if we were going to save lives.”

Novolex employees model protective gowns the company began manufacturing in response to the global pandemic.

He reached out to fellow EMBAs, government agencies, trade associations and other organizations. He needed to know more before he could bring the challenge to Novolex’s team such as who would need the items, how many, and how long demand would last.

“Our company may potentially be part of the solution,” Rozenski wrote to fellow EMBAs in early March. “But we need your help in connecting with existing suppliers and other parties so we can bring our manufacturing capabilities to the fight.”

Immediately, emails started flooding back and he found that Novolex could indeed contribute to addressing the critical shortage. The contribution first began with a donation of 49,000 pounds of plastic sheet. Soon after, Rozenski and Novolex’s Adrianne Tipton, senior vice president of innovation, worked on sweeping away obstacles to design and launch a Novolex face shield.

Rapid results

“Within a week, we were stamping these face shields out. Within two weeks, we were manufacturing the headgear,” Rozenski said.

Assembling the right team meant engineers in the group brought up other ideas. One group worked out a way to retool machines that normally make trash can liners and food-grade produce and freezer bags to produce another piece of critically needed protection: isolation gowns for healthcare workers.

“Within two days, we had prototyped a gown with sleeves—something we never made before. Within a week we were shipping them,” he said. By May 1, the company had shipped 10 million. “To have something you don’t even do in the market in a week is amazing.”

The Novolex team has generated three or four versions of the gowns and other facilities are looking at other methods to do the same.

In addition to the millions of face shields, headgear and gowns Novolex now produces, the company is selling its clear plastic sheeting to other companies—companies that make hundreds of thousands more face shields as well. In total, Novolex has seven facilities producing some sort of medical supplies needed to fight COVID-19.

Rozenski said that being an EMBA grad helped prepare him to be a leader in this effort and also gave him networks needed in the journey as well.

“It wasn’t just a business connection, it was a national crisis,” Rozenski said. “This is a market that didn’t exist for us before March 1.”

One day, early in the coronavirus crisis, one of Camryn Okere’s favorite off-campus restaurants closed forever. And that’s when she realized she had to do something.

After Bobo Noodle House shuttered, and as other small businesses were suffering, the soon-to-graduate WashU BSBA student knew she could help. Two weeks later, she’d recruited WashU classmates and business students from a dozen other schools to join her. Rem and Company was born.

“Seeing a local business I love permanently close was heartbreaking,” Okere said. “When I see problems in my everyday life, my community and my environments, I am inspired to work to implement change.” 

In just a few weeks, Okere’s initiative — “a social impact initiative focusing on keeping doors open and dreams alive” — has helped small businesses stay up to date on industry trends, learn new approaches from peers, build networks and adapt as the world changes. In many ways, Rem and Company has begun solving problems on two fronts.

On one front, as small businesses and nonprofits fight for their lives through the global pandemic, students and recent graduates are banding together to offer free consulting support to help proprietors engage with customers, reimagine business models and diversify product offerings.

At the same time, as the crisis wreaks havoc on corporate hiring, those same students are confronting a summer without jobs and internships by putting their education into practice.

“So many students are sitting at home right now and they don’t feel valued,” said Okere, who named the initiative after the stage of sleep in which people tend to dream vividly—because the coronavirus pandemic is something of a nightmare. “Our mission and core values provide many individuals—especially students uncertain about their next career steps—with a sense of value and purpose.”

From zero to helping in weeks

From conceiving Rem and Company to launch took about two weeks. Today, more than 80 students and recent graduates have banded together, representing schools including Wharton, Harvard, Duke, Northwestern, Columbia, Vanderbilt, and, of course, WashU Olin.

The fledgling cooperative, which stays connected through Slack and Google Drive, is also drawing on experienced mentors from organizations such as Google, McKinsey & Co., Morgan Stanley and The Wall Street Journal.

“The real idea is to empower the students,” said Janine Toro, user experience designer and researcher for The Wall Street Journal, who managed Okere when she was a summer intern last year. “She’s picking the projects and assigning the right people to them. I’m more of the resource provider for now.”

Toro isn’t surprised that Okere so quickly got her inspiration up and running. “I was referring to her as the person who I will work for in five years,” she said. “When I first met her, I could tell she was very driven.”

At least six small businesses as close to WashU as St. Louis and as far as India have signed on for consulting support. Okere spends a lot of time outlining initial client needs and coordinating team assignments, evaluating which volunteers have the complementary expertise to support which projects. Their consulting teams provide small businesses with the opportunity to identify and prioritize business issues, propose innovative strategies and execute.

Engaging with customers

“I’m very super excited to have some support,” said Ann Lederman, executive director for The Buddy Fund, a St. Louis-based nonprofit that provides athletic equipment to organizations serving at-risk youth. As the sole employee of the 58-year-old organization, “My position has been taxed in the areas of branding, board engagement and being present online.”

She’s seeking help from Rem and Company to maintain donor relationships and prepare for the possibility that the organization’s largest annual fundraiser—a golf tournament—might not be able to happen in September as planned.

Rem and Company helped a Philadelphia-area rock-climbing company develop an innovative engagement strategy around virtual experiences. Student teams have also worked with small businesses or nonprofits in New York, Connecticut, DC, and other US cities, as well as international locations such as India and Finland.

The cooperative is focusing for now on organizations within the fashion, nonprofit, dining and fitness industries. Once she and her colleagues weather the pandemic, Okere said her next steps might be to develop a long-term business plan and eventually see how Rem and Company can get funding.

“It’s been amazing to see this all mobilize in such a short amount of time and the outpouring of support from the WashU community,” Okere said. “I’m not someone who is going to just sit around.”

To learn more about the ways Washington University students, faculty, staff and alumni are caring for one another and our communities, visit #WashUtogether.

A breathtaking run of upgrades and enhancements to the WashU Olin Business School full-time MBA program has seen the addition of a six-week, overseas global immersion, a dual-degree option with a specialized masters and an accelerated, 14-month option for the MBA degree.

Now, Olin takes another step forward by adding the option to earn a STEM-designated MBA. The STEM MBA option was approved on April 21. It covers MBA alumni retroactively to the class of 2019, all current students and students going forward.

The designation refers to the level of proficiency a degree offers students in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering or mathematics—and the application of those disciplines in a business context.

Vidur Bhatnagar

“Having a stem designation is increasingly being preferred by many employers especially in the tech industry,” said Vidur Bhatnagar, MBA ’21, who is excited to add this option to his MBA. “This opens up more opportunities for WashU students and will definitely increase engagement and interest of employers towards hiring internationals.”

Aparna Kancherla

Dr. Aparna Kancherla, MBA ’21, said she had considered other business schools that already had a STEM MBA option, but chose WashU Olin because of its rigorous academics, strong rankings and global immersion experience.

“We are already studying subjects like data analytics,” she said. “Now having the STEM option will help me to get recognized as a professional who uses the data-driven approach to develop strategies.”

Further affirmation for WashU Olin’s rigor

For WashU Olin, the STEM designation aligns fully with the values-based, data-driven mindset that is a core pillar of the school’s strategy for developing students.

“This designation formally acknowledges the WashU MBA as a rigorous program, driving students to apply a data-driven mindset to business decisions,” said Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor. “Even more, they use that mindset in the context of their personal, organizational and community values.”

Jennifer Whitten, associate dean and director of Olin’s Weston Career Center, said the new option will be attractive to students destined for high-tech industries.

“The advantage is, and there’s even GMAC data about this, many of the jobs out there now require a data skillset,” she said. “They want people who have the quantitative background as well as the leadership skills.”

For international students, the STEM-designated MBA also creates employment options in the United States because they can apply for a 24-month visa extension for optional practical training. 

Mostly covered in the core curriculum

Olin leadership applied for the STEM designation after an analysis of 152 existing courses showed that at least 70% of them rated highly as “data-driven” entries into the curriculum. Curriculum leaders have designated 79 core and elective courses that would satisfy requirements toward a STEM-designated degree. Those include courses such as Quantitative Risk Management, Economics of the Organization and Pricing Strategies.

At least half of a student’s required 67 credits—33.5 credits or more—would have to come from that group of 79 courses in order to earn the STEM MBA. As it turns out, the required classes in the full-time MBA program add up to 28.5 credits worth of STEM-designated coursework.

Even with that, WashU Olin leadership intentionally decided to make the STEM designation an option for students, rather than a requirement. Some students may see themselves heading for careers in the humanities or a nonprofit, where the need to “heavy up” on data may not be as important.

WashU Olin had previously secured STEM-designation for its specialized master’s degrees in supply chain management, quantitative finance, wealth asset management and business analytics—which includes six tracks: customer analytics, financial technology analytics, healthcare analytics, accounting analytics, talent analytics and supply chain analytics.