Author: Kurt Greenbaum

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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 political divide between red and blue states seems to fracture more than our views about abortion rights, tax cuts, and healthcare. Research from an Olin Business School professor—with midterm elections just around the corner—shows we’re even wary about buying products online from sellers who might not share our political point of view.

An analysis of more than 550 million items sold by individuals on eBay in 2015 and 2016—transactions totaling $22.3 billion—shows we’re more likely to buy goods from someone we perceive comes from a similar political persuasion.

In other words, eBay buyers in Montana were more likely to buy a clock, a bookcase, or a treadmill from a Nebraskan than from a Californian.

“We were shocked because the location of a seller shouldn’t matter at all,” said Daniel Elfenbein, associate professor of strategy. “Shouldn’t we only care about whether the item is what we want and the likelihood of getting it sent to us as we expect?”

In fact, Elfenbein and his research colleagues Ray Fisman of Boston University and Brian McManus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered that the sales divide isn’t limited to the perceived political persuasion of buyers and sellers. To varying degrees, the researchers found similar trading imbalances in states based on religiosity, ethnicity, and other measures of “cultural distance.”

The authors laid out the research in a working paper entitled, “The Impact of Socioeconomic and Cultural Differences on Online Trade,” to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in January 2019 in Atlanta.

The researchers said the divisions persisted even when the researchers controlled for population differences among states and perceived “taste preferences” among buyers and sellers. Would Californians and Floridians be more likely to trade surf gear? Would Montanans and Texans be more likely to trade hunting equipment?

“The paper was driven by a desire to understand whether these political differences were associated with the propensity of people to do business with each other—and then to rule out other explanations,” Elfenbein said. “No matter how hard we tried to rule out the idea that these political things matter, we still saw it as driving some of the trade patterns.”

The findings suggest that companies that do business across state lines should carefully consider whether their home base is meaningful for potential customers. “I would hope people in that position would have an informed opinion about whether touting their location is an advantage,” Elfenbein said. “I think marketing managers should have an informed view about whether touting their company’s location is an advantage or a disadvantage.”

Another surprise for the researchers: Buyers on eBay only know the seller’s city and state. From that, apparently, they’re extrapolating what they perceive to be the “cultural distance” between them, using that as a proxy for trustworthiness: Am I going to get what I expect to get from the seller?

The researchers did find, however, the likelihood of giving a seller negative feedback is higher when buyers are purchasing from states where the predominant political views are different from their own. It suggests that there is a tendency to be more sensitive to poor performance when they think the seller voted differently.

“There is no correlation between cultural similarity and buyer satisfaction, however, suggesting that differences in trustworthiness are not validated by actual transactions,” the researchers wrote in their paper.




If you’ve noticed a cluster of students moving around Knight Hall and Bauer Hall in similar garb, you’ve caught a glimpse of class spirit from the soon-to-graduate Shanghai EMBA class.

The 66 members of Shanghai EMBA 16 arrived in St. Louis this week for a final week of classes before today’s graduation ceremony. And their orange (for women) and blue (for men) cardigan sweaters turned more than a few heads—thanks to the inspiration of a few class members and the apparel company founded by a classmate.

Members of the EMBA Shanghai class 16 attending a last week of class before graduation on October 26.

Members of the EMBA Shanghai class 16
attending a last week of class before graduation on October 26.

“They wanted to be good-looking when they were together taking pictures. And they also wanted a souvenir of their time in the class,” said Linus Fan, founder and owner of Nena apparel company in Guangzhou, China. He put his designers to work, interviewing 10 members of the class for more information about what they wanted.

Then, he rushed the uniforms into production. Within 45 days of hatching the idea, the class had its official uniform—donated by Fan’s company.

“Mainly, we just focused on the sweaters,” he said. “They wanted to be able to wear this for a long time, even after graduating, and something that would be satisfactory for everyday wear—not too formal.”

Fan founded Nena nearly five years ago after a long career in the apparel business and a master’s degree in Manchester, England. After a number of years, he decided he needed a more broad understanding of all aspects of business, which led him to seek his MBA. The reputation of WashU’s EMBA program in partnership with Fudan University—along with its standing among global EMBA rankings—led him to join the Shanghai program.

Fan took a two-hour flight each month to and from Shanghai for his courses while running his company, which employs 215 people focused on apparel design and manufacturing, serving clients who want to market and sell their own lines of apparel in their stores.




WashU Olin’s full-time MBA program shot up six places in The Economist magazine’s latest global ranking, released today, placing it 37th in the world and 28th among US programs.

Olin’s program made a particularly strong showing among global MBA programs with a 10th-place ranking—up four spots—for the percentage of job-seeking graduates with job offers within three months of graduation.

Olin also placed 11th (up eight spots from last year) for the percentage increase in salary among alumni after graduation.

“This news continues the great story we have to tell at Olin Business School,” said Dean Mark Taylor. “I’m pleased to see our efforts rewarded in the rankings as we build our global standing among top MBA programs—particularly in areas that show the direct impact our students feel on their careers.”

The Economist’s tally builds on a selection of other positive rankings for Olin from business publications recently, including this month’s No. 6 ranking in the Financial Times for Olin’s Shanghai Executive MBA program. WashU Olin was also among the most upwardly mobile schools in the FT’s global MBA ranking in March, jumping nearly 20 places to place in the global top 50.

The Financial Times also ranked our MBA program fourth globally (third in the US, just behind Stanford and Berkeley and just ahead of Harvard) as the best MBA for women.

See more on The Economist‘s website.




Former WashU Olin Business School Dean Robert Virgil was honored as an “ageless, remarkable St. Louisan” by a prominent local nonprofit dedicated to improving living conditions for at-risk seniors.

Virgil, who was Olin’s dean from 1977 to 1993, is part of a class of 14 so-honored this year by the St. Andrew’s Charitable Foundation. The organization recognizes a new class each year of individuals 75 years old and up “who are actively making a tremendous impact in St. Louis through philanthropy, volunteerism, and leadership. These awe-inspiring individuals are proof positive that, at any age, we can make a difference in our community and the lives of others.”

Virgil was recognized with the other honorees at a gala on October 20 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch, hosted by St. Louis Public Radio’s Don Marsh. This is what the organization had to say in its write-up about 84-year-old Dean Virgil.

Bob likes to say that he has had careers with two of the world’s finest institutions, Washington University and Edward Jones. At Washington University beginning in 1960, he taught accounting to hundreds of students and from 1977-1993, was dean of the John M. Olin School of Business.

He has had numerous other roles in the university, including chairing the highly successful scholarship segment of the recently completed Leading Together campaign.

In 1993, Bob joined Edward Jones where he had responsibility for management development and was a member of the firm’s management committee. He retired as a general partner in 2007.

Bob has been involved actively with several organizations in the St. Louis community. Among them are Girls, Inc. of St. Louis, the Magic House, City Academy, Harris Stowe State University, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Gerry and Bob enjoy four grown children, 12 grandchildren, and their pup, Maisie.

The 2018 class of “ageless, remarkable St. Louisans” also includes: Jorge M. Alegre, M.D.; Margaret (Marge) Aylward; Mariann Laue Baker; Shirley and Charles Drury, Sr.; Paul J. Gallant; Dr. Ron Gregory; Carol Powell; Jay C. Rickmeyer; Harvey G. Schneider; Mary Ann and Richard Shaw; and Ted C. Vargas, M.D.




Pictured with their medals from the Teradata Analytics Competition: Di Ai; Songyi Wang; Ariel Tien; Eileen Liu; Olin faculty advisor Yulia Nevskaya; and Ziwei Lu.

Teradata competition trophy.A team of five students in Olin’s business analytics program prevailed over 44 other teams and took first place in a global competition this week with a project that provided the National Multiple Sclerosis Society with invaluable insight about its annual fundraising bike race.

Di Ai, Eileen Liu, Ziwei Lu, Ariel Tien, and Songyi Wang—all MSCA ’18—learned this week they had won the Teradata Data Challenge in the midst of the massive Teradata Corporation industry conference in Las Vegas, which ends today.

“I am passionate about using and decoding data to do something good, and I feel honored that the analyses we’ve done for Bike MS have been recognized as the best,” said Ariel Tien, the team’s leader. “This award has definitely entrusted us with the responsibility of encouraging more students at the school to participate in these kind of competitions, which can bring a positive change to society.”

The months-long process, which took the students more than 500 hours of work, began in early spring with an analysis of the NMSS’s data and a submitted PowerPoint presentation and written report in April. From there, industry experts, data scientists, and business executives served as judges, whittling down the submissions to five finalists, who were given the opportunity to give a six-minute presentation about their findings to judges in Las Vegas.

Competitors all faced the same problem: NMSS holds Bike MS charity races. The organization was concerned about falling participation, acquisition of new participants, and donation amounts. Students were asked to offer insights from the NMSS data and recommend ways to address the trend.

Olin students developed a machine-learning predictive model that identified when a particular Bike MS team captain was about to roll out of the program, causing churn; they also used clustering analysis to re-segment the hosting cities into new tiers with recommended strategies for each tier.

“The students argued—using data—that it’s cheaper to invest in retaining a captain than in acquiring new participants for the race to replace the lost captain,” said Yulia Nevskaya, assistant professor of marketing and the team’s faculty advisor.

Teradata, the largest data warehousing company in the world, holds a board seat at Olin’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights.

“It is great to see our MSCA students showcasing their skills at such a highly-attended industry conference and building our school’s reputation,” said Seethu Seetharaman, director of the CABI and faculty director of the specialized master’s in business analytics program.

WATCH: WashU Olin’s team announced as the winner

Pictured above with their medals from the Teradata Data Challenge: Di Ai; Songyi Wang; Ariel Tien; Eileen Liu; Olin faculty advisor Yulia Nevskaya; and Ziwei Lu.


Hundreds of students, business leaders, and alumni assembled at Olin for the school’s first “Data for Good” workshop on October 5, 2018. The event shined a spotlight on WashU Olin’s focused approach toward values-based, data-driven decision-making among its students by drawing together industry experts who spoke of using big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, to make material improvements in their businesses—and the community at large.

The Center for Analytics and Business Insights and the Bauer Leadership Center co-sponsored by the daylong workshop. Here are some quotes and highlights from the event. And don’t forget to check out the attached video (above).

Jake Porway, keynote speaker and the CEO and founder of DataKind: “The whole reason we’re talking about data for good at all is that in the last 10 years, we’ve dramatically changed out world. There’s now more cellphones on the planet than people, we’re instrumenting our bodies to measure everything from our heartbeats to what tugs at our heartstrings.”

David Stiffler, vice president, global corporate responsibility, Equifax: Using data to create social impact “makes a ton of sense. But if I’m only talking to my leaders about philanthropy and charity, they’re only going to pay attention on the weekend. I needed to stop talking about this in passionate terms, but talk about it in terms of the bottom line. They had to see there was something more than a PR or charitable brand stamp on an event.”

Chris Merz, vice president, product development and innovation, Mastercard: Finance companies are leveraging the power of data, AI, and machine learning to recognize “out of pattern” behavior in customers’ credit card usage—even to the point of noting when users don’t enter a password with their usual cadence. “Moving to chips on credit cards was a big cue to fraudsters to move online. That was the path of least resistance. The most common point of exploitation is online.”

Cindy Riordan, chief information officer, city of St. Louis: “Data-driven decision-making is a big pillar in Mayor (Lyda) Krewson’s administration.” Partnering with the Open Data Project to create a database of vacant properties in the city “lit a spark in our staff and made us look for more partnerships. We can’t do it by ourselves. This opportunity to partner with volunteers has been a great asset. I challenge you to look at how you can partner.”

John Ose, director of analytics, Ameren: “We use our data to try and find ways to help our community, helping those in need. For us, it’s about powering the quality of life.”

Read more about the Data for Good workshop, featuring an interview with Tony Sardella, adjunct lecturer in business strategy and CEO of evolve24, a panelist at the workshop.