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.
When we unveiled the new brand strategy for WashU Olin Business School a year ago today, Dean Mark Taylor made a point of saying we weren’t changing who we are as a school. The notion of a business education that is values-based and data-driven—a key pillar of Olin’s strategic plan and our brand identity—has been there since Olin’s beginning.
“Values-based and data-driven is not something we just dreamed up. It’s imprinted in our DNA,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of Olin’s Bauer Leadership Center. “We don’t do enough here to clarify and take pride in our heritage.”
Actually, the notion predates the existence of the business school itself.
William F. Gephardt, who would become the first dean of the WashU “School of Commerce and Finance” in 1917, drafted a lengthy memo to Frederic Aldin Hall, the sixth chancellor of WashU, three years earlier to argue the case for the business school he envisioned.
Only a page into the typewritten document—and in the gender-exclusive language of the era—he writes that “the vision of the business man must be both far and wide. He must not only see the numerous and seemingly conflicting facts, but he must be able to analyze them.”
Sounds a lot like data-driven decision-making, no?
On the very next page of the 15-page document, Gephardt writes a bit more expansively:
“Many men in business rightly view with alarm some of the governmental tendencies in regulating business. This threatened and actually experienced undesirable restriction on business enterprise has resulted from two causes:
“(a) The excesses of a minor number of business men who in their zeal to secure private profits have needlessly sacrificed public interests.
“(b) The demagogue in office or desiring office, who would sacrifice public interests to further his political success.
“The properly trained business man will act as a restraining influence on each class. He will set an example of good private business that is also good public business…”
Does anyone else hear “values-based” in that description?
Bunderson, the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance, uses these quotes in a class he co-teaches with Seethu Seetharaman. The course is called Values-Based, Data-Driven Decision-Making.
The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni (and Dean Taylor) 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.
In 2007 and 2008, as world markets tumbled into history’s worst global financial crisis, Mark Taylor was managing the European arm of a $10 billion global hedge fund—and 95 percent of his clients were pension funds. The crisis demanded staff reductions in his team, and with returns down, remaining employees took massive hits to their incentive-based compensation.
“How do you motivate a staff when you’re in the middle of a financial crisis?” Taylor asked. Part of the answer: Leverage as much data as possible to analyze long- term fundamentals—recognizing that the crisis had rendered much conventional analysis unworkable. The goal: Stem losses and preserve as much wealth as possible.
But another part of the answer meant Taylor had to reinforce for his team the reasons they came to work every day.
“This was other people’s money. If we walked away, people’s pension funds could disappear,” he said. When he met with pension fund trustees, he asked them to invite some of the retirees themselves, placing them across the table from his own junior and senior staff members.
His team responded positively to the motivation. And in the darkest moment, Taylor said, his fund was down about 10 percent when world markets were down 40 percent. The fund rebounded sharply the next year.
Ja Song, who was a student on the vanguard of WashU’s earliest links with Korea and rose to become president of one of its top universities, died on August 22.
Song was among the first Korean students to come to Washington University when the US government tapped Olin Business School to work with two South Korean universities to rehabilitate their business programs after the war in that country. Song earned his MBA from Olin in 1962 and his doctorate in business administration from the school in 1967.
South Korean news sources reported last week on Song’s death at age 82. He had served as the 12th president of Yonsei University from 1992 to 1996. The same reports indicated Song had also led Myongji University and the Cyber University of Korea before serving as South Korea’s minister of education in 2000. Olin named Song a distinguished alumnus in 2003 when he was CEO of Daekyo Co. Ltd., South Korea’s leading educational information service provider.
While leading Yonsei, he and then-Chancellor Mark S.
Wrighton launched a student exchange agreement between Yonsei and WashU. Song
also served as a member of WashU’s International Advisory Council for
‘A very good friend’
“More than anyone, he maintained the connection of the
school with Korea, and that’s continued through to the present day,” said
Robert Virgil, WashU Olin dean emeritus and a contemporary of Song’s in the
business school in the early 1960s. “I remember him as a very good friend,
dedicated academic, a very serious person and a great ambassador of his country
and of the Olin school.”
In an interview with Olin Business School in 2017, Song was effusive in his praise of the contribution WashU made through the so-called “Korea Project,” partnering students and faculty with their counterparts at Yonsei and Korea universities to establish quality business curricula at the two schools.
“It was not only trying to train the teacher, they
trained industry people,” Song said on the occasion of Olin’s 100th
anniversary. “They had conferences for them. That project had many purposes to
help us know the new developments and skills in teaching about business.”
After graduating in 1962, Song served a mandatory
16-month tour in the South Korean army and returned to Olin to earn his
doctorate in accounting. He taught for 10 years at the University of
Connecticut, then he taught in Korea until 1992 when he began his tenure as
‘A great champion of Olin’
“Ja Song was a great champion of Olin Business School,
Yonsei University and other business schools,” said former Olin Dean Mahendra
Gupta. “He was instrumental in re-establishing relationships with Yonsei and
starting the global master of finance program.”
Media reports from South Korea said Song had received
honors from his country in 1997 for his contributions to education and alumni
honors from Yonsei in 1998 and 2003. School officials noted that Song was instrumental
in starting Yonsei’s first school development fund, raising 100 billion won
during his tenure—or about $82.3 million today.
He was reportedly involved with a number of South Korean social service agencies for children and wrote several groundbreaking accounting textbooks.
Song’s survivors include his wife, Tak Soon-hee, his daughters Eun-mi Song and Jeong-yeon Song, and his sons-in-law Park Ki-nam and Choi Jae-hoon. Funeral services were reportedly held the morning of August 26 on the Yonsei University grounds.
A WashU Olin
professor has been honored with a certificate of “recognition and sincere
appreciation” from the government of Madagascar for her contributions and the development
of the Mahabo region where she’s worked with students for more than a decade.
An official from the country’s federal government made an arduous, hours-long journey from the nation’s capital of Antananarivo to recognize Judi McClean Parks in May while she was working with yet another class of students.
Since 2007, Parks has worked on projects in collaboration with the
Missouri Botanical Garden, projects designed to guide remote Malagasy citizens
to create sustainable solutions to everyday problems that affect their lives while
protecting the region’s ecology.
Parks, Olin’s Reuben C. and Anne Carpenter Taylor Professor of
Organizational Behavior, said she was grateful for the recognition from the
‘My heart and soul’
personally it means a lot. This class is literally my heart and soul,” Parks
said. “This is my ‘heart’ course. It’s the one that gives me the right to
explain myself when I meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. It validates the work
The course takes as many as 20 students to a remote corner of the island nation each May to work with Malagasy residents. The projects stem from issues the residents themselves raise, and some have been revisited for further development and refinements from year to year. More than 160 students have participated.
The projects derive from a careful drill-down to discern the root cause
of a larger issue. For example, Malagasy women might say they want healthier
children—a problem too broad to tackle. By drilling down, Parks and the
students discover that poor nutrition, a slow-growing crop (rice) and a long “season
of death” (with nothing to harvest) underpins the core issue.
Ultimately, they realize a program of field enrichment could help Malagasies
address the core of issue of sickly babies. (Read
about another example—Project
“The projects do spread, but they spread slowly,” Parks said. “We let
people adopt or not adopt projects we bring to them.”
The garden connection
The botanical garden connection stems from the ability of Olin faculty
and students to help the Malagasies develop sustainable solutions to their
problems without stripping bare the resources of the rich flora and fauna in
the region. Parks works closely with Armand
Randrianasolo, a Madagascar-born PhD botanist from the botanical garden who is
now a US citizen.
Parks said she was deeply honored by the government’s gesture and
humbled by the way they presented it.
“They were very
proud to be presenting it in English,” she said. “And they wrote the whole
certificate in English so it would be for me.”
The presentation came at the same time the students presented their
projects to the Malagasies they hoped would adopt their solutions.
“It was validating because it felt for so long that this was an
isolated program,” Parks said. “I don’t want to diminish what the students get
out of it. They can have the experience of actually helping someone and seeing
how the largest portion of the world actually lives.”
After living in China as an expat for five years, Zach Frantz came home to the Midwest to start his WashU MBA. A few weeks later, he was back, viewing China with fresh eyes as he launched into a study of business models in a global environment.
Frantz, MBA ’21,
was one among nearly 100 first-year students on the final leg of a long ‘round-the-world
trip to launch their MBA studies. After two weeks in St. Louis, the
students spent a week in Washington, DC, two weeks in Barcelona and on July 25,
landed in Beijing to start the final phase of their journey.
The students had
two days to explore the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace
before they decamped by bullet train on a four-and-a-half-hour trip to Shanghai
“For sure, I’m
looking at China and business models very differently. Before, I’d try to look
at a business model and see how a company makes money, but this has really
given me a much stronger framework to understand how decisions are made,” Frantz
said in the midst of a morning excursion with his team, collecting first-hand
data on pastry and coffee shops.
was a key component of the “Business Models in a Global Climate” course taught
Elfenbein and Anne
Marie Knott. The students have divided their time between lectures and
simulations conducted inside a downtown Shanghai hotel ballroom and trips into
the field to collect real-world data to bring the lectures to life.
The course turns
on a simple question: Should St. Louis-based Strange Donuts consider an offer to
expand in the Shanghai market? Answering that question required a foundation in
business models and an in-the-field examination of the competitive landscape.
Great progress—and adjustment
For the most
part, the students’ time has been heavily programmed with classwork, team
projects, outside reading, presentations and field excursions.
morning’s excursion, Associate Dean Patrick Moreton—the chief organizer of the
global immersion—congratulated the students on the progress they’d made over
their first week in Shanghai.
and engaging with the environment in a way we’ve never seen before,” Moreton
said, citing the papers, presentations and simulation results students have
submitted. “You’re doing a great job and while you might not be seeing it, we’re
feeling good about the learning outcomes we’re getting.”
noted that the faculty and staff were responding to student feedback by tweaking
and adjusting the workload to ensure students could balance learning with additional
opportunities to get out into the community.
Frantz was enthusiastic about the work, however. A Midwestern boy who worked as a math teacher for four years in Kunming in China’s Yunnan province and a year as a translator in Shenzhen, he chose WashU Olin because he was ready to return to his network of friends and family in the Midwest—and because of Olin’s newly launched global immersion.
He said the
program had already given him new data-driven tools to help him evaluate
business in a more sophisticated way and that he was excited to return to St.
Louis to start the core curriculum.
“If school is
easy, why would you pay a bunch of money to come here?” he asked. “I came here
to be challenged and push myself.”
Coursework and data
collection in the field continues next week with course by Fuqiang
Zhang and Lingxiu
Dong on “Business Operations in a Global Context.” Students complete their trip
around the global on August 15 when they return to St. Louis.
Pictured at top: Duckenson Joseph, MBA ’21,
questioning a store clerk at one of the Shanghai coffee shops he visited with
his counterparts on team 10.
In early 2017, WashU Olin marketing alum Diana Zeng decided to launch the greatest rebranding campaign of her young career.
The product was Diana Zeng.
Until that January day, the “Diana Zeng brand” was about developing marketing strategies for startup organizations and nonprofits. By the end of the process, the brand was about a new career in the fine arts. The new Diana Zeng was all-in as a painter.
In between, she retooled the product and, for a time, even identified herself by a riff on her Chinese name—Zen She—to separate the “old” Diana from the new. She devoured biographies of fine artists and plunged herself into developing her studio practice so she could unleash the artist she knew had always been inside.
“I’d been working with startups since graduating. I saw that they often built something from nothing. That’s essentially what being an artist is: starting something from nothing,” said Zeng, BSBA ’14. “I took it seriously.”
The business of the arts
Two years in—with the confidence that she can support herself as an artist—Zeng is returning to Olin to speak to some of the first students in WashU Olin’s minor in the business of the arts. The genesis of the new business minor was a $1 million donation from Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, and his wife, Linda, inspired by their daughter’s experience as a fine arts student.
The new program targets students in the creative arts who want to make a career of their talent, but need to understand how to run their careers like a small business—complete with a grasp of marketing and branding, pricing, customer relationship management and finances.
Glenn MacDonald, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy, will teach one of the foundational courses of the minor — “the business of art” — and invited Zeng to speak to his students on October 3.
“Diana is an Olin graduate who used her business skills to fashion a visual art business that allows her to make the art she loves while paying the bills,” MacDonald said. “She is an excellent example of the outcome we anticipate for the students who complete our class.”
In some ways, Zeng is the mirror image of the students targeted for the business of the arts minor. Instead of an artist needing business acumen, she was a business student who had never met an artist or visited an art museum growing up. The closest she’d come as a child to making art was learning Chinese calligraphy and ink painting in Chinese school.
She had harbored an interest in art, however, and she took her father’s advice as an undergraduate: major in business, but use every elective to explore other interests. She took courses in queer theory, poetry and nature, and art classes at the Sam Fox School—enough, in fact, to earn a minor in fine art.
A day of reckoning
A year before Zeng’s graduation, while seriously involved with Sam Coster, the WashU 2012 grad she’d met in her freshman year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A year of treatments forced the disease into remission—for a bit.
By the fall of 2016, the lymphoma had returned and, once again, been beaten back. Zeng and Coster had begun a New Year tradition, asking each other: If you had a year to live, what would you do?
By then, Zeng had held several marketing positions with St. Louis-area nonprofits and startups. The pair had married in October. A month later, the presidential election made them consider drastic changes. In January, as 2017 began, Coster asked Zeng: “If you had a year to live, what would you do?”
“I’d paint,” Zeng blurted out.
And thus began the process—outlined thoroughly on Zeng’s own website—that led her to remake her career and pursue her passion.
“The first year and the second year of my art career have looked drastically different. The first year wasn’t so much focused on making art. It was very difficult and very dark and it wasn’t great,” Zeng said. “The second year has really been about challenging myself and the creation of art. It’s been fulfilling in a really great way. It hasn’t been a very linear progression.”
Sharing the experience
Today, she’s grateful for the business background she gained and can draw a direct line from that experience to her early success as a professional painter, supporting herself in the fine arts. In fact, her first solo exhibition opens Aug. 23 at St. Louis’s Bonsack Gallery.
With that experience comes an appreciation for branding and marketing, for telling her story and finding an audience for that story. It also taught her how to value the work.
“The intrinsic value of my work is important. Understand the value of your work: I say that over and over again to artists,” Zeng said. She has benchmarked herself against other artists at her career stage—and those whose career trajectory she aspires to emulate. Assigning value—a sticker price—to her work is difficult, but necessary.
Under-price it and you cast doubt on whether the work has value. Overprice it and—well, you don’t make the rent. And yet, Zeng said, “It’s the hardest thing to let go of a piece of work and sell it. I genuinely love it and hate it. I want to keep all my work.”
Though hard, it’s not impossible, of course, and a business approach to her career is key. Zeng said artists must not shy away from viewing their work as a business or approaching art as a career.
“It does not interfere with the integrity of your work,” she said. “Connecting how art and business are aligned—I didn’t have that experience in school. This minor wasn’t available. It definitely would have made the possibility of going into art feel more feasible.”