As communications director for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I'm also a U College adjunct faculty member in communications. I've worked for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management as communications director and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.
In one project, WashU Olin students developed a new and untested go-to-market strategy for a St. Louis-area startup—plus, they identified additional opportunities within the company’s existing strategy.
In another, students worked with a different startup to organize and segment thousands of contacts in the company’s database, helping to target the contacts most likely to be converted to customers.
The two cases are examples drawn from one of WashU Olin’s newest courses, the Marketing Clinic for Startups, launched in spring 2020 and taught by Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship.
“The class creates an opportunity for students to work on a half-semester practicum focused on helping real-life St. Louis startups tackle their sales and marketing challenges,” Wall said. “The inaugural class went incredibly well.”
The course aligns both with Olin’s focus on its strategic pillars of excellence—particularly those around values-based, data-driven decision-making and entrepreneurship—and on WashU’s broader focus on serving the greater St. Louis community.
The course is something of a counterpart to an existing class offered through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, the Metrics Clinic in Finance. Both task teams of students to work with startup companies to tackle real-world problems.
“We received great insights in the new market as well as validation on our current strategies,” said Fady Hawatmeh, founder and CEO of Clockwork, which uses artificial intelligence to create a customizable tool for businesses to create financial projections, cash flow forecasts, metrics and scenarios all in one place, in real-time.
Hawatmeh was among the startups that participated with student teams in the debut of the Marketing Clinic for Startups. His team worked on go-to-market recommendations. “We’ve made some adjustments based on the team’s findings to our marketing material and our content strategy.”
Fridaouss Nabine was also a client. She’s a mentoring expert and founder of Fyrst Gen, an online platform built to help first-generation college students and business professionals promote their businesses, build their personal brands and connect with other “first gens.”
“The recommendations were extremely helpful in determining our ideal customer profile and segmenting accordingly,” Nabine said. “While we didn’t build the contact-rating system they suggested, we cleaned the list to prioritize those who were most likely to convert to customers.”
Both entrepreneurs connected with Wall and the CEL through the St. Louis region’s startup network—Hawatmeh, through the Arch Grants startup competition, which provides funding for locally based startups, and Nabine through the CEL’s relationship with the T-Rex business incubator, where she is based. Wall is continuing to look for new project opportunities within the St. Louis startup ecosystem.
Wall also said the course is now open BSBA students, as well as marketing and entrepreneurship students in the MBA programs, “so, it’s a course for all Olin programs which is pretty exciting.”
Pictured above: A student team from the CEL meets to discuss a project (photographed before the pandemic).
In the summer of 1993, in the midst of work on her MBA at WashU Olin, Nina Leigh Krueger scored a brand management internship with Nestlé Purina PetCare. After graduation, she landed a full-time job there—and she’s never looked back.
On Monday, Krueger was named the first female CEO of Nestlé Purina PetCare for the Americas after rising like a shot through the ranks of the company during her 27-year career. She assumes the post January 1.
“I truly am honored by this opportunity,” Krueger said in a statement released on Monday by the company. “I look forward to working with our Purina team to accelerate our strong momentum and to build on our more than 90-year history of making science-based dog and cat foods, treats and cat litter that pet owners trust.”
Krueger will become the company’s eighth CEO, succeeding Joseph R. Sivewright, who will become chairman. Sivewright praised Krueger in the announcement, saying, “Nina Leigh is the perfect choice to lead this company into a winning future,” he said. “She has played a vital role in our many successes during a time of great complexity in the pet care business.”
Krueger was honored as a WashU Olin distinguished alumna in 2017. In a tribute video made for her at the time, Sivewright also praised her business acumen and her business contributions, but also her respect for work-life balance in a corporate setting and family. “Nina Leigh knows how fortunate she is,” he said. “She gives back. She pays it forward.”
Krueger assumes the role after serving since 2016 as the company’s first female president. A year prior, Krueger was named chief marketing officer. Seven years after joining the company, corporate executives tapped Krueger to integrate two marketing departments when Nestlé acquired Purina in 2001.
Around the time she was named a distinguished alumna, Krueger had been credited with closing a 10-year agreement with the Westminster Kennel Club, making Purina Pro Plan the exclusive pet food sponsor for the club’s famous annual dog show—extending an agreement that began in 2012.
In an Olin Blog post in 2015, when she was named chief marketing officer, Krueger said earning her MBA gave her the skill and vision to see the big picture throughout her career.
“Olin taught me how to ask smart questions,” Krueger said at that time. “While my focus was marketing, the broad base of the program also gave me a grounding in areas like operations and accounting. I’ve discovered that leadership is not just knowing the answers. Often, it is about knowing the right questions to ask.”
On the strength of the many startups launched by recent WashU Olin students, the school once again snagged the No. 1 spot in Poets & Quants 2020 ranking of top MBA entrepreneurship programs.
For the second year in a row—and in the second year of the ranking’s existence—Olin placed ahead of 49 other schools evaluated in the ranking published by P&Q and Inc. magazine today. Olin also scored the No. 1 ranking for global entrepreneurship in 2019.
P&Q hosted an online panel event today highlighting the top contenders, including an interview with Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor and Doug Villhard, academic director of Olin’s entrepreneurship program.
Villhard gave credit to his predecessor, Clifford Holekamp, who retired from the role in 2019. “Over the last 10 years Cliff and others laid a solid foundation,” Villhard said. “The ranking validates those efforts and justifies our plans to take the program to even higher levels than it is today. We will be continually innovating. The ranking just adds more fuel to the fire.”
The ranking measured participating schools across 10 categories, including the number of recently established startups by students and alumni, the number of students involved in venture capital, funding raised by student- or alumni-led startups, dedicated entrepreneurship courses and more.
“We are deeply gratified to once again see WashU Olin’s substantial investment in entrepreneurship and innovation recognized by Poets & Quants in this ranking,” Dean Taylor said. “We long ago tightened our focus on fostering the endless creativity of our students. That’s why entrepreneurship is one of Olin’s four pillars of excellence.”
Villhard also credited the three “legs of the stool” that support the program: a robust suite of courses and experiential learning offerings, the rich entrepreneurial ecosystem of the St. Louis region, and the ambitious, creative students who bring their ideas to the table.
Some components of the Olin approach
Olin’s entrepreneurship program includes 21 courses specifically targeting the discipline. Meanwhile, fully 90% of the school’s MBA courses deal with content related to entrepreneurship.
Additionally, Olin, in partnership with the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, runs a foundational course called the Hatchery—one of the nation’s oldest startup business planning courses. Since its inception, startups spawned in the Hatchery have raised more than $87 million, created 466 positions in St. Louis and filed for 17 provisional patents to date.
Last year, Olin also introduced the Holekamp Seed Fund, providing $1,000 grants to help students “move to action” with their startup ideas. Students are asked to pay that support forward.
Poets & Quants’ recognition
In its story about the 2020 ranking, Poets & Quants noted that nearly one in five Olin MBAs had launched a business within three years of graduation between 2017 and 2019, the highest percentage among the 50 schools ranked.
“Besides topping the list for the highest percentage of graduates to launch businesses, the school placed among the top 15 in eight out of 10 other categories,” the publication wrote. WashU Olin “dished out $738,000 in startup award cash to MBAs during the 2019-2020 academic year. A third of its student-run MBA clubs are focused on entrepreneurship or innovation. It boasts more than 25,000-square-feet of accelerator space for just 221 enrolled full-time MBAs.”
Poets & Quants also highlighted a key advantage of Olin’s program, the ecosystem in which it operates: “That commitment to entrepreneurial thinking occurs in a metro environment that has encouraged new venture creation.”
Babson College, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School rounded out the top five in the ranking of 50 programs.
Villhard said the ranking has made a difference in how students approach WashU Olin. “Before the 2019 ranking, students were discovering entrepreneurship once they got on campus,” he said. “Now, they are coming here for it. They are engaging with us on Day 1.”
The Poets & Quants video event today featured a panel of students and alumni from Olin’s program in a panel discussion about how WashU supported their startup efforts.
“I was particularly drawn to Olin because its curriculum offered options for students to focus their studies on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship,” Shannon Turner, MBA ’18, said before the event. Turner is the founder of the Maria Lida Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting self-sustaining economic development in Alausi, Ecuador.
Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, founder of men’s clothing accessory site Tylmen, said he was drawn to Olin and its entrepreneurship program by the strength of its faculty, including Villhard. Tylmen’s direct-to-consumer line of accessories includes face masks that double as pocket squares.
Tying together Olin’s pillars of excellence
“Olin is a very rigorous program that takes a values-based and data-driven approach to strategy and problem-solving,” Yates said. “I’ve benefited from the program thus far through gaining incredible perspective. All my classmates come from different backgrounds and have something unique to bring to every table.”
Villhard said he expects further growth in the program as the school and Washington University explore entrepreneurial partnerships with WashU’s highly ranked engineering and medical schools. Increasingly, Olin is gaining access to capital to fund Olin MBA startup businesses. And additionally, Olin’s brand and alumni base are global, creating opportunities to expand coursework and build partnerships in Silicon Valley, New York City and internationally.
See Taylor and Villhard’s “fireside chat” with John Byrne
“I am being exposed to many CEOs of start-ups within the St. Louis area,” said Tova Feinberg, MBA ’22, cofounder of S.T.L. Loaves, an e-commerce bakery business. “This has allowed me to connect and learn about their personal experience as well as receive advise on my future goals and my current startup.”
Although the entrepreneurship ranking puts a premium on students and alumni who have launched startups, Villhard notes that isn’t the path most MBA students take—though entrepreneurship remains an important component of their business school education.
“The majority of students put their entrepreneurial mindset to work in corporate environments, venture capital firms, private equity firms, existing startups, or existing social entrepreneurial entities,” he said. “There is a misconception that entrepreneurship is only about starting new companies. It’s actually about innovation—a highly desired skill for any industry.”
Harris Frank, a longtime benefactor to WashU Olin whose vision and support of Olin students launched the successful Computer Comfort program for seniors, died on October 19, 2020. He was 95.
Mr. Frank was a longtime icon of business and philanthropy in the St. Louis community. He worked in his career for Gershman Commercial Real Estate and was a supporter of organizations including City Academy, Danforth Plant Science Center, Memory Care Home Solutions, the OASIS institute and St. Andrews Charitable Foundation. In 2014, he was honored with the Spirit of Philanthropy Award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals of St. Louis.
That same year, Mr. Frank made one of his more enduring contributions at Olin by serving as the inspiration and founder of Computer Comfort, a project begun originally with Olin MBAs. The program provides student-run classes for senior adults who want to understand how to better use computers, email and the internet.
Student volunteers show participants how to operate their computers, pick a password and navigate the web, and they work with the senior students on creating email accounts and other basics of navigating technology.
“This has been going on for a number of years. It has been a fabulous program,” said Steve Malter, senior associate dean of experiential learning and strategic programs at Olin. “Harris was the founder, financial supporter and biggest advocate.”
To launch the program, Mr. Frank worked with Malter and Mahendra Gupta, Olin’s dean at the time and the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management.
In a video about the program for Olin Business School, Mr. Frank recalled getting help himself with a computer problem from a student—a student, he learned, who had made a small business in his hometown by helping seniors with their tech. That inspired Mr. Frank to push forward a broader program at WashU that is now also operating at the University of Iowa.
“They’re enthusiastic about it. Nobody is paying them, nobody is pushing them to do it. They don’t get any extra credit for doing it. They just want to do it,” Mr. Frank said in the video. “Because of their enthusiasm, they really instill comfort with these seniors.”
Mr. Frank gave to a wide variety of causes at Washington University. He supported an endowed scholarship at Olin and Brown School scholarships. He had been involved in Olin’s Scholars in Business program since 1993. In 2009, Mr. Frank and his wife, Judy, donated Alexander Archipenko’s Espagnole (1957) to the Kemper Art Museum in honor of his mother, Ruth Frank.
Mr. Frank served on the National Council for Arts & Sciences and on Olin’s Eliot Society Membership Committee.
“He was a truly inspirational man,” said Lynn Wittels, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, where Mr. Frank had served as board chair. “Harris was an amazing icon in the Jewish community—serving not just in leadership roles at the ‘J,’ but at Shaare Emeth and other institutions across the region.”
An obituary published by Shaare Emeth credits Mr. Frank for “conceiving the idea for the Senior Olympics, a movement that now spans all 50 states and boasts 350,000 participants nationwide.” The games—launched in St. Louis in 1987—were renamed the National Senior Games after objections from the US Olympic Committee, according to the organization’s website.
Mr. Frank is survived by daughter Nancy Hauserman (Daniel Benton) and son H. John Frank, Jr. (Jan); grandchildren William McGrory, Tyler Frank (JD ’02) (Kathryne), Molly Hubbard (Jack) and Katie Fallet (Mark); six great-grandchildren; and partner Renee Hartstein. Another relative also has WashU degrees: nephew John Lesser, AB ’65/MA ’70.
A WashU alum who earned his finance degree from Olin in 2004 is competing—along with his wife—in the newest season of “The Amazing Race” for the chance to win $1 million. The season starts tonight, October 14, 2020.
Chee Lee, BS ’04, earned double majors in finance and computer science from Washington University and now works in Texas as senior director for financial planning and analysis at Academy Sports+Outdoors. He and wife, Hung Nguyen, are one among 11 teams who started on season 32 of the hit CBS reality television competition show.
“At first, we hesitated to apply given we had three children,” Lee said in an email to the Olin Blog. “But during one of our newborn’s colicky nighttime rages, we decided it’s never going to be a ‘good’ time to do it. So we just made a video and submitted it.”
The couple applied four times before landing an interview. That was followed by a weeklong audition and a final callback to actually compete on the show in 2018—for the season that starts today.
“The Race was a life-changing experience, and we can’t wait to re-live the moments now that it’s finally airing,” Lee said.
The network says the “teams begin their adventure, which filmed prior to the global outbreak of the coronavirus, at the iconic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and travel to their first destination, Trinidad and Tobago,” according to the show’s website.
The competition pits teams in a globe-trotting race through France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Brazil and more. The teams find clues along the way. Those clues lead each team to another destination or to a task they must compete.
In their bios on the show website, Lee, 38, and Nguyen, 39, express a mutual desire for an extraordinary experience by participating in the competition. “I want to laugh a lot with my wife,” Lee says, responding to a question about what he hopes to get out of the experience. Nguyen’s answer: “My husband and I never went on a honeymoon. This is the ultimate honeymoon!”
Lee and Nguyen’s competitors include former NFL players, car salespeople, professional volleyball players and software engineers.
Pictured at top: Chee Lee, BS ’04, who earned a double major in finance from Olin and computer science, and his wife, Hung Hguyen, in a promotional photo for season 32 of “The Amazing Race” (courtesy CBS Television).
Sidney H. Guller, an alum and longtime benefactor to WashU Olin who, along with his wife, Bobette, cofounded the school’s Scholars in Business Program, died over the weekend a month shy of his 97th birthday.
The funeral announcement said Mr. Guller, BSBA ’47, had died on October 3, 2020, surrounded by his family.
The Scholars in Business program began in 1979 with 14 founding scholarships, led by Mr. Guller and Bobette. Since then, the program has benefitted 6,000 students and has grown to support more than 500 students annually. The couple also established the Bobette and Sidney Guller Endowed Scholarship in 1979.
In a 2014 Olin Business magazine story, Mr. Guller recalled how he was inspired to start the program by his own experience working at a title company in Clayton, Missouri, to scrape together the $250 annual tuition for Washington University at the time.
“I realized at that age how important it was to help students stay in school and achieve their dreams,” he said.
Deeply involved with Olin
After graduation, Mr. Guller joined his brother, Harold, at Essex Industries Inc., a defense and aerospace industry supplier. Eventually, he became the company’s CFO and treasurer and served as chairman of the board and would continue coming into the office until the COVID-19 shutdown early this year.
“Sidney has been an extraordinary friend to Olin, as well as to me personally since my arrival as dean,” said Mark P. Taylor, dean of Olin Business School. “The number of students who have benefitted from his involvement and his financial support is incalculable. I will always be thankful for his support and generosity.”
Mr. Guller was named an Olin distinguished alumnus in 1990 and honored as the Dean’s Medalist in 2011. He has been a member of the school’s capital gifts committee and has served on Olin’s Eliot Society Membership Committee. He was also a Life Member of the Eliot Society, and was a founding sponsor of the Scholars in Business Program.
“Over and over through the decades, deans of the Olin School would ask Sidney to serve, assist, and contribute. He never said no,” said Robert Virgil, Olin dean emeritus. “His passion was for endowing scholarships, helping make it possible for students of all backgrounds and circumstances to come to Washington University.”
It is noteworthy that he provided scholarships for as many as 113 students over three decades and was particularly focused on providing scholarships for MBA students in the 3/2 program—merging an undergraduate and MBA degree into five years.
‘Very special friend’
“Sid was a very special friend. I talked with him in June and we were planning to get together for lunch once it is safe,” said Mahendra Gupta, former Olin dean and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management. “Sid was an exemplary champion of Olin, a gentle giant, a devoted husband, a loving grandfather, and a generous soul. He knew how to live in the present and set sights higher for the future. Sid will always have a very special place in the history of Olin and in the hearts of many.”
In addition to his other service to Olin, Mr. Guller had served on the Business Alumni Association, as an executive chair of his class reunion committee and as a member of Olin’s National Council.
Quite a number of Mr. Guller’s family members also attended WashU, including nephew Keith Guller, EMBA ’89; niece Susan Guller, LA ’79; nephew Eric Fox, BSBA ’00; grandson Evan Waldman, EMBA ’09 (now CEO of Essex Industries); and grandson Corey Waldman, EMBA ’16.
Mr. Guller was preceded in death by his wife, Bobette “Bobbi” Guller. He is survived by daughters Deni Kronenberg (Joel), Jody Waldman (Mickey), Nanci Seigel Manson (Roy) and Robyn Levy-Marino (Mark Miller); grandchildren Evan Waldman (Kami), Todd Waldman (Diana), Corey Waldman (Rachel), Bryan Siegel, Erika Isard (Phillip), Jordan Santo, Emily Marino, Samantha Manson and Jacqui Manson; great-grandchildren Landon Waldman, Parker Waldman, Sawyer Waldman, Logan Waldman, Grace Waldman, Teddy Waldman and Jackson Waldman; brother Maurice (Rachel) Guller; and sisters-in-law Judi Elman (Bob) and Bette Fox (Richard Lyss).
Services for Mr. Guller’s are scheduled for October 6 at 2 p.m. Personal attendance is limited to protect the health and safety of others; however, the service will be livestreamed. Visit bergermemorialchapel.com for the link.
Pictured at top: Sidney Guller, center, with members of his family at the 2016 Olin scholarship dinner.