Author: Molly Cruitt

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About Molly Cruitt

Molly Cruitt is the digital content specialist for Olin Business School. She is passionate about telling great stories and showing the lesser-known side of things. Molly holds a master of arts in communication from Saint Louis University and loves dogs, food, and crafting.


Starting a new master’s program in business can be tough for anyone. Starting that program in a specialized, complex academic area after moving to the university from another country with its own set of values, cultures, and languages? That’s beyond daunting. But each year, students in the specialized master’s program come from across the globe to get an education—and a broader mindset—at Olin.

This year, the Office of Graduate Studies embarked on a new adventure with those students—dedicating the weeks before the semester started to acclimating international students to St. Louis. This began with Passport, an internationally-focused, three-week event that introduced students to the intricacies of American culture and interpersonal skills.

Also new this year and available to international and domestic students alike was Career Stamp, the professional counterpart to Passport that bolstered professional skills like self-branding and networking. Career Stamp is the product of the Weston Career Center’s resources, staff, and skills, led by Mark Schlafly.

Career Stamp attempts to bridge the gap between cultures by giving students a feel for the professional norms of US business in a safe space—whether they’re from the US or not. It’s meant to introduce students to a business way of thinking, through intensive career preparation before the semester begins.

“Things go so fast once the semester starts that it’s hard to find the time to get things done,” explained Laura Hollabaugh, academic advisor for SMP students. “These are things that will help students be prepared for whatever’s ahead. Passport and Career Stamp are the building blocks, and then the students can build the confidence to keep moving and not slow down.”

Those building blocks have given international students a new level of comfort with themselves and in their studies. Jessica Jiang, an incoming accounting student from Beijing, appreciated the use of the CareerLeader self-assessment and how it helped her create a personal brand. “I didn’t know that I enjoyed leading people before I did the assessment.”

While the self-assessment, as well as other presentations on research and job skills, were incredibly important, many students’ favorite memory was an exercise in networking. Not a typically popular practice, particularly with brand-new international students, the networking session was made much brighter thanks to a presence from R-S Theatrics Company, which provided helpful tips on how improv can guide a person through life – and business.

Jiang appreciated learning the No. 1 rule of improv: always respond “yes, and.” “It means accept and adapt. It really works out for me,” she said. “I love to talk a lot—so maybe I have to listen more to adapt. I had to realize that maybe sometimes I’m shutting down the conversation.”

The R-S Theatrics team presents on the main rules of improv.

Dylan Chen (BSCS ’18), an incoming customer analytics student, appreciated the use of improv as a lens for learning to network. “Life is a lot like improvisation,” he reflected. “A lot of it is random, and you have to improvise on the spot to keep it going. Being able to be a people-person, make people feel like you care about them, are interested in them, and you want to have a conversation with them.”

The culmination of Career Stamp and the beginning of a new school year leaves much to be done – and these students’ time at WashU and in the US are only just beginning. But students are already seeing the intended impact—they’re learning about themselves, they’re growing, and they’re gaining confidence.

Take it from Jessica. “I think I changed a lot through these five weeks. I’m more extroverted after this program. I have more skills. I know how to talk to people, I know some principles to communicate and network. And I met a lot of my fellow classmates. We made great friendships.




Cynthia Cryder

It’s National Financial Awareness Day—and we see it as our duty to bring you the best financial and business-related news today and every day. So pull up a front-row seat to this exclusive, free personal finance training, brought to you by associate professor of marketing Cynthia Cryder.

Why it matters

It’s easy to think of financial awareness as something that’s best left to the experts – but Cryder, whose research on personal finance ranges from the psychology of debt to the practical details of how we spend money, says that’s a big mistake—and one that could cost you emotionally as well as financially. Though she’s an expert in consumer decision-making and personal finance, Cryder defines financial awareness as “being deliberate about your finances and making a plan.” That means staying one step ahead and being ready for the next major or minor disaster – because it’s going to come.

Cryder says being aware of your finances and having a plan to save, reduce debt, and think about the future is crucial because of the sheer nature of how we react to money. In fact, Cryder says people in the United States cite financial stress as more difficult on them than health, job, or any other kind of stressor.

“It seems like not having emergency savings is one of the most stressful things, because most families and individuals have a financial shock every year,” Cryder explained. So getting your finances in control and knowing where you stand is about more than counting checks—it’s about a happier, healthier you.

Rethink saving

One of the most frequent roadblocks Cryder finds to helping people become financially well is a misunderstanding of the nature of savings—and emergencies. “The idea that the only type of savings is for the distant future, like education or health savings,” does the consumer a disservice. That’s because emergency spending should be a top priority, according to Cryder.

Why do we have such trouble thinking of saving up for the short term? It has to do with the kinds of financial emergencies we face and the way we compartmentalize them. “We see isolated expenditures as just that: isolated,” said Cryder. “So we think that we’ll never have that financial shock or expenditure again. And that may be true, but we’re bad at then understanding that we are going to have another unusual type of isolated shock or expenditure.”

So when we rationalize that a car breakdown isn’t likely to happen again in the near future, we forget to save for things like a health emergency, or a home repair. Rethinking the likelihood of an “exceptional” event happening, and understanding that you’re going to face one each year, is one of the keys to being truly aware of your financial situation.

One step at a time

Once you’re aware of the state of your savings and you’ve decided it’s time to reduce financial stress in your life, Cryder suggests a few simple ways of moving toward stability.

First up: Figure out what needs to change. “It’s about deciding what is important to you as a person and as a consumer,” she says. Assuming your finances are stressing you out, you’ve got two options: make more money or spend less.

That might take the form of getting an extra job on the side, or taking in a roommate or two to help with expenses. Or it could be as simple as tracking your expenses for a month, seeing what adds up and what could be cut to make room.

While that might seem easier said than done, it’s a crucial decision to make if you want to get rid of financial stress. It’s also the key to steps two and three: pay down those debts and start an emergency fund.

When paying down debts, Cryder recommends starting with the most expensive—think payday loans, credit cards, and anything above 10 percent APR. While that might seem obvious at first glance, Cryder and her fellow researchers have found that many consumers are actually more likely to tackle the manageable, lower-interest rates first. “It’s not entirely obvious that people shouldn’t be doing this, because it’s possible that people get a great satisfaction from clearing something off their plate,” she said. But keep in mind: the longer you wait to pay down those expensive loans, the more debt you’re accruing.

Once your debt is under control, an emergency savings fund is a must. Thinking about spending crises, Cryder warns that “these things keep coming up—and we keep having to deal with them.” So putting away some money with the expectation that you’ll spend it on an emergency will make you better equipped to handle that situation when it happens.

Become the best you

At the end of the day, everything Cryder does is about the consumer. She believes the goal of financial awareness is to “improve consumer well-being.” She wants to help consumers “reduce financial stresses and improve outcomes in terms of finding a good match between how they’re spending their money and how they’re finding satisfaction in life.”

In short: a financially aware you means a happier, healthier, and more satisfied you—and making life safer, better, and more comfortable for everyone is what Cryder—and financial analysts—are all about.




The Olin Fleischer Scholars Program is a free, week-long college preparatory program for high school students from underrepresented or first-generation college populations. Students experience college life, learn the essentials of business and university education, and improve their professional skills and résumés. We talked to this year’s scholars to see how they grew and how they’re forging their own paths.

Andressa

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

“I think learning about finance was something I was scared about. I thought it would be really difficult to learn about in college, but the professor made it really simple. The professor gave the brief overview and it didn’t scare me. Some people have stereotypes with professors being really non-personal, and ‘just do your work,’ but not only he, but all the people that presented tried to connect with us.

“It was an amazing opportunity where you see that people really want to invest in you and your education, and to learn not just about the subject of business but college life. They helped us with essays, résumés, they help you get ready and take a step forward into the real world.”

William

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

“The biggest thing I’ve done this week is network. I’ve met so many cool people — the other scholars in the program, the mentors, all the people running the show behind the scenes, and the guests we’ve had as speakers on company visits. I learned a lot about business and what it actually is compared to what I perceived it as in the past.

“I come from pretty much nothing back home, and everything I’ve done I’ve created for myself. I learned this week even more so that I can take charge of my situation and that what I’m dealing with right now back at home, it can’t affect me if I am able to take charge.”

Reina

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

“I’ve gained a lot more confidence, and I’ve learned to think positively about my future, who I’m talking to, and to be able to communicate with more people. I’m not shy, but talking in front of people is a huge thing, and you need to learn how to do that. We’ve learned about shaking hands, and talking to people, and introducing yourself. We’re going to have a project to show in front of people, so being able to do a presentation is a really big thing.”

Brayneisha

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

“One day, I plan on owning my own homeless shelter, and I want to go to school for social work — so I can put those two things (business and social work) together. This was really insightful for me. I got to go to different businesses and learn about marketing and everything in the business world.

“The most important lesson I learned is to make my own business and how to make it successful. I learned about startups and what you have to go through to make a business. I thought you could just have a plan and do it. I didn’t consider finances and capacity. It was a lot of things that I learned this week.”

 

 

Janyce

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

“I want to own my own practice for psychology, so I learned a little bit about finance, which is the big part. I’m really appreciative of the information I learned, especially how to start a business and that having a startup in anything will help you.

“The most fun thing has been hanging out in the common room and getting to know each other. Now I have an amazing friend from Brazil, and amazing roommates and suite-mates, and it’s just been a great experience.

“I want people to know it’s not scary. It isn’t. And it’s a great way to branch out.”

To learn more about the Olin Fleischer Scholars program, please contact Paige LaRose.




It’s the start of the day. Over 300 students file into the seats of Emerson Auditorium, looking for an open spot — looking for someone they know or someone who could become a friend. They are tired, overwhelmed — but there is an air of excitement, of hope.

Consultant Judy Shen-Filerman addresses the students — most of whom, she finds out, are from China. Some come from Japan, one from Chile, and one from India.

Judy Shen Filerman addresses Passport students.

“I’m an American,” she tells them. “But when I return to China, I snap right back into the culture. I want you to know: just because you assimilate to a new culture doesn’t mean you’ll lose your old one.”

Shen-Filerman, a Chinese-American woman who migrated to the United States with her family as a child, connects with these students from the start. She’s been in their seats — she understands what it means to leave one’s friends, family and culture behind, starting anew for a new opportunity. And the students can tell — so they take her advice seriously.

Shen-Filerman’s presentation is one of several these students will attend over the next few weeks. All incoming international students to the specialized master’s program at Olin Business School experience the Passport program, a three-week immersive cultural experience meant to help them acclimate to American life and culture.

Passport and its accompanying Career Stamp – open to all specialized master’s program students — are new this year, springing from a recognized need to adequately prepare incoming students for the recruiting season. While Passport is specifically catered to international students, Career Stamp includes opportunities for both international and native students entering their SMP and hones in on preparing students for their career search.

Given the arrival of companies on campus as early as September, Olin graduate program staff realized their students — particularly those coming from cultures outside of the U.S. — needed to jump-start their career preparations more quickly than the traditional school year can accommodate.

Enter Passport: an immersive experience that is designed to prepare students for professional and personal life in a new culture. An advising team including several members of Olin’s graduate programs staff, including Laura Hollabaugh, Nate Quest, and Ashley Macrander, dreamed up the program as a way of bridging the cultural divide and making the transition to graduate school —  and American culture — a bit smoother.

Over the course of three weeks, students encounter every aspect of American life — from the most basic to the complex and nuanced. They practice shaking hands, prepare for small talk, and learn the importance of eye contact. They also discuss American power cultures, practice writing and vocabulary and create resumes. Students define their professional goals, make friends, and even take a trip to the St. Louis Zoo.

Though this is the first year Passport has been implemented, hopes for its success are high. “My expectation is that once our students complete Passport and Career Stamp, they feel like they have a rhetorical and professional toolkit at their disposal that will help them to succeed in their coursework, during the job search, and throughout their career,” said Ashley Macrander, assistant dean and director of graduate programs student affairs.

Schlafly leads his class in best practices in an interview setting.

Weston Career Center staff members, who are leading the educational charge and leading classrooms, already see those hopes coming to fruition. “Our new incoming class of SMP students has arrived and we are ready to help them get off on the right foot. Classes have started, relationships are building, and they are folding into the American culture beautifully,” said Mark Schlafly, adjunct career advisor and lecturer. “We really are fortunate to have a customized program laid out to bring out the best in them.”

For Macrander, Passport is about more than learning a new language or showing new students the practicalities of life in America. It’s about learning a new perspective, understanding other ways of experiencing life — for the participants and the leaders. “We have so much to gain from interacting with one another,” said Macrander. “I learn something new from all of our students, just as they are learning from each other.”

Macrander hopes this experience will be part of a larger journey as an Olin community —  one of learning from each other, defining and uplifting our strengths while making an undeniable impact on the world around us.

“Together we are Olin, and our school, our culture, and our city is enhanced from each of our contributions — because we are greater than the sum of our parts.”

Students practice small talk with instructor Jackie Fredman.




Anjan Thakor is an economist with purpose—and the business world is catching on. Thakor’s research covers wide ground, from corporate finance to banking and corporate governance. However, the John E Simon Professor of Finance’s most recent endeavor got more personal: How can an organization connect its employees to its overall purpose, encouraging them to dive in and give their all along the way?

Along with Robert E. Quinn, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Thakor’s wisdom is featured on the cover of the Harvard Business Review’s July-August edition.

Thakor and Quinn begin by introducing readers to Gerry Anderson, president of DTE Energy, who struggled to engage his employees following the Great Recession of 2008. Having been taught that good economics mean treating employees first by their own self interest, Anderson was reluctant to use empty rhetoric about meaning—much like many firm leaders Thakor and Quinn investigated.

However, the researchers tell, a shift in focus that challenged employees to embrace purpose turned out to be a major success. Thakor and Quinn’s research seeks to provide a framework company leaders can use to develop, embrace, and implement a purpose that drives their organization.

Thakor

The biggest problem Thakor and Quinn find is that the companies they consult for wait until a point of crisis to find a company purpose. Encouraging a break from the “cynical ‘transactional’ view of employee motivation,” though, can be taken at any time—the sooner, the better. The researchers set up an eight-step process for finding, implementing, and connecting a purpose for employees—one that includes such steps as “envision an inspired workforce,” “recognize the need for authenticity,” and “connect the people to the purpose.”

The most important theme that runs through these eight steps? Be authentic, real, and passionate. Thakor and Quinn have seen companies thrive and fail—and they know the perils of a haphazard campaign based on feel-good words and uninspired drivel. Purpose, for them, is something entirely different. It’s a sense of passion—a vision for a corporation that inspires employees, turns them into leaders, and treats them as intelligent, autonomous human beings.

The work Thakor and Quinn are asking companies to undertake is not easy—it’s part of a process that involves humility, openness, and risk. But these researchers believe in the beauty of an impassioned, purpose-driven company—and they’re hoping to change the business world, for good.

Update 7/25/2018: Thakor and Quinn were interviewed, along with DTE Energy CEO Gerry Anderson, for the HBR Podcast on turning purpose into competitive, profitable performance. Listen to their conversation.