Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.
Dean Mark P. Taylor shared this message with WashU Olin’s staff, faculty and students following the events in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.
Dear Olin Community,
Like many of you, I have watched the events unfolding in the nation’s capital today with deep concern.
My thoughts turn to our Olin colleagues who live and work in Washington, DC, and to our students and their families on break in DC and nearby communities. I’m thinking of the many Olin students who, through our partnership with Brookings, have received behind-the-scenes insights into how the wheels of US government intersect with the world of business.
I am recalling the images of those same students, along with staff and faculty members, celebrating their Brookings experience on the steps of the Capitol—the same steps where these distressing events played out this evening.
The contrast is truly alarming.
I am also thinking of everyone in the Olin family who holds dear the promise of America.
One extraordinary year has led to the next. I believe we as business leaders are uniquely positioned to press forward with creativity and thoughtfulness, even in the midst of crisis.
I urge you to stay in touch with your colleagues, your classmates, your instructors and your advisors as events continue to unfold today and throughout this delicate moment in the country’s history.
As another year dawns, it is clear we all will be tested anew to demonstrate resilience, agility and creativity as business leaders who are and must be prepared to change the world, for good.
Professor Mark P. Taylor DSc PhD Dean Donald Danforth, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Finance John M. Olin School of Business Washington University in St. Louis Campus Box 1156 Brookings Drive St. Louis Missouri 63130-4899 USA
Lisa Lewin, BSBA ’96, was recognized for extraordinary leadership through adversity by a 145-year-old culture and arts organization for her work in June to launch an initiative designed to “dismantle three of the biggest levers of racist power in this country: biased policing, electoral disenfranchisement and economic exclusion.”
The 92nd Street Y in New York City, a nonprofit community and cultural center that provides programs fostering individual physical and mental health, announced the “extraordinary women” awards on November 10, including Lewin among five women so honored.
Lewin is CEO of General Assembly, a pioneer in education and career transformation offering dynamic courses in data, design, business, technology and other high-demand skills.
According to the announcement from the 92nd Street Y, Lewin and the Leadership Now Project—where she is a member of the steering and investor group—”launched the Business for Racial Equity pledge, bringing together a coalition of leading executives to mobilize businesses to take concrete action.”
That action included working toward dismantling biased policing, electoral disenfranchisement and economic exclusion. The pledge includes a series of concrete steps executives and their organizations can take toward addressing those three sources of systemic bias and inequity. The announcement noted that more than 1,000 executives of businesses and organizations across sectors have signed the pledge.
Lisa serves on the boards of the Wikimedia Foundation, Bank Street College of Education, and the Leadership Now Project. In addition to her business degree from WashU Olin, she earned an MBA with honors from Harvard Business School.
Stretch your minds back to the late autumn of 2019. A year ago, voters were yet to cast their first ballots in the US presidential primaries. Most of us had never heard of a “coronavirus.” And the last issue of Olin Business magazine landed in your mailboxes.
Soon after, we dropped into your inbox a readership survey so we could better understand whether Olin Business was serving you the way we hoped. With our gratitude, we wanted to share a little about what we learned.
Would you rather read OB online?
Short answer? Nope. Younger alumni were more likely to say yes, but no age group showed a majority preference for online.
How much time do you spending reading OB?
Most of you said about half an hour.
How’s the length of OB magazine?
Nearly 80% of you said “just right.”
What can we work on?
Event information and coverage—and more stories about alumni.
But, what do you like about us? (percent “satisfied” or “completely satisfied”)
The one American company that is the most innovative, the most effective at research and development, of the five most attention-grabbing US-based companies isn’t one that’s developing your cellphones, creating your home tech devices or delivering goods to your door.
Rather, it’s one you watch: Netflix.
The 2020 Research Quotient Top 50 (RQ50), highlighting the most innovative US companies, was unveiled September 18 at The Industrial Innovation Path to Economic Recovery Conference hosted by the Boeing Center at Washington University in St Louis.
A recent paper, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, finds that RQ is the only innovation measure that reliably predicts market returns. That paper was co-authored by Michael J. Cooper of the University of Utah, Wenhao Yang of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Anne Marie Knott, the Robert and Barbara Frick Professor in Business at WashU Olin, who pioneered the RQ measure.
The conference attendees, in an online audience poll, predicted Amazon would prevail as the most innovative among the FAANG notables: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet (formerly Google). In addition to unveiling the new list, Knott, at the Boeing Center/Olin conference, oversaw a panel discussion with two “RQ50 Hall of Famers”—firms that have been in the RQ50 for 10 or more years: A.N. Sreeram, Senior vice president and chief technology officer of Dow (20 years in RQ50), and Dr. Clive Meanwell, founder of The Medicines Company (10 years in the RQ50), whose company became ineligible for the RQ50 after being acquired by Novartis last year.
Keys to research investment success
Knott pointed out it was interesting to hear their discussion echo what her RQ scholarship has found: The keys to successful innovation, even in this instance for a 123-year-old company and a biotech startup, are not all that different.
“Keeping secrets is overrated. If you don’t collaborate and share IP, you’re highly unlikely to develop anything of great use.”
Dr. Clive Meanwell
“How can you build wisdom faster?” asked Sreeram. “Make research available to innovators.” He noted that every research report conducted at Dow since 1934 is fully digitized and available to researchers at the firm today. Sreeram praised such information sharing as an effective means of facilitating wisdom and learning, even among expert-level professionals.
The RQ50 session was part of the five-session conference that received national attention after it opened with a fireside chat that Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor hosted with St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard, who characterized the new debt associated with COVID-19 interventions and offered his perspective on lifting inflation. This set the stage for a series of discussions to understand how best to invigorate technological change to spur economic growth sufficient to handle the debt.
Research versus innovation
While many argue this is best accomplished by increasing research, which takes place predominantly at universities and government labs, the conference focused attention on innovation—converting research into products and services that people want to buy. The latter takes place in companies, where 70% of U.S. R&D is conducted.
Recognizing that companies can’t drive growth themselves, the conference included a panel discussion with three investors known for their long-horizon approach: Michelle Edkins, managing director, BlackRock Investment Stewardship; Penny Pennington, managing partner, Edward Jones; and Jared Woodard, director for global investment strategy, Bank of America. The panel was moderated by Todd Milbourn, vice dean of faculty and research and Hubert C. & Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance.
Woodard spoke to the importance of R&D and the RQ metric.
“One of the things that has become incredibly important in a world of low-economic growth, low-interest rates and low profits is the ability to find companies that can use R&D and capex [capital expenditure] dollars efficiently,” Woodard said. “And I think RQ is a great example of one methodology for finding those kinds of firms.”
“We’re always talking to the boards and management of companies about long-term challenges and opportunities and that includes R&D and capex,” Edkins added. “We are seeing COVID-19 accelerate macroeconomic trends key to R&D.”
Pennington mentioned the importance of efficient R&D over long-investing horizons in any environment and the imperative to identify firms whose R&D drives “return on investment in excess of the cost of capital,” characterizing that search as a “fundamental root of serious long-term investing.”
While companies invest 70% of some $580 million invested in US R&D, the government is the next largest source of such funding—22%. In a closing keynote talk, Knott guided a discussion with Jaymie Durnan, director of strategic initiatives at Lincoln Lab, focusing on how those funds could be better spent. Moreover, Durnan discussed what government policies might drive more growth from R&D.
In the end, the audience met in breakout rooms to synthesize insights gleaned across the sessions to generate actionable recommendations to increase growth from innovation and thereby emerge from the pandemic in better shape. These insights and a conference report will be available on the Boeing Center’s LinkedIn page.
Rachel Lopez, PMBA ’19, heard WashU didn’t have enough personal protective equipment or masks for staff and students, so she donated 600 disposable masks to Olin. She is a global manager, strategy and business development, for Build-A-Bear Workshop. She responded to a few questions for the Olin Blog.
What compelled you to make this contribution?
This year has been a challenging year for a lot of people. I think love, understanding each other and supporting the needed ones during the global pandemic takes people a long way.
When COVID-19 had its initial breakout in China, Build-A-Bear Workshop and I sent a couple of hundred N97 masks in February with encouraging notes to our China franchisees, partners and vendors. They were very happy and touched to receive the needed supplies during their most difficult time.
A month later, COVID-19 began affecting the whole world, including the US. Global news reported the increasing coronavirus cases in the US and the shortage of PPE supplies. After our China partners saw the news from local media, they immediately reached out to me and offered to send masks to us to return the favor. It touches my heart to see that our help when our Build-A-Bear partners were in need was reciprocated in ours.
In April, thousands of different types of masks (N95, disposable, KN95) arrived at my house from China. At that time, St. Louis hospitals started to ask for public PPE donations and homemade masks because of the shortage of supplies. My colleague and I soon reached out to St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri, and a couple of other hospitals to donate our PPE from China partners.
We donated more than 2,000 disposable masks and non-touch thermometers to St. Luke’s and a couple hundred masks to other hospitals. The doctors, nurses, policy officers and janitors were happy to receive our donations. They even sent thank you pictures with “heart” hand gestures to us.
Our hearts melted when we saw the lovely pictures from St. Luke’s and thank-you notes from other hospitals. We are grateful for being able to support our medical workers during the pandemic. Having said that, we want to take the PPE donation a step further. Build-A-Bear Foundation approved the purchase of more than 100,000 masks to help more hospitals and communities in needs.
After I finished supporting Build-A-Bear Foundation with that purchase, I heard schools were also in need of PPE. Both my husband and I attended WashU, and I had my best time, best professors and mentors there. So, I reached out to my mentor and asked if I could make a mask donation to Olin.
How has this crisis affected you personally over the past few months?
My heart breaks for the people around the world who suffered from the pandemic. My family is in China, so I was worried to death when COVID-19 happened. I have partners and friends in over 12 different countries since I work for Build-A-Bear as the global manager. It was sad when I heard our partners in Australia, Gulf States, India, Chile, South Africa, etc. were negatively impacted by coronavirus. Some lost their jobs; some got quarantined.
Also, my mom came to the US to visit my husband and me in December. She was supposed to go back to China in March. Because of the pandemic, American Airlines rescheduled her four times—and then canceled the flight. I rebooked her, but those flights were canceled because of restrictions. My mom has been with us for more than six months with no certainty when she can return to China. I know she worries about my grandparents there.
How are you persevering through all of this?
Some people joked about whether we could “restart 2020 or just get it over with.” Again, it is an unprecedented time as more than 100,000 have died in the US from this virus, and many more people have lost their jobs.
However, I must look at the bright side. My families and friends are fine, which is the most important thing. My husband and I were able to keep our jobs. Working from home from March until now is hard without collaboration with my colleagues, but I was able to spend more time with my mom and puppy.
It is hard to adjust, but things do get better. For example, most of our franchise countries like China, Australia and Denmark have completely reopened and life is back to normal. My PMBA classmates have been in close contact with each other. We are hoping to regroup again when the pandemic is over.