Author: WashU Olin Business School

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About WashU Olin Business School

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.


A.N. Sreeram and Dr. Clive Meanwell

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.

Prof. Anne Marie Knott

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.”

Emerging research on innovation

The conference also included a session of emerging academic research which offered an evidence-base for what innovation strategies and polices work, and which don’t. Participants included: Chad Syverson, University of Chicago, “Product Innovation, Product Diversification,and Firm Growth: Evidence from Japan’s Early Industrialization;” Florian Ederer, Yale School of Management, “Killer Acquisitions;” and Willy Shih, Harvard Business School, “Some Attention to the Demand Side, Please.”

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

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.




WashU Olin alumni have continued to benefit from their membership in the community many years after leaving campus. This is part of an occasional series of vignettes about the alumni experience. Today, we hear from Jane (Donghui) Zhao, MSF ’15, green package analytics and support associate, BlackRock

Weekly meetings with Mark Schlafly, an adviser at Olin’s Weston Career Center, helped Jane Zhao navigate career issues and adapt to American culture in ways that have led to professional success.

“I’m personally very grateful for him because I feel he changed my personality while I was in school, so that definitely was the biggest win in addition to my degree,” she said. “It changed how I carry myself and everything else.”

Tapping all the resources the WCC provides helped Zhao land her current job with BlackRock in Wilmington, Delaware. Zhao continues to draw on Olin resources by returning twice a year to recruit for BlackRock. “We’re recruiting some really great students right now.”

She lauded Olin for providing students with soft skills such as communication, resume writing and language training. “The WCC has workshops that help you network and help navigate American culture,” Zhao said. “WCC is doing a really good job.”

Stay in touch.

Center for Experiential Learning

Business Development

  • Dorothy Kittner, MBA ’94, associate dean and director of business development and corporate relations 314-935-6365 | kittner@wustl.edu

Alumni & Development

Weston Career Center

Executive Education

  • Kelly Bean, senior associate dean and professor of practice in leadership 202-797-6000 | beank@wustl.edu



WashU Olin alumni have continued to benefit from their membership in the community many years after leaving campus. This is part of an occasional series of vignettes about the alumni experience. Today, we hear from Jim Holbrook, EMBA ’96, adviser, Advantage Solutions: Sales Marketing, Technology 

Last spring, when Olin’s Executive MBA candidates traveled to Washington, DC, for a residency at the Brookings Institution, they had a special guest tag along. Jim Holbrook, who got his EMBA 23 years ago, accepted an invitation to participate in the residency —an option that didn’t exist when he graduated.

Olin opened the opportunity to EMBA alums so they could benefit from today’s experience, allowing them to participate for the cost of airfare.

“I got the invitation from Olin saying it was a four-day program focused on healthcare,” Holbrook said. “Literally, I responded in four seconds.”

For Holbrook, the experience was enlightening, to say the least. It’s given him an enriched outlook on how to provide more health benefits to employees, yet control costs—especially rising drug costs. While he calls his participation in the Brookings residency serendipitous, Holbrook is also an advocate of finding a self-curated way to take advantage of Olin’s programs and resources.

“I’ve gone back and done a guest lecture or two. And, along the way, I’ve kept in touch with some of my classmates, from an alumni standpoint, so my relationship with the school has continued. I also recommend joining the Eliot Society, which provides tremendous access.”

Stay in touch.

Center for Experiential Learning

Business Development

  • Dorothy Kittner, MBA ’94, associate dean and director of business development and corporate relations 314-935-6365 | kittner@wustl.edu

Alumni & Development

Weston Career Center

Executive Education

  • Kelly Bean, senior associate dean and professor of practice in leadership 202-797-6000 | beank@wustl.edu



WashU Olin alumni have continued to benefit from their membership in the community many years after leaving campus. This is part of an occasional series of vignettes about the alumni experience. Today, we hear from Onyi Oradiegwu, BSBME ’15/MBA ’15, consultant, Boston Consulting Group

While working as an internal auditor and process consultant at Owens Corning’s fiberglass plant in Tennessee, Onyi Oradiegwu decided she wanted to make the jump to management consulting. She connected with Olin for help during her case interview preparation process. The coaching and advice she received through Olin were integral to her interview preparation—and to receiving an offer from Boston Consulting Group.

“With each practice session, I grew more comfortable with my behavioral and case interview skills and more sure of my genuine interest in working as a management consultant,” she said. “Practice matters.”

Oradiegwu especially enjoyed being able to schedule time online with career advisers, the use of resume tools and access to a bank of prep materials. “I feel like I can rely on WashU and Olin for the rest of my life for support if I ever do look for another job,” she said. “I’m glad I was able to tap into those resources because it really did make a difference in my job interview.”

Stay in touch.

Center for Experiential Learning

Business Development

  • Dorothy Kittner, MBA ’94, associate dean and director of business development and corporate relations 314-935-6365 | kittner@wustl.edu

Alumni & Development

Weston Career Center

Executive Education

  • Kelly Bean, senior associate dean and professor of practice in leadership 202-797-6000 | beank@wustl.edu