Author: WashU Olin Business School


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.


Olin Professor Phil Dybvig joined a select group of foreign experts last week in a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The annual event has very high visibility in China, part of a series of events wrapped into Chinese media coverage of the lead-up to the Spring Festival Celebration—the lunar New Year.

Dybvig is WashU Olin’s Boatmen’s Bancshares Professor of Banking and Finance and Director of the Institute of Financial Studies at the Southwest University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. He was invited to the event, offering insights and ideas to the Chinese premier, by a member of China’s State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. That body certifies foreign experts who provide expertise on the Chinese mainland.

Olin’s Phil Dybvig (blue patterned jacket) among a group of academics and experts invited to share insights at a symposium in January 2020 with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (image captured from Chinese state video).

Dybvig was flanked at the event by Peter D. Lund from the department of applied physics, New Energy Technologies Group at Aalto University in Finland (on his left) and Jean-Mark Bovet, executive senior vice president, Cirrus Pharmaceuticals Inc., who has a PhD in chemistry from the University of Michigan.

“The premier thanked the foreign experts for their service and solicited their advice on subjects such as improving research in China, speeding technological development and improving education,” Dybvig wrote to the Olin Blog after the series of meetings ending on Friday, January 17, 2020.

See a video from Chinese state media giving an overview of the symposium.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (public domain image from Wikipedia)

Dybvig said the Chinese premier—the top administrator of the government’s massive civil service bureaucracy—hosted about 60 foreign experts for the meeting. “There were a lot of smart people there, including some Nobel laureates,” he said. Some were business people, some school administrators, but most seemed to be scholars.

“The premier gave a warm welcome to the foreign experts and thanks for our contributions to China,” he said. “He also talked about Chinese plans, including a commitment to spend 4% of GDP on education even though that implies cutting spending on other things.”

“It was also fun chatting with all the other smart people in attendance,” Dybvig said. “I enjoyed learning from Gérard Mourou about the work on high-intensity short-duration lasers that lead to his Nobel Prize in physics.”

Pictured above: Olin’s Phil Dybvig (blue patterned jacket) in a screen grab from Chinese state television covering a January 2020 symposium with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang with academics working in the country.

Andrea Adams, MBA '21, doing a presentation for class while in Barcelona for the global immersion.
Andrea Adams, MBA ’21, doing a presentation for class while in Barcelona for the global immersion.

Andrea Adams, MBA ’21, participated in the inaugural class of WashU Olin’s rebooted full-time MBA program, which began in late June with a nearly six-week ’round-the-world trip to immerse students in global business.

Students in the attached video recount the ways the experience exposed them to different world perspectives on three continents and across the experiences of their classmates.

Adams shares three ways the experience positioned her for later career preparation—including the comfort with uncertainty.

In retrospect, now several weeks past your return from China, can you describe how the global immersion has influenced your approach to class?

The global immersion was not only international in nature, it gave us insight on business practices from a global level. I mean this insofar as it allowed me to see the interlocking pieces of, for example, how strategy and managerial economics are relevant to accounting—and vice versa.

Hopefully each MBA program ultimately allows students to connect the dots on why one sector of business relates to another, but the global immersion gave us experiential insight to see the interplay between functions—in the real world.

So, when a new concept comes up in our core coursework, I already have an example from our experiential learning to reflect. The true benefit of experience is having a pre-existing framework to fill in the gaps with the lessons from our core classes to understand a concept’s relevance.

What did you gain from the experience that you’ve been able to apply already?

I’m a strong believer that not every experience or encounter needs to have direct utility. However, the global immersion fostered development of a sense of global awareness to encourage students to think about issues at a high level.

So the summer coursework pushed us not just to evaluate business decisions based on limited qualitative and quantitative information, but take it a step further: Why is this information important and relevant to the problem as a whole?

Have you been able to use this experience yet in any preparation for your career next step?

As a first semester MBA student, the focus quickly shifts from acclimating to coursework to finding a summer opportunity that is a good fit for both you and your future employer. This can be a daunting task.

Having an intense immersive experience so early in the MBA trajectory, I feel as though I’ve deeply benefitted in the career search and recruitment process in three ways.

The first: You start thinking about business concepts earlier. Because the summer semester gave me a global overview of sectors within business, I feel as though I am more able to understand the incentives of the companies in which I have interest.

The experience also gave me a framework for thinking about the problems the firm might face within their industry and having a working knowledge of the environment with which a firm operates can lead to beyond surface level interview conversations.

The second: I know my “value add,” but have already identified areas for improvement. To balance the working environment of the global immersion summer session while traveling away from home for a six-week duration is, aforementioned, surprisingly intense.

Throughout the experience, you are in constant communication with professors, communication advisers and peers, who are providing formal qualitative and quantitative feedback for your performance. Though your weaknesses are amplified, the experience highlights areas to improve upon in preparation for recruitment throughout the fall.

The third: You learn how to deal with ambiguity. Because of the traveling nature of the immersion, and the shift in coursework throughout the semester, there is no unchanging variable. You have to be OK with uncertainty—whether it be in not feeling familiar with a city, assignment, or class content.

I think the valuable skill here that is transferrable to any job search is learning to adapt in different contexts and rise to the challenges that are outside of your comfort zone—most of which you can’t anticipate.

Washington University in St. Louis and Olin Business School both continue to be top venues for entrepreneurship education—ranking No. 6 for undergraduate studies and No. 16 for graduate studies in the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur rankings for Top Schools for Entrepreneurship Studies. The rankings were announced online Tuesday, November 12, 2019, and are featured in the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

The newest ranking represents a one-step jump for undergrads and two steps up for graduate programs from the previous year’s ranking.

WashU’s place on this year’s lists marks a significant movement for the university. In five years, the university moved nine spots in the graduate studies rankings and four in undergraduate studies.

“The WashU community is key to this recognition. Across the university innovators and entrepreneurs come together and support one another in a way that is unmatched”, II Luscri, Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Managing Director of the Skandalaris Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “The Skandalaris Center is proud to do our part in supporting WashU founders and aspiring entrepreneurs at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey.”

The ranking comes on the heels of a No. 1 ranking in a first-of-its-kind analysis of MBA-level entrepreneurship programs published in early November by Inc. magazine and Poets & Quants.

Read more about the Princeton Review ranking on the Skandalaris Center’s blog.

First-year MBA student Gil Eckstein says traveling with his 96 classmates on WashU Olin’s inaugural ’round-the-world global immersion was “a whole different way of learning, more dynamic than anything else I ever got to experience.” Read more from Gil below and hear from his classmates in the video above.

The 38-day immersion is the crown jewel in the Olin’s massive reboot of the full-time MBA program, taking students from St. Louis to Washington, DC, to Barcelona, to Beijing and Shanghai. The trip was the launching point of the program for the new MBA prospects, designed to offer an immediate introduction into foundational business principles in a global context.

In video interviews and casual conversations, students on the trip and afterward expressed enthusiasm for the work they were doing, the context they were learning and the bonds they were building.

As students’ second semester in the MBA program begins to draw to a close, Eckstein offered his reflections for the Olin Blog.

In retrospect, now several weeks past your return from China, can you describe how the global immersion has influenced your approach to class?

Traveling with my 90 other classmates around the world in DC, Barcelona, and Shanghai, going on field excursions every other day, giving presentations every week, and doing it all for almost six weeks in a row.

Gil Eckstein, MBA '21
Gil Eckstein, MBA ’21

This is a whole different way of learning, more dynamic than anything else I ever got to experience. Just like in professional life, we were outside of our comfort zone very often, going to classes in different spaces in different cities, while adapting to different cultures.

I feel like this experience opened my mind and challenged my creativity in a way that a regular class doesn’t. Classes become much more interactive. Right before class, I had breakfast with my professor, and right after class, I went to the winery consulting visit with the same professor.

Class becomes something that I am actually looking to implement and not just place in some bin in my head, in the hope of using it sometime in the future.

What did you gain from the experience that you’ve been able to apply already?

This whole experience is a great story that I love telling people. Recruiters, students, friends or family. This is a very colorful experience that we all had and that itself is a valuable asset. I also gained presentation and preparation skills that I used in job interviews or just coffee talks.

I also feel like I gained better communication skills with my teammates, especially ones who come from different cultures than mine.

I think that more than anything though, I developed strong relationships with my classmates in a way that I could have never been able to form in a regular static class format. We all went through a similar challenging experience that built a close bond among our classmates.

Have you been able to use this experience yet in any preparation for your career next step?

I am very comfortable now in professional events out of town such as the recent Chicago veterans conference a few weeks ago, and I am sure that it’ll make every future three-day business trip feel like a walk in a park.

As I am looking to distinguish myself from other candidates during the job search, I feel like this is an additional experience that helps me to stick out.

I also learned a lot about myself during this experience and I noticed that I am using it as I present myself in job interviews these days.

In addition, I’m sure that many more uses for this experience in my future career life will unfold and will be proven useful.

Kelly Bean

Kelly Bean is a senior associate dean and the Charles F. Knight Distinguished Director of Executive Education at WashU Olin. Based at the Brookings Institution, she is charged with unifying and expanding executive education operations in St. Louis and Washington, DC.

She has more than 20 years’ executive education experience at the University of Virginia, Emory University, UCLA and the University of South Carolina. Here is the full version of her Q&A with Olin Business, which was excerpted in the magazine.

Olin Business: Why executive education? Why has that become your niche?

Kelly Bean: I am passionate about developing leaders and doing that at a point in their career where they’re ready—they can use their experiences to really push themselves and their organizations forward. That has been a clear purpose of mine. And I think you can have great impact with people when they’re ready to learn some things about themselves and be able to apply that in a work setting.

OB: You didn’t wake up one morning and decide this is your passion. How did that come to be?

KB: I spent about 10 years in the retail business before going back to get my MBA. When it really became solidified for me, I had somebody walk into my Coach store in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Her name was Nikki and she was the niece of somebody who was working for me. Nikki was 19 years old, she had baby, had just moved from California and there was something about her that I was like, “Oh, she’s really special.” This was her first job, she took it seriously, I ended up developing her into a key holder and then making her an assistant manager.

So, I did sort of wake up one day and say, “It’s not about selling purses” or “Would you like a pair of socks with that?” It’s about growing and developing the people that worked with me. That’s what I wanted to do. I decided that’s why I wanted to go back and get my master’s in human resources.

OB: What drew you to WashU?

KB: What drew me here was an opportunity to get back to a research-focused institution that really integrates business and business strategy with leadership development. What really attracted me was kind of the next phase of that thinking, which is the complexity of the world that we live in today. The leaders of the future need to be able to also navigate through a set of questions that Brookings brings to the table: What does it mean as we think about the strategy of our organization and the team that I’m leading?

What policy is out there? Do we need to be thinking about poverty? Do we need to be thinking about education? Do we need to be thinking about healthcare? How is the complexity of the world changing the way we think about how we go to market? And so now I think there’s this kind of third piece around social awareness, politics, policy, government—the integration of those things.

I think when you look at that sweet spot—how those three things combine—it’s the next future of executive education and that’s where I want to play.

OB: It sounds a little bit like the idea of values-based, data-driven leadership.

KB: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I was completely connected to that concept. I knew of WashU, I’d been here before, and I knew of Brookings, I knew of that match (between WashU and Brookings). Then coming here and feeling a culture of collaboration, of community, of excellence for the right reasons—you just feel it when you come here. You just feel it.

OB: Brookings is a relationship that is unique to us. How do you see that connection working here in St. Louis?

KB: I think the historical connection between Brookings and WashU makes this actually an easy thing to be able to do. I see it very much in alignment with what Dean Taylor wants to do with WashU from a globalization standpoint, but then also recognizing that St. Louis is a city, a region, where the globalization of business is happening right here, too.

OB: We want to more closely identify our executive education programming and curriculum with the Brookings Institution, correct?

KB: Yes, absolutely. What I described earlier with this strategy/business/leadership combination and the integration of policy—for lack of a better word—that’s the sweet spot where we want to be able to help leaders in their organizations, and how can that integration impact their own organizations.

Bringing in these angles of policy and social awareness—the intersection of policy, strategy and leadership is the sweet spot.

When you’re thinking about strategy, you have to think about what’s happening in the world. I mean, we woke up this morning and the premier of China has called on the people of China to rise up in a war against US products because of tariffs. Well, if you’re a leader in an organization, what impact is that going to have? If not today, what impact is it going to have down the road?

It brings to life the purpose of the firm, but it allows you as leaders and as managers to be able to make a different set of decisions because it’s a different conversation.

OB: What do you see as the future for executive education? What trends are you watching?

KB: I think the future of exec ed is about creating an offering that becomes stackable certificates.

The big trend is really around personalization of a learning journey. Each individual leader needs to be able to ensure their experience helps them achieve their personal and career growth. So, the beauty of the stackable certificates is it provides some guidance on what does that look like for me—in both what I’m doing today and where I want to go?

Another one is “anytime, anywhere, when I want it”—using technology to be a piece of that puzzle, which might be providing some content, but then you come together to discuss the content and the impact that’s having for you. There’s this kind of omni-learning type of environment that is beginning to happen where, depending on the individual, there’s a variety of options and choices.

I think the trend has been and will continue to be a focus on the total development of individuals, which comes down to health and wellness and mindfulness, in addition to understanding the functions of business: What is my role? What role do I need to play tomorrow? What role do I need to play today? What role did I used to play that is not something I need to play anymore? There’s this constant evolution of self.

OB: How important is it that the faculty is research based when it comes to executive education?

KB: You have a set of frameworks that says, “Here’s what some of the research shows, here is a way to think about problems. Let’s do this case,” and then you turn it into, “So, why does all of this matter?” It’s a more facilitative type of discussion and dialogue, but there’s an intellectual curiosity that both types of faculty—research- and experience-based—have. But the ones that have a little bit more of that research training can do a little sidebar for a few minutes on the scholarly work that adds a whole level of credibility.

OB: You’ve worked for some highly ranked institutions. How important are the rankings?

KB: I have been so fortunate in my career to work at incredible institutions or partner with other institutions that are ranked somewhere between 1 and 100. And every single one of those institutions has provided new thinking and an opportunity for leaders to grow. You have to be clear on your purpose and you have to be open to seeing a variety of different perspectives. The ranking is not where people make their decisions. They make their decisions based on the relationship that you have.

OB: You’ve spoken before about helping executives develop a strong sense of purpose and vision—seeing beyond the functional and technical skills and going deeper. Is that what we’re talking about here?

KB: The world is changing so much that we’re going to always need to continue to build functional and technical skills.

One of my mentors who got me into this business would say to clients: “We can build awareness. We can build understanding. And we can build competence.”

To build competence, it’s having an experience where you make a decision. It works. It doesn’t work. You need to bring others in. You innovate on what that looks like. You experience it. Sometimes it’s the failure. Sometimes it’s the success. But you don’t get that in a five-day session. You get that over time. I’d say competence versus competency. It’s not that I need these six competencies to be a good leader. We are about delivering experiences that build the competence piece. And sometimes, it’s about the awareness and the understanding. And that’s OK.

OB: If we were to sit down here a year from now, what are some of the things you’d like to be able to say that you’ve done? Or what are the things that are fine that we left alone?

KB: Well, I think the core programming in both Brookings and Olin is very good. I think we have our arms wrapped around the challenges that individuals and organizations are facing. We’re starting the right discussions. And what I’d like for us to be able to see is a more intentional way of bringing those together that really reflects on the development journey for individuals and organizations.

And I’d like for us to—and it might take longer than a year—to work with companies and corporations to bring this concept of integrating social and policy trends with values and data. We can do that. The key is to start to have conversations with organizations so as they’re thinking about what they want to do with their talent populations, we’re part of that conversation.