At this year’s virtual panel, the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award winners shared career advice to students and professionals through the lens of WashU Olin’s values-based, data-driven approach to leadership.
For more than 30 years, Olin has recognized a select group of alumni who have attained distinction in their respective fields and share strong leadership characteristics. This year’s honorees span a wide variety of areas, from investment to tech.
The honorees spoke of the values-based, data-driven approach instilled in them at Olin and how they have applied this approach in their careers. They answered theoretical questions tossed around in Olin classrooms: What do you do when there isn’t any data, and how should you react when data and values collide?
On the absence of data
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robert Vitale, PMBA ’94. As CEO and president of Post Holdings, he was forced to make decisions that would impact consumers without any data at hand.
“It was less about data than the absence of data,” he said. “Our very first value is to protect each other. We had to balance our primary value of protecting our employees against our obligation to keep supply chains running and food available to people. Then, we had to manage that with a significant absence of data.”
Andrew Rubin, BSBA ’98, CEO and co-founder of Illumio, struggled to provide answers to his employee’s “what ifs” during COVID-19.
“It became reassuring to stop trying to predict the future. We didn’t know. We didn’t have data, and it was OK to admit that. A lack of data is something we had to get comfortable with.”
On when to prioritize your values
When analyzing data isn’t an option, it’s imperative to lean back into your values. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd last summer, people are watching to see how companies would react.
“It’s incumbent to us as leaders to be fact-based, truthful, authentic and to take a stand appropriately,” says Eric Veiel, MBA ’99, co-head of global equity and head of US equity at T. Rowe Price. “That doesn’t come easy and everyone won’t completely agree. But if they believe you are doing it for the right reasons, it becomes a much more manageable and productive conversation.”
Kelli P. Washington, CFA, BSBA ’94, managing director of research and investment strategy at Cleveland Clinic Investment Office, shared her thoughts about the next generation of leaders, including Olin students.
“Today’s young adults are going to push for alignment with their values. Our ability to attract them to work for and with us is going to hinge on our ability to align with what they feel is important.”