Author: Tanya Yatzeck

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About Tanya Yatzeck

Tanya Yatzeck, EMBA 43, is a Program Manager in IT at Enterprise Holdings.


As an alumna of Olin’s Executive MBA program, I was invited to attend this year’s 13th annual St. Louis Business Journal’s Women’s Conference on January 26. Although I had heard of Rent the Runway, I didn’t know anything about it until Jennifer Hyman, founder and CEO, gave the luncheon keynote.

Founded nine years ago with friend and fellow Harvard classmate Jennifer Fleiss, Hyman’s company has raised $190 million in venture capital funding. RTR earned $100 million in revenue in 2016. Its Series E round of $60 million that year was among the largest ever for a woman-run company.

Hyman’s message epitomizes why I love going to this conference. She talked about her idea, why it works, how it has grown, and emphasized that if she can do it, anyone can. This conference highlights successful women who want to share their stories and help other women achieve their goals.

The overall business case for RTR is compelling. In an economy where we rent everything from cars (Uber) to bedrooms (Airbnb), renting clothing makes sense. RTR grew from the concept that for special occasions in particular, women are willing to spend more than they can afford on designer clothes they won’t wear more than once.

By offering rentals of special outfits at a fraction of the cost, RTR makes high-ticket items accessible to a wider audience. The company has expanded the concept beyond special occasions to everyday fashion.

Hyman’s experience and advice applies to anyone in business, but especially to entrepreneurs. Here are the tips that caught my attention:

If she can do it, you can do it

A self-deprecating and funny Hyman explained the very basic actions she took to start her business. Hyman conceived of her idea when her younger sister bought a dress for a special event that cost more than her rent. Hyman and Fleiss brainstormed, which led to the $190 million question: “What if we could rent dresses?”

From there, they pursued an in-person, five-minute meeting with the most influential fashion icon they could think of—Diane von Furstenberg—and cold-emailed her by trying different combinations of her initials and name, until one of the attempted addresses made it through.

You don’t have to have it 100 percent figured out

Hyman and Fleiss did not have their business model worked out when they met with von Furstenberg. “We didn’t know what we were doing when we walked into her office,” Hyman said. “We just threw on von Furstenberg dresses and did it.”

They came up with the name “Rent the Runway” on the spot and pitched the idea. “I think entrepreneurs sometimes make the mistake of being secretive about their ideas, trying to get it all worked out before talking to people about it,” Hyman said.

Instead, Hyman and Fleiss could form their business plan based on conversations they had with the people they talked to about it.

If the answer is no, ask why

“By the way, she hated the idea,” Hyman said. von Furstenberg initially resisted the premise that renting clothes could be profitable, but the conversation continued. By asking questions about the resistance von Furstenberg had, Hyman learned that the von Furstenberg brand appealed mostly to women in their 50s and 60s, but that their marketing targeted a younger demographic.

The five-minute meeting extended to two hours. Hyman said the other designers with whom RTR now has great working relationships were also resistant at first. By keeping the lines of communication open, Hyman continued pursuing the conversations.

People at the top don’t always have the best ideas

At the end of their two-hour meeting with von Furstenberg, Hyman and Fleiss asked for the names of two or three other industry people they could talk to. “It’s the people on the front lines who know the most about the business,” Hyman said. Talking to von Furstenberg was a foot in the door, but great ideas can be mined among lower-level people.

Never stop dreaming bigger

With success in special occasion rentals, RTR could have continued to grow. Hyman kept pushing, however, for expanding the reach of the “Cinderella moment.”

“Women grow up believing that the only day they will feel like Cinderella is on their wedding day,” Hyman said. Believing this didn’t need to be the case, she came up with a subscription concept that would allow women to rent and exchange items for a monthly fee.

Your alma mater can be your calling card

It’s interesting to consider why von Furstenberg took the meeting with Fleiss and Hyman.  As Hyman tells it, their email to her was a one liner: “We are two Harvard business students with an idea and could we have five minutes of your time?”

Whatever her reasons, you can’t underestimate the impact of their academic credentials. In my experience, in St. Louis, a reference to Washington University can and does have a significant impact.

I’m in an older demographic than RTR’s target market—20-somethings who value wearing and being photographed regularly in a wide variety of high-end clothes.

I also wear plus sizes, which, though available on the website, are not offered in great numbers. If Hyman is thinking about this additional area of growth—older, larger women seeking Cinderella moments—I look forward to becoming a subscriber.




Tanya Yatzeck and, at right, David Moons.

My first impression walking into the event “60 ideas in 60 minutes,” presented by alumni of Olin’s Executive MBA program on January 9, was that the six panelists mingling among the attendees were EMBA graduates.

That information was on the event invitation, but it didn’t hit home until I overheard them reminiscing about their classes and the fun that they’d had getting together in the years since graduation—just like me and my former classmates. The panelists were us.

Sixty ideas in one hour sounds daunting, but the simplicity of the format made it possible to absorb every single one of them. Each of the six panelists had 10 minutes to present their 10 ideas. Each had a theme, which kept the content fresh from speaker to speaker.

Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, used his musical training as a theme, while Jennifer Labit, founder and CEO of Cotton Babies, emphasized her experience in entrepreneurship. Eric Benting, owner and operator of Chik-fil-A, shared his  insights about working with very young employees.

Attendees at the EMBA-sponsored “60 ideas in 60 minutes” event.

Don Halpin spoke of pivoting from a military career to medical innovation, and Ken Yamaguchi about straddling both corporate and university surgical responsibilities. Jan Alonzo, an attorney, provided a practical tool box of tips, including counting good days, blessings, helping others, and the legal and business necessities of becoming informed about the problem of sexual harassment.

While I was there, I was surprised and pleased to run into my classmate from EMBA 43, David Moons, president at his family’s business, Anji Mountain. I asked him why he attends Olin events.

“When you work in a small business, it’s very easy to get focused on just what you’re doing and ignore some of the external factors that are influencing your business,” he said. “WashU events provide me with the opportunity to stay in touch with what other companies are doing and, more importantly, how some global macro factors can be affecting my business and my people.”

I asked David to distill the 60 ideas into his top three:

1. Pull multiple levers. Find your idea and make sure all of your resources support it.

David: “We have a major initiative this year with some patented innovation. I’m cherry-picking different things that we’ll likely do to support that launch, but we’re now thinking more of, “Let’s just pull all the levers.” We don’t really know what’s going to work, and we might as well go full stop as opposed to limit our financial exposure, because we want to make sure this thing is a success.”

2. If you think you know what you’re doing, you’re likely in decline.

David: “That is something that will likely keep me up and still does keep me up on a nightly basis. I think that level of focus—on continuous improvement and not resting on your laurels—is about trying to drive your company and your vision and what you’re doing to improve. It’s something that’s critical. We can’t be successful if we don’t do that.”

3. Use mission to inspire people.

David: “When I think about mission inspiring people, it’s not just my people that I work with at Anji Mountain. It’s more about using our mission as a company to inspire our customers to get further engaged with our business. We compete in a hyper-competitive market. There are a lot of major players that are established. We need to continually find ways to differentiate, and using and leveraging our mission to better position ourselves with our customers is something we’re going to continue to focus on.”

David added, “I’m going to take probably the top 30 and bring it back to my company and my people, and hopefully they can get something out of it and it starts a bigger dialogue.”

I spied another EMBA classmate, Ken Franklin, running out of the event before it was over. I talked to him by phone later in the day.

“I’ve always felt that I have a moral compass guiding tough decisions, but I didn’t realize that it’s a skill,” he said. “At the end of the day, you want to do the right thing, be honest, have integrity, and build character. That’s what leaders do. My big takeaway—big ideas come from the heart.”

Read more about the event and find a list of all 60 ideas.




A high-performing team is the holy grail of leadership. But how do you build a strong team in practice? The beauty of Olin’s Executive MBA program is the abundance of opportunities to learn, apply, and practice team-building skills.

Executive MBA alumni Eric Willis and Ali Ahmadi, EMBA Academic Director Lee Konczak, and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Andrew Knight summarize some of the more salient lessons about team-building from the Executive MBA program and their professional lives:

A Shared Purpose

As part of the Leadership Residency, Lee Konczak, academic director of the Executive MBA Program and senior lecturer on organizational behavior and leadership development, administers a team development survey to measure how well the student teams function.

The assessment is Olin’s way “of defining for EMBA teams what a good team looks like,” Konczak said. “Teams do better when they have shared goals, plan ahead, and communicate. In some cases, it’s obvious when teams aren’t on the same page using this assessment.”

According to Konczak, commitment to a shared purpose and a willingness to plan are the two most important team-building takeaways for executives in the program.

Diversity of Perspectives and Experience

Eric Willis, EMBA 43, was a senior brand manager when he started the EMBA Program. He was promoted to a brand director during the program and is now director of marketing at Nestlé Purina Petcare. For him, the team-building aspect of the Executive MBA Program was an opportunity to practice skills he’d learned at Nestlé with a completely different and diverse group of professionals.

“One of the things I loved most about the EMBA program was that it was such a diverse group of people with different points of view and different backgrounds, all coming together in one place,” Willis said. “On your team, you’ve got to figure out how to leverage everyone’s strengths to achieve a common goal.”

At Nestlé Purina, Willis regularly brings groups of disparate team members together, including finance and product development participants, to agree on mission and vision. Some of the challenges include developing trust, addressing different sets of values, and communication.

“To me, building a strong team means getting diversity of thought. It means respecting people’s different points of view,” he said. “When I think of building a strong team, I think of empowering people to make decisions, and I think of leveraging what everybody brings to the table and trying to find a way to use everybody’s different perspectives to reach a common goal.”

An Environment of Trust and Respect

Entrepreneurship is an area in which building strong teams—and building them early—is critical. As an EMBA student, Ali Ahmadi, EMBA 44, leapt fully into entrepenreurship, co-founding drone 3D software startup “Strayos” (formerly AirZaar), with a fellow student. He knows firsthand how important it is that teams work well when the stakes are high and the rewards are not guaranteed.

“Early stage founders often don’t realize that the idea or product is not the only factor motivating the talent; it’s also the willingness to follow their leader into an environment where the odds are stacked against them in succeeding,” he says. “When you build a team that trusts and respects you as a leader, they will go through a wall of fire to reach the common goal but if the trust and respect are neglected, then very little can be done to salvage it,” he says.

Be Open to Feedback

Andrew Knight, associate professor of organizational behavior at Olin, finds that one of the biggest roadblocks for entrepreneurs is cultivating and developing a sense of shared ownership—“not in an equity sense,” Knight said, “but in terms of the feeling of ownership that the team members have over the venture. There is kind of an asymmetry in people’s investment in the project at the outset.”

Knight suggests leaders invite input from those joining the team, while at the same time creating boundaries: “Encourage new team members to make contributions and suggest changes to the venture, but pair that with clearly communicating where the entrepreneur is less willing to make changes.”

This clarity—inviting input within a mutually understood structure—“applies in almost any creative team where there is a need to get people feeling ownership—especially implementation and innovation,” Knight said.

The importance of this delicate balance is supported by recent research by Knight and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Markus Baer, who identified three behaviors of successful lead entrepeneurs in the earliest stages of a venture.




When I received an email offering a “Coaching Opportunity” for Executive MBAs to participate in Olin’s Intensive Case Experience (ICE) Competition, part of the full-time MBA required course Critical Thinking and Impactful Communications, I read it and let it slide. The commitment was several hours on a weekend in December—a busy month for everyone.

But when I received a second email on “Giving Tuesday” requesting volunteers, I sucked it up and offered up my Saturday.

It was the most satisfying volunteer experience I have ever had.

To begin with, Patrick Moreton, Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, provided the volunteer EMBAs with an abstract of the student assignment, considerable context around the problem at hand, as well as the expectations of the volunteer coaches. The one-hour session was reminiscent of EMBA lectures, including an explanation of the case and the challenge to the students: “Suggest opportunities to disrupt Monsanto’s business using NLP (Natural Language Processing) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) in marketing and customer strategy.” I mean, how cool is that?

Monsanto and Amazon had presented the context of the problem and potential solutions to the student teams, and the teams were now in the process of preparing competitive presentations. Amazon and Monsanto offered office hours during the weekend to answer questions from the teams. The winning team would have the opportunity to present their idea to Monsanto.

Happy to hear that the full day commitment had been whittled down to four hours, the EMBAs each had an assigned conference room and three student teams scheduled to show up for one hour apiece.

During the prep, Moreton emphasized the importance of not providing answers, but asking the right questions.

  • Be the boss, but not the kind that tells people what to do

  • Resist your impulse to answer the question because you know it

  • Make sure everyone is heard

As I listened to each of the teams I worked with, I was surprised how little I needed to know about the specific topic to assist them with honing their ideas. Each team came in with ideas that, after one hour of work, were further developed and more refined. You can’t ask for more than that from a volunteer experience.

Patrick Moreton, Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, prepped volunteers on how to coach MBA ICE teams. 

I asked Moreton after my coaching sessions why he extended the opportunity to EMBAs. “We do a fair amount of work with peer coaching, but it’s difficult for a peer to give the same level of feedback as someone who has more experience. The trick is to get people with more experience who understand that they’re not there to answer the questions, they’re there to help develop the people,” he said.

In addition, MBA students are interested in networking with EMBAs. Unlike opportunities for coffee or an Olin-sponsored cocktail party, coaching gives MBA students and EMBA alumni opportunities to connect on a different level. “From my perspective, people make relationships when they work together and when you have a shared purpose to really come together as a team. This is not just to give them the name of an EMBA to have coffee with, it’s a chance for them to demonstrate the value of being in that person’s network,” he said.

A fellow EMBA 43 alum, David Jackson, also volunteered as a coach. I asked him why he did it.

“For the same reason you still see Lou Brock and retired Cardinals baseball players hanging around the clubhouse. While I was not anywhere close to as good of a student as Brock was a baseball player, I enjoy engaging with and helping develop business students in the same way he still helps develop world-class athletes. Moreover, coaching is the best way to refine my leadership skills and learn new ideas and tricks from the students,” he said.

What I found satisfying was the realization that my Executive MBA degree, and my years of business experience, are truly valuable to young professionals. It isn’t necessary to know the details—I have a framework of expertise that applied to business problems of all kinds is an asset and can help others learn and grow. This is a gift I wish every EMBA could receive.




By any measure, the education required to become a doctor is daunting: a 4-year undergraduate degree, 4 years in medical school, and 3-7 years of residency. The business of medicine is so complex, however, that many MDs are taking their education one step further.

In 2013, both Sheyda Namazie-Kummer, MD, and Vamsi Narra, MD, enrolled in Olin’s Executive MBA program. The goal? Gain a holistic understanding of the practice of medicine by mastering the business of medicine.

Sheyda Namazie-Kummer, MD

In her role as Director of the Clinical Advisory Group at BJC HealthCare’s Center for Clinical Excellence, Namazie-Kummer must regularly navigate new policies from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“There’s a mix of our integration of the clinical aspects of medicine and policy and the business aspects,” says Namazie-Kummer. “How do we deliver healthcare that is sustainable and high quality? Sustainability is critical for us.”

Narra, Professor of Radiology, Senior Vice Chair of Imaging Informatics and New Business Development, and Chief of Radiology at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, emphasized that understanding medicine as a business helps elevate its humanitarian goals: “As a physician, I am primarily trained in terms of taking care of patients, but having that business knowledge and being in the trenches, you see how you can contribute to the effort to get a better system in place.”

The business of medicine

Like any other business, medical practice requires a good understanding of where money goes and where it comes from. Narra said, “There is procurement and there are processes. You need to have a system to run the show (operations), quality and safety checks, a way to collect the revenue, and to negotiate contracts with the insurance payers or whoever else it may be.”

Vamsi Narra, MD

However, as a lifelong science student, Narra had not had much exposure to core business subjects like finance and accounting. Luckily, Olin’s EMBA program is rich with courses that explore the core aspects of business.

“Having an understanding of cost accounting gives me a sense of what to look into and what not. I don’t expect to be an expert in that area, because that’s not my area of expertise,” said Narra. “But when that is put in front of me, I can at least interpret those numbers and ask the questions so I can get more answers.”

Strategic planning and problem-solving

Namazie-Kummer expressed a similar appreciation for the EMBA’s breadth of studies. She saw the challenges in healthcare as business challenges—and wanted to learn how to tackle them.

“Broadening my understanding of the world of business and how the various aspects of strategic planning and operations come together, was just foundational in helping me better understand and appreciate some of the problems that we face in healthcare on a regular basis. Understanding the pieces has helped me effectively problem solve.”

Leadership development

For Namazie-Kummer and Narra, one of the most valuable aspects of the EMBA program was the focus on teamwork and effective management.

“You need to know every step of the way how to manage people,” says Narra. “Everyone is well meaning, but you have to figure out what the incentives are, how people react, what is human nature, and how can one become susceptible to the other kinds of information that is being thrown at them.”

When Narra talks to other MDs about pursuing the degree, he emphasizes the management aspect—and its additional time requirements. “For you to be an effective leader, you still need to maintain your core competencies. You still need to maintain your connection to your core team,” he said. “Even though I cut down on my clinical time, I still need to have my clinical time so I can understand the problems and challenges my teammates are facing. When you look at the situation overall, a physician leader actually has a lot busier schedule than a non-physician leader.”

Namazie-Kummer says the ability to manage and solve problems as a team, leveraging each member’s strengths, is critical to healthcare: “We can’t solve problems in medicine without operating as multi-disciplinary groups of people—not just doctors.”

Why MDs should consider an Executive MBA

Namazie-Kummer advises other MDs to keep an open mind about the EMBA if they decide to do it. “You can apply the skills you learn through an EMBA in so many different respects—you don’t have to just focus on something like finance. Remember that there are leadership skills and interpersonal interactions and group dynamics and strategy and so many other pieces that are as important as any one economic concept.”

“I realized as we finished the MBA,” Narra said, “that there’s not a single course that I did not find useful.”


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