Business & Research

Olin's second annual Impact Investing Symposium attracted a large crowd representing community partners, investors, lenders, and organizations that want to redefine traditional finance and return on investment in terms of impact.


The bad news is: “the money companies spend on R&D is producing fewer and fewer results,” according to Anne Marie Knott, Olin strategy professor, and author of the just-published book How Innovation Really Works.

Knott_chosenIn an article published on the Harvard Business Review website this week, Knott says, “My research shows the returns to companies’ R&D spending have declined 65% over the past three decades.” This decline begs the question and title of Knott’s article, “Is R&D Getting Harder, or Are Companies Just Getting Worse At It?”

Her research finds that companies are getting worse at R&D, but there’s a silver lining:

“It appears the decline in companies’ (and the economy’s) ability to drive growth from R&D stems from the fact that companies have gotten worse at innovation, rather than because innovation has gotten harder. This is great news, because the problem of companies getting worse is fixable, whereas the problem of innovation getting harder isn’t. The challenge, of course, is knowing what to fix and how to fix it.”

Link to Harvard Business Review


“Right now, I think the increase in CEO pay is more stock market driven than profit driven,” said Radhakrishnan Gopalan, Olin associate professor in finance told NBC News in response to a new study from the Wall St. Journal on CEO compensation.

“The stock market is rising in anticipation of future growth in profits,” Gopalan said. “The stock awards, which are basically what’s driving the growth in CEO pay, are mostly a motivator for future performance.”

This kind of forward-looking optimism is typical of a stock-heavy incentive structure, but some warn this can be an imperfect way of measuring performance, since bull market gains aren’t matched proportionately with bear market losses.

Unfortunately, they never retrench,” Gopalan said. “That link is weaker on the down side.”

Link to NBC story here.

Watch video about related research on CEO compensation from Prof. Gopalan and Prof. Todd Milbourn that won the Olin Award in 2016.




Our last day with The Women’s Bakery started off a little bit differently than the rest of our week in Rwanda. Instead of waking up and looking out over Kigali, we woke up to the sun rising over the hazy Congo, just barely visible across the beautiful Lake Kivu.

RELATED: Building bakeries and a new business model in Rwanda

Lake kivu

We made our way out to the Western Province the day before, climbing over a mile in altitude and watching the fauna become increasingly mountainous and green. This area of the country sees much more rain, which we learned first-hand in the village of Bumba while visiting one of three TWB bakeries in Rwanda. We experienced a massive downpour that came in quickly as we met with Ernest, a member of the cooperative that owns this particular bakery.

IMG_0555Ernest was one of the many people that we met throughout the week who is involved with The Women’s Bakery at all levels of the value chain. In addition to Ernest, we met with three other field partners, both men and women, who are helping to run their bakeries with their co-ops. We also had the chance to meet with and watch the women themselves in action.

In addition to visiting the bakeries, we were able to meet with partners of TWB. Atikus is a microfinancier who is working to make loans available to the women who go through the training program. And SMGF is a firm that is taking steps to become a hiring partner that will invest in building a bakery in the future. And finally, we spent a lot of time with the TWB team themselves, trying to figure out how to best help them.

IMG_0571As we met with all of these people throughout the week, we regrouped whenever and wherever we could as a team to unpack everything we had been hearing. These ad hoc meetings happened at restaurants, in our hotel, and in the car as we moved around the country. And now our task, as we sat in the lodge overlooking the water, was to bring all of the information together and figure out how to move forward.

We sketched out possible solutions to multiple challenges and debated the merits of each. We did a brainstorming exercise that was used in creating Apple products and addressing the financial crisis to bring out issues we may have missed. And when all was said and done, we were ready to present our preliminary thoughts and plans for the rest of the semester to the TWB team. It had been a long and tiring week, much of it spent in very close quarters, but it was all worth it to see the enthusiasm on the TWB team’s faces as we presented and celebrated over one final dinner.

Guest blogger: Erin Ilic, MBA ’17 

Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) is committed to creating innovative learning opportunities that result in meaningful impact in the business and nonprofit communities.




As we stood under a canopy of banana leaves and listened in awe to a Ugandan entrepreneur who built her own plantation from nothing, I wondered why none of our classes ever included a business case study from Africa. Maybe it’s because much of Africa is what some people call a developing market. Well, this semester my Center for Experiential Learning practicum consulting team has the privilege of working with an organization on the front lines of that developing market. And it’s the best “case” I’ve ever had.

This is the first of a two-part report from the CEL Practicum consulting team that traveled to Uganda during spring break.

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Engaging with Ugandan entrepreneur

Our client, Mavuno, uses the principles of business to support farmers by organizing them into locally-led groups, educating them with optimal farming techniques, providing them quality supplies and seeds and allowing them access to regional markets. Mavuno is using business as a tool to end extreme poverty in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and stabilize one of the world’s most war-torn regions.

We took off from St. Louis the day after our last midterms, still groggy from our 4am alarms. We arrived in Entebbe, Uganda after 48 hours of traveling, anxious to start soaking in this foreign business landscape in the country that is the world’s second largest producer of bananas (a crop very similar to plantains). Throughout the next week, we traveled all across southern Uganda learning about all pieces of the banana value chain (while also getting a lesson on the expertise and generosity of the Ugandan people):

  • Andrew and Robert, a scientist and researcher respectively, illuminated R&D that the National Agriculture Research Organization is doing to create the best-yielding banana varieties and techniques in the lab and the field.
  • Gorette, a local farmer, demonstrated how she built a very profitable banana plantation with plenty of resourcefulness and dedication.
  • Multiple traders at the market showed how bananas get from the farmer to the hungry consumers in the capital of Kampala.
  • Ronald, an engineer, explained how farmers could alternatively sell their bananas to a government plant to be transformed into value-added banana flour.
  • Dipesh, a seasoned business man, related why his biscuit (cookie) factory had doubts about the feasibility of producing banana biscuits.
  • Matiya, a young entrepreneur, told us how he built his successful snack business that converts raw plantains to value-added plantain chips.

RELATED: Lessons from banana biz, part 2

Guest blogger: Cole Donelson, MBA ’18 Team Lead for Mavuno. 

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Meeting with local children.