Tag: Alumni



On November 30, four Executive MBA alumni and students—all leading Chief Financial Officers representing a variety of industries—gathered to discuss the challenges and ever-changing roles of CFOs.

Rebecca Boyer, of KellyMitchell Group, Charles Kim, of Commerce BancShares Inc., and Jim McCool, of Bunzl Distribution Co., discussed the influence, evolution, and expansion of the CFO role in a roundtable moderated by EMBA student Laura Carel, Manager of Complience at Emerson Automation Solutions.

Over the past decade, the role of CFO has extended well beyond the key functions of financial reporting, forecasting, auditing, and structure. CFOs are often the voice of the company within investor relations and communications to the board, as well as leaders of key strategic and operations initiatives. Despite the rapid rise of the CFO, studies show that less than 15% of CEOs moved into their role from CFO.

Jim, Rebecca, and Chuck each shared how their respective companies are shaping the role of CFO to meet today’s demands. They discussed ways they continue to evolve as professionals, including the development of soft skills, to prepare themselves for the next step. All three agreed that having a strong operations background (rather than purely financial) was a huge asset, providing a deep understanding of the business. Rebecca also emphasized the importance of strong communication skills in the role of CFO.

The next Olin roundtable event, a discussion on the role of operations executives, will take place on January 17, 2018. Check out Olin’s upcoming events for more.




Jeff Wurtzel, MBA ’05, is a marketing director for Mars Wrigley Confectionery US, the largest candy company in the world and the manufacturer of iconic brands such as M&M’S, SNICKERS, SKITTLES and EXTRA Gum. Jeff was responsible for launching one of the company’s most successful viral marketing campaigns for EXTRA Gum, the largest gum brand in the United States. The campaign—called “Give Extra, Get Extra”—achieved more than 100 million online views and received numerous industry awards for business and creative achievements.

How did the campaign for EXTRA Gum start?

It started with a simple insight that something as small as a piece of gum that you can share can unlock meaningful connections with others. As a business, we were looking to accelerate our growth. We believed that a new marketing campaign around sharing could really spark an interest with our consumers and tell the story of our brand in an emotional way.

Your work has gone on to achieve more than 100 million online views. What was the initial launch like?

In the first weekend we launched, our ad had 40 million online views. The song we used in the spot became one of the top 10 trending searches on Apple Music. Dozens of media outlets and influencers posted about our ad, including Ellen DeGeneres.

Our whole team involved was flooded with calls and texts from our colleagues, friends, and family who saw the ad out in the world. We knew we had something special. But the speed of the success really surprised us and it just took off like a rocket ship.

You recorded a very memorable song in the ad. Can you describe the importance of music in the work?

The music was the secret sauce. Hailey Reinhart’s rendition of Elvis’ classic “Can’t Help Falling In Love” was instrumental to our success. There’s something about her voice and this version of the song that’s really moving, and it broke through with viewers in a very special way. We heard time and again how much our consumers loved her rendition. We were also thrilled to learn that Hailey Reinhart recently achieved a certified gold record for her work on the song.

What was the impact to your business?

The impact to our business was immediate. In the first six months of the campaign, the brand grew faster than any other large-scale gum offering in the industry. And this year, EXTRA became the No. 1 gum brand in the entire category—the first time in 15 years. The positive impact to our business illustrates the power of combining clear business goals with breakthrough creative solutions.

You received your MBA in 2005. Were you on a marketing track when you started your MBA?

I originally graduated with a focus in strategy and finance. I started at Mars Wrigley Confectionery as an associate in the strategy group working on new ventures and global acquisitions. Through my work, I developed a passion for building brands and businesses and was encouraged to move into our marketing group where I have worked for the last 10 years.

Any courses and/or professors at Olin that have resonated throughout your career so far?

Mahendra Gupta had an enormous impact on my career and my connection to the WashU community. He was always generous in providing advice, passionate about the program, a first-rate connector among the alumni base and a great managerial accounting teacher…which sometimes is a tough act.

What advice do you have for the MBA Class of 2019?

Find a career that fits into your passion and interests and one that is not dictated by the influence of others around you.

Does the WashU network influence or compose part of your current work/social network?

WashU continues to play a huge part of my life professionally and personally and some of my closest friends are fellow graduates who I still talk with on a weekly basis.




This article was originally published in the 2017 Olin Business Magazine.

Alex Borchert, BSBA ’06, is managing director of investments at Altus Properties and Olin Alumni Board president (2017-18 academic year). He was the keynote speaker at the Undergraduate Programs graduation recognition ceremony in May.

Olin just wrapped up graduation celebrations for 2017, with recognition ceremonies on Dec. 2 and Dec. 8. What better time to revisit Alex’s advice for staying connected?

What advice did you share with the BSBA Class of 2017?

I was honored and quite humbled to speak at graduation. I shared a few guiding principles I’ve come to live by over my career.

The first dealt with protecting one’s integrity. We’ve all heard the platitude: “It takes a career to build a reputation of utmost integrity, but only one dishonest decision to destroy it.” Integrity is one of the only things I’ve found to be completely within one’s personal control in business. I can only hope that I enlightened a few graduates to its importance—and its fragility.

Another related to the value of embracing challenge and learning from failure. I hope that Olin’s 2017 graduates continue to seek fresh challenges as their careers mature—and don’t give into the comfort that success can breed.

I also assured them that the value they receive from WashU doesn’t end at graduation, but continues to grow as alumni.

How can alumni take advantage of the school’s global network?

Should any graduate desire to reconnect with the school or broaden their professional network via alumni connections within a city or industry, I encourage them to reach out directly to our tremendous Alumni & Development department. Don’t be shy; simply call them. They enjoy nothing more than working with alumni to ensure that we are maximizing the value of our incredible network. The alumni network at Olin is as strong as it has ever been. I encourage all of my fellow alums to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity it can provide.

What are the easiest ways to stay in touch or reconnect with Olin?

Some of my favorite opportunities for connection include joining the alumni mentorship program through the Alumni & Development department, providing mock interviews or “lunch and learns” via the Weston Career Center, notifying the Office of Corporate Relations that you’re available to speak to a class or student club about your industry or company, and the easiest of all involves attending one of the many alumni events hosted by our active alumni chapters from coast to coast.




The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently profiled the Olin alumnus behind one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the country.

Chuck Cohn, BSBA ’08 and a 2017 Emerging Leader Honoree, is the founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction online, on mobile devices and in person.

In his interview with the Post-Dispatch, he offered this advice to other entrepreneurs:

First, do something you are passionate about. It can be incredibly hard to build something that customers and the world value, so it’s important that you are passionate about the work you are doing. I know the work we are doing actually helps people and I get to see the positive feedback, testimonials and the impact we have on a lot of learners and it is really rewarding.

Second, listen to your customers. If you build something that solves their problems and helps them, you are a lot more likely to be successful. It’s important to survey your customers and never accept the status quo.

Last, you need to test everything. You need to constantly be trying to improve every aspect of your operation. Eventually you’ll build something special.

Check out the full Q&A with Chuck on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

#OlinKudos, Chuck!




Photo, above: Harry Schmidt, Passavant President and CEO. Photo credit: Passavant Area Hospital

We’re always excited to see Olin alumni in the news, and this interview with Harry Schmidt, EMBA 44, caught our attention in particular.

Harry came to Olin’s Executive MBA program with a full military career under his belt, having served as a pilot in the Navy for 20 years. He is currently the President and CEO of Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois, overseeing 960 employees and a $120 million budget.

Harry was recently a guest on Beyond the Uniform, a podcast that showcases veterans and their transitions into new careers. Harry spoke with Beyond the Uniform Founder and Host Justin Nassiri about planning his transition to a new career, the leadership advantages veterans bring to employment, and his choice to pursue an Executive MBA degree at Olin. Check out highlights from the podcast, or listen to the full interview below:


When you were on active duty, how did you start to prepare for your transition?

It’s a great question because there’s a ton of uncertainty and ambiguity regardless if you’re leaving after one tour or after a full career. I started the process late, probably about six months before retiring which is not a lot of time. I was very fortunate that I had a neighbor who was able to help me through the process. This ultimately ended up being the tie that got me into healthcare.

When a service member is transitioning, I think it’s important to set boundaries and parameters for what kind of a job or career you want afterward. Otherwise, you could end up chasing something that’s someone else’s dream. It could be a fit for someone else but not for you. My family and I wanted to come back to the mid-west. That was the fit for us.

What the civilian sector is looking for is leadership skills—the leadership skills we have learned through getting a lot of responsibility early in our careers, dealing with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. People in the civilian sector are looking for people that can handle these situations and make great decisions within volatility and uncertainty. That’s the skillset that’s transferrable regardless of your warfare specialty.

At what point did you decide to pursue an Executive MBA at Washington University?

It’s been one of the pivotal points in my short civilian career, and I don’t think I would have this role as CEO of a hospital without that education. As veterans, we learn a lot just through on-the-job experience. We learn about finance and budgeting through the money our team or department is allocated each year. But in a lot of ways, we miss out on the revenue side of the operating statement. Taxpayers are giving us our revenue when we’re in the military so it’s a little different.

Regardless of your specialty in the military, the MBA can be a good way to round out your skillset and learn about terminology. I initially looked at a school and started a traditional MBA program, taking classes at night. But it was a little bit disjointed. I didn’t feel like I was being challenged in a way that I wanted to be. So I started looking at different opportunities and found the Washington University EMBA program. In the Executive MBA format, we met once a month for 2-3 days and then worked on projects together in between those meetings. The format set me towards what I wanted to do. I moved through the 20-month program with the same group of people in a cohort fashion. We were able to challenge each other because we had similar levels of experience.

I would also add that sometimes people think it’s just about the letters behind your name. But that mentality will only get you so far. More than the degree itself, I want to know where the person got that degree from. I want to know that they had meaningful conversations about business with others in the program, that they had negotiations and debate. Work gets done in business through relationships, so I want to know that a person developed these skills during their degree program.

What advice would you give to a transitioning military member that feels intimidated by the thought of “starting over” in the civilian sector?

Be a life-long learner. Don’t be afraid to learn something new or take advantage of a new opportunity. Most people would be happy to sit down with you if you wanted to learn more about their industry or what they are doing. Use LinkedIn, make a meaningful connection. I would also recommend various veterans networks. I’m working right now with a group called Elite Meet. It’s a group that looks to connect former special forces and fighter pilots with private sector opportunities. There was also a really strong veterans network at Washington University. I’m sure this is the same at many other schools as well. There’s so many people out there that are willing to help and want you to be successful.


We love to share updates on our alumni with the Olin community. If you have news to share, let us know at blog@olin.wustl.edu.


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