Tag: Alumni

Daphne Benzaquen

Daphne Benzaquen, MBA ’17, was very clear about what she wanted out of business school: An opportunity to be her own boss. And that’s what she’s done with the launch of her personal lifestyle brand daph., conceived at Olin from her personal experience.

She’s been written up in a variety of St. Louis-area publications including St. Louis Magazine and the St. Louis Business Journal, which named her a 30 Under 30 honoree in 2019.

Can you tell us a little about daph? What inspired you to found it? Was it conceived at Olin?

daph. was born out of an unmet need. During my MBA studies at Olin, I was in search for a functional, fashionable backpack that not only carried my essentials, but also had a sleek and polished look.

In 2016, I embarked on an adventure that led to a self-taught crash course in designing leather goods, meetings with leather makers across Peru and a website designed from scratch. I wanted to create a brand that bonded my unique style with my Peruvian roots.

After a year of international communication, editing and design, I launched daph., a sustainable fashion brand that empowers its customers to give back.

Why did you decide to get your MBA and how did you land at Olin?

I went to business school with the goal of being my own boss and the ultimate decision-maker. Never did I imagine I would become every single department of a company. No day is the same and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

St. Louis is home to me so Olin was an easy choice. Both St. Louis and Olin have become a hub for innovation and creativity. The connections made through the program are invaluable.

I’ve met lifelong friends, mentors and contacts, which has led to amazing opportunities to grow my business. Attending Olin gave me an all-encompassing view of business while introducing me to new skills and experiences that have sparked new interests and passions, something not found at all schools.

In what ways was your experience at Olin formative in your experience and goals?

I was lucky enough to attend various events held at Olin where I heard from experienced, notable experts in various fields. For example, I participated in a Taylor Community Consulting Project. In that experience, alongside my peers, we positively contributed to the growth strategy of LaunchSTL, a nonprofit organization with the goal of building up nonprofit’s young professional boards.

To conclude my MBA, I studied abroad at various European business schools with students from all over the world. We visited global companies, hearing from top executives at the company and gaining insight on international business strategies and customs—something vital in my business.

Olin taught me how to think about various business issues differently and from diverse perspectives. I learned how to push the boundaries and test out new, unique solutions to everyday company problems.

I always say getting my MBA from Olin was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Were there particular courses or professors who were particularly memorable?

My confidence to start daph. began during my Introduction to Entrepreneurship with David Poldoian. During this course, I was pushed outside my comfort zone when it came to coming up with a business solution.

I was able to use skills gained in other courses to come up with a complete execution plan to an idea that was just in the making. It taught me how to think outside the box, which I do every day now.

Hearing from other entrepreneurs in the St. Louis community, along with conducting feasibility studies, gave me the push I needed to take the risk and start something on my own.

What are the next steps for you in your career?

I will continue to grow daph. into a national lifestyle and fashion brand.

For Brent Sobol, the key to loving your work starts with understanding yourself and knowing what makes you happy. With that, he said recently, you’re in a position to make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Sobol found what he loved to do while he was a student at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School. In exchange for free rent, he managed his fraternity’s house and loved the work. Then, in the final days of Sobol’s last semester, a group of students asked a favorite professor for advice about starting their post-college lives.

“Follow your bliss,” the professor said.

“The message resonated with me to my core,” Sobol said in a recent talk at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown.

“That’s the only way you can really feel good about yourself,” he said. “When you feel really good about yourself, you’re in a position to help others and make a difference in their lives.”

Brent Sobol speaks about his mission to serve low- and moderate-income residents.

Sobol is president and founder of Legacy Community Housing Corp., a nonprofit he formed in 2009. The concept came out of lessons he learned over years of working in the affordable housing industry. During that time, he rehabilitated dangerous and blighted apartment communities, and he became a specialist in crime prevention and turning around multifamily communities.

“I got a reputation for being the guy who could turn around the apartments that were badly broken,” he said. “I was an owner and a property manager. Most apartments, there’s a great divide between the owner and the property manager.” That’s part of the problem with low-income housing, Sobol said.

Address root problems

Low-income housing could work well, he realized, if the goal was a safe community populated with good neighbors. And that goal can be achieved by providing social services that address root problems in the community and by having managers who are engaged in the community, said Sobol, who earned his bachelor’s in business administration from Olin in 1998.

Sobol moved to Atlanta in 2001, a few years after graduation, and became a millionaire by age 30. He also owns Sobol Realty Inc., a residential real estate company his father started in 1954. “My dad had a lot of good sayings,” Sobol said. Among them: “Giving is the path to happiness.”

Over time he has owned, managed, financed and invested in more than 6,500 rental and condominium units with values in excess of $128 million. He has overseen the successful repositioning of 14 apartment communities with capital improvement expenditures totaling over $27 million. During his talk, Sobol spoke about how his wealth and happiness grew alongside his mission to serve low- and moderate-income residents with respectable places to live.

Safety for his residents is paramount. “You need to feel safe in your home before you can do anything else. That’s fundamental,” he said. Landlords should always check tenants’ backgrounds, he said, but not enough do. In Atlanta, Sobol formed partnerships with the police, sheriff’s and fire departments.

Engage residents

Sobol also worked to engage residents. His properties have offered programs for all age groups, including bingo for seniors and daycare for children. “We hired really good teachers who had certifications, so the kids were learning when they came to our daycare.” His own daughter attended the daycare.

He also came up with other ways to add value to his residents’ lives. He created a community garden. He had an orchard of plum, pear and orange trees planted. Anyone can come and take the fruit.

And he was careful to put employees in jobs they love.

“Everybody benefited from that,” he said. “Customers loved us even more. We made more money. And, you know, the world is a better place when [people] love what they do.”

Learn how WashU Olin’s full-time MBA program — with global-mindedness, experiential learning and analytical rigor — equips future business leaders to confront challenge and change the world, for good.

Christine Chang, BSBA

Five years ago this month, Christine Chang, BSBA ’04, cofounded her skin care company, Glow Recipe, leaving behind a career in global marketing at L’Oreal US. Just over a year later, she and her cofounder appeared on Shark Tank as a way to jump start the business—and later decided a financial relationship with the “sharks” wasn’t necessary. Chang answered a few questions for the Olin Blog.

​Can you tell us a little about Glow Recipe? What inspired you to found it? Was it conceived at Olin?

Glow Recipe is a clean, cruelty-free skin care company founded in 2014. Our mission is to empower our customers to feed skin the ingredients it needs, when it needs it. We’re available at 1,500-plus doors in all Sephora US and Canada stores, as well as Douglas in Germany and Mecca in Australia.

My cofounder Sarah and I were inspired by growing up in Korea and learning a holistic approach to skin care and self care from our mothers and grandmothers. We were the only two bicultural and bilingual employees at L’Oreal who had experience in the beauty industry in both Korea and the US, and we thought this background could uniquely serve us to bridge these two cultures. While Glow Recipe is based in New York, it will always be K-beauty inspired.

Why did you decide to attend WashU and Olin?

I was looking for a school that had diversity, in terms of class size, backgrounds, ethnicities and majors so I would be exposed to a rich breadth of options and possibilities. Olin was an incredible foundation for my first job at L’Oreal as a marketer and helped me build analyticial, creative and presentation skills.

How did you decide to move down the path of entrepreneurship?

I was an assistant vice president at L’Oreal, heading marketing for the skin care category of a brand I really enjoyed working with. At the time, a great number of global beauty companies were starting to partner with Korean manufacturers due to the sheer level of innovation, especially in skin care, that was coming from Korea.

The Korean beauty brands that were being brought over were not reflective of this innovation, nor was there strong brand building. I decided this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage my background and experience to bring over beauty innovation and education in a relevant way for a global audience.

Why Shark Tank? What was that experience like?

We were huge fans of Shark Tank even before we were entrepreneurs. It was a surreal experience to be on national TV (completely unrehearsed!) and to have your business dissected by five successful, inspirational entrepreneurs.

It was nerve racking, but such a valuable learning experience on how to pitch our brand and communicate our mission. We got three offers from the sharks and shook hands with Robert Herjavec on the show, but eventually amicably parted ways. When the show aired in December 2015, it brought incredible nationwide awareness for our brand and philosophy.

Have you needed or planned to go outside for additional funding, or has that not been necessary?

We are bootstrapped and have not received outside investment.

Mentions in E!, Cosmo, HuffPo, CNN—is there a secret to the media exposure you’ve been able to capture?

Compelling, educational content has been the cornerstone of our platform and the fuel behind our social and press growth. We’ve always believed that educating on the routine and our skin care philosophy comes before selling a product.

Skin concepts such as Glowipedia, the first “skin care look book,” or “glass skin” skin care hacks like “seven skin method” were appreciated by both editors and customers as our unique approach to skin care techniques and education.

A recent shoot featuring a behind-the-scenes look at how our Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask was made also went viral. We got a lot of feedback from our community that they appreciated the transparency behind our processes.

In what ways was your experience at Olin formative in your experience and goals?

Olin was a combination of interesting courses, lifelong friendships and a supportive, safe environment to figure out how I wanted to approach my career and life after college. 

Were there particular courses or professors or alumni who were particularly memorable or influential?

Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop, granted me time to do an informational interview. She was one of the first to really effectively create an experiential retail space and is an inspirational entrepreneur.

I also love seeing the work of Celia Ellenberg, AB ’04, who is the beauty director at Vogue. She consistently pushes the boundary on interesting, out-of-the-box beauty editorial.

What are the next steps for you in your career?

Continuing to grow Glow Recipe and build our team. Glow Recipe started as a curation site in 2014, bringing over natural K-beauty products to the US. Glow Recipe Skincare, our in-house brand, was launched in 2017.

This year, we hit a major milestone by evolving our business model from doing both curation and creation, to solely focusing on Glow Recipe Skincare. We have a lot of exciting innovations and activations planned for our brand and can’t wait to see what 2020 brings.

Find more about Glow Recipe and Christine Chang on the company’s Instagram page and her personal Instagram page.

Olin alums Bethany Curd, Michael Nordlund, Rick Butler, Gregory "Max" McDaniel and Arjun Sharma, who participated in the 2019 career tech trek to Silicon Valley for current students.

A recent career trek to the west coast was a smash hit for first- and second-year MBA students—but it couldn’t happen without engagement from Olin alumni and their link to key companies.

Greg Hutchings

That’s the most important message from Greg Hutchings, west coast business development manager for Olin’s Weston Career Center. That critical alumni link opens doors in key companies, offers opportunities for current students and creates ambassadors for the school across the country and around the world.

“The alumni are key,” Hutchings said. “Alumni advocates are crucial to developing successful recruiting relationships with many companies.”

In that spirit, Hutchings applauded seven Olin alums for their work toward making the west coast “tech trek” a success October 17–18, 2019:

  • Bethany Curd, Adobe, AB ’08/BSBA ’08
  • Michael Nordlund, Google, MSF ’10
  • Flora (Fei) Wang, Google, MACC ’12
  • Don Yakulis, Visa, MSPT ’91
  • Rick Butler, Cisco, BSEE ’80/PMBA ’86
  • Gregory “Max” McDaniel, Applied Materials, MBA ’02
  • Arjun Sharma, Apple, MBA ’17

With their collaboration, Hutchings and the Olin Technology Club was able to put together an aggressive schedule of company visits in Silicon Valley for 12 first- and two second-year MBA students. In addition to the companies those alumni represent, students also visited Uber, Visa, Square, Amazon AWS and The Gap.

Students recounted their experience in this blog post—experiences that included direction on what roles MBAs fill in their companies, strategies for how to interview and advice on preparing for interviews.

Kasey Lucas, associate director of development for Olin alumni and development, along with the alumni also arranged for a round-table reception with the students, something of a “speed-dating” opportunity in which every student spent time with every alumnus to pick their brains and gain career perspective.

The WCC’s partnership with Olin A&D—particularly with Lucas, Jamie Hansen and Kate Lyford—has been critical to establishing these alumni relationships for the sake of our students.

“These companies will not just come to you, so you have to have that alumnus who is willing to raise the WashU flag and lead the charge,” Hutchings said. “They’re absolutely the vital link for our way into those companies.”

Pictured above: Bethany Curd, Michael Nordlund, Rick Butler, Gregory “Max” McDaniel and Arjun Sharma.

Jen Flaxman, MSW

A beloved alumnus who displayed unfailing mentorship for students and support for Olin Business School now has another enduring legacy in his name: An endowed scholarship that will provide full tuition for undergraduate students for years to come.

Jon Flaxman
Jon Flaxman

Jon Flaxman, MBA ’81, died in March 2018, just a few months after taking part in the sort of alumni support that came naturally: He welcomed 21 Olin students to HP Inc. headquarters, where he served as COO, during the students’ west coast career trek.

Flaxman had risen through the ranks during a 36-year career at Hewlett-Packard before becoming second-in-command at HP Inc. To honor Flaxman, his former company established and endowed the Jon & Lauri Flaxman HP Inc. Scholarship at the $1 million level.

The company made the announcement at the time of his death.

“Supporting this scholarship was an easy decision for the company. Jon was a longtime, dedicated contributor to the HP community. Anyone who knew him also knew how dearly he loved Washington University and Olin Business School,” HP Inc. said in a statement. “We are honored to carry on Jon’s legacy in this way.”

Contributions from colleagues

Even beyond the company’s gift, hundreds more family members and former colleagues contributed privately to the fund, bringing the total amount raised for the endowed scholarship to more than $1.1 million.

The Flaxmans had funded annual scholarships at Olin since 2011, supporting several students in the process.

“Through their long-term support of the university, the Flaxmans embody the community-wide spirit that makes WashU such a special place,” said Andrew Martin, Chancellor of Washington University. “This scholarship established in their honor will continue to sustain the university and make a significant difference in the lives of our students.”

One such student, Aman Grover, BSBA ’21, said he had an opportunity to meet Jon and Lauri in October 2017. The following year, Grover was named the inaugural recipient of the newly established Jon & Lauri Flaxman HP Inc. Scholarship.

“This has taken a huge burden off the shoulders of my family, and I get to experience college as someone with immensely more financial freedom as a result,” Grover said. “The scholarship in his name—that’s going to similarly help change the lives of many students coming after me as well.”

Generous contributions to Olin

Jon Flaxman’s postgraduate work with Olin went well beyond scholarship support. He gave generously to name a study room in Knight Hall in 2014; served on the San Francisco Regional Cabinet; volunteered as the San Francisco leader for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University; and served on Olin’s National Council as well as the university’s Parents Council.

Jon and Lauri Flaxman’s son Brian earned his undergraduate degree from Olin in 2012. Their niece, Jen Flaxman, is a graduate student in the Brown School.

“Jon’s influence on Olin Business School—and on our students—will not be forgotten,” said Dean Mark Taylor, the Donald Danforth Jr. Distinguished Professor of Finance. “We are truly grateful for HP’s extraordinary generosity in honoring Jon with this endowment. This gift shines a bright light on the company’s deep commitment to its employees and its worldwide philanthropic support for education.”

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., HP Inc. creates technology designed to improve lives for people around the world, with a product portfolio that includes printers, PCs, mobile devices, solutions, and services. The company employs more than 40,000 people in offices spanning the globe, including the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Pictured above: Jen Flaxman, MSW ’20; Aman Grover, BSBA ’21; Lauri Flaxman; and Brian Flaxman, BSBA ’12.

Ryan Richt, MBA

WashU Olin prepares scores of students each year to be consultants, armed with data and state-of-the-art best practices to advise managers on streamlining business operations, staying ahead of the curve and remaining relevant.

Well, listen up, consultants. Ryan Richt also has a WashU Olin degree—and his latest startup might render your industry irrelevant using artificial intelligence and the combined wisdom of 30 years’ worth of academic business research.

Not only that, a few key investors have bet on it to the tune of about $2.6 million so far.

“I think the problem with management consultants is you get this single point-in-time analysis. We’ve developed software that’s always running,” said Richt, MBA ’08, BA ’08. “We’re coming for those high-paying, white-collar consulting jobs.”

Richt is coming after those jobs by way of Well Principled, his St. Louis-based startup that creates real-time business applications to actively manage a company’s supply chain logistics, pricing strategies, product development roadmaps and marketing expenditures. Those AI models are effectively consultants who are always working, always available and always adjusting as data rolls in.

But the magic comes from what’s behind those applications: Using artificial intelligence and good old-fashioned elbow grease, Richt and his team have translated decades of academic business school research into algorithms that actively adjust the knobs, levers and dials required to run a business.

Serial startup founder

Richt prepared for entrepreneurship while working on both his undergraduate degree and MBA at the same time—and working four years at WashU’s St. Louis Genome Sequencing Center in the mid-2000s. That led to two years as CEO of a firm he co-founded called Cofactor Genomics, a DNA sequencing services firm.

Richt was recruited away to Monsanto in St. Louis, where he worked for nearly six years leading computational biology and cloud roles before he was recruited as employee No. 5 at CiBO Technologies. There he built a 70-person team to mine farming research literature to optimize farms. That experience planted the seeds for his latest startup.

All the while, Richt stayed in closed contact with his faculty mentor, Anne Marie Knott, Olin’s Robert and Barbara Frick Professor of Business and an expert in business innovation.

And when the door on the CiBO opportunity closed, Knott wasn’t surprised by how quickly Richt dusted himself off. “He immediately started working on Well Principled,” she said. “Within three months, he had a working prototype.”

Richt also recruited Knott to invest and chair his new startup’s science advisory board. She views her role as one of availability: When Richt needs counsel, introductions and advice, she’s there. But based on his past performance, she’s not concerned. “He plans perfectly, and he actually executes to plan.”

Optimized operational decisions

Is your company introducing a new automated espresso coffeemaker? Should you supply coffee pods with the machine when it’s sold? How many would you have to give away before the customer is hooked? What flavors should you include? Can you adjust the flavor mix based on what you know about the customer? How often should you remind the customer to buy more pods? If you introduce a new flavor, will that boost sales or draw sales from products you already sell?

The Well Principled technology is designed to answer and act on questions like these thanks to real-world data from an individual company—and years of accumulated wisdom from management experts in academia.

“It’s really so exciting to bring the academic work that we value so much into practice,” said Richt. And the concept has drawn investor attention. Well Principled closed a $1.6 million seed round with Global Founders Capital on August 30 following a $1 million pre-seed round with investments from Knott, Liquid 2 Ventures, Founders Fund, Cultivation Capital and Y Combinator.

Richt expects to use some new capital on an MBA-level engagement manager to work with clients and two additional software engineers. Richt’s colleagues at Well Principled include two other WashU alums: Kate DeWulf, PMBA ’19, vice president of product and customer experience; and Joe Wingbermuehle, Eng PhD ’15, cofounder and principal platform engineer.

At the moment, Richt’s customers include several Fortune 500 companies that are piloting projects with early versions of Well Principled’s suite of applications.

One of them is bringing a new product to market. The Well Principled engine will provide guidance on the segmentation of product varieties, stimulating enough trials to get customers hooked and predicting and preventing churn—the kind of work a flesh-and-blood consultant might be tasked with solving.

“These algorithms can not only spit out answers, but run the business,” Richt said. “They can send the orders out. Our thesis is that by using the academic literature, we know which dials to go turn because we have that theoretical foundation.”