Tag: Building Olin



By Carlos Restrepo, originally published in the 2018 edition of Olin Business magazine.

Spencer Burke

Spencer Burke

Before launching Washington University’s first family business course, Olin Business School’s Spencer Burke felt confident in his knowledge of the topic. After all, Burke, principal at the St. Louis Trust Company, had worked as a corporate lawyer for 15 years and an investment banker for 25 years.

“It wasn’t until the course started that I came to understand just how difficult some of the issues are,” said Burke, an adjunct lecturer at Olin. “The challenge arises from the inherent complexity of doing two difficult things—often in conflict—simultaneously: One, having family harmony. And the second is running a successful business. Those are two very challenging tasks, especially when put together.”

In the five years since starting the course, Burke has taught students the complexities of family-owned business, an area of study he believes is necessary for students seeking any business career.

In fact, the need is great enough that Olin is well on the way to establishing a full-fledged research center on the topic. The Koch Center for Family Business is in the planning stages thanks to a donation of more than $9 million from Roger, Fran, Paul, and Elke Koch. Paul, BSBA ’61, JD ’64, MBA ’68, and Roger, BSBA ’64, MBA ’66, are co-chairmen of the board, and the third generation in leadership at Koch Development Co., a St. Louis-based developer and manager of commercial real estate and owner/operator of select entertainment attractions.

The Koch’s donation will also endow an Olin professorship and Dean Mark P. Taylor is seeking a candidate for the position, a faculty director for the new family business center. The center is the next phase of a family business program begun under former Dean Mahendra Gupta in 2016 with an initial $1.09 million gift from the Kochs.

“There are really three heroes in this,” Paul Koch said. “Mahendra, who comes from a family business in India and saw the need; Spencer Burke, who kept the fire burning; and Dean Taylor, who is an internationally experienced business leader and he picked up that this is a huge issue all over the world.”

The Koch Center for Family Business will not be a brick-and-mortar space, but rather a program within Olin aimed at developing research and disseminating knowledge into the dynamics of family businesses.

“This is not about creating some building or monolithic thing,” Burke said. “This is about addressing the unique issues that family businesses have and giving people interested in that an opportunity to learn more.”

Student-Led Initiative

When John Stupp III began his Olin MBA in 2013, the school had no family business program, prompting him and fellow students to inquire with Gupta about developing a curriculum around the topic. He commissioned five students to analyze the feasibility of a formalized family business program.

From both a practical and theoretical standpoint, there are a significant number of differences among business approaches between family and non-family enterprises, Stupp said. They include issues of succession planning and estate taxes, as well as separating personal and business related-matters.

“The team felt the differences between family and non-family enterprises were drastic enough that it demonstrated a need,” Stupp said. He and his colleagues saw their vision grow further when Burke agreed to teach the family business course and begin to launch Family Business Program.

That program includes a half-semester course, a student-run club, and an annual symposium and speaker series. “These different avenues allow students to experience a diversity of theoretical and practice thought and gain insights into family business best practices,” Stupp said.

Stupp said his interest in family enterprises came about in part from his family’s 162-year-old business, Stupp Bros. Inc., which provides infrastructure development and banking services across the United States. While at Olin, Stupp said he wanted to prepare to continue his family’s tradition of success by learning more deeply about succession planning and how to effectively manage a business while separating family and professional matters. He now serves as director of project management for the company.

“Students get totally focused on big, publicly traded companies. They get no exposure to what family businesses are like,” Roger Koch said. “Family businesses by far create more jobs than any other sector of the economy. There are great careers to be had in family businesses. They’re very long-term oriented. They don’t only think about the next quarter.”

Global Impact, Regionally Based

Dean Taylor said expanding the family business initiative into a full-fledged research center supports Olin’s strategic plan by leveraging the school’s world-class research to create and disseminate knowledge in an innovative way and preparing students for careers in enterprises with global reach.

“Family businesses are among the biggest job creators internationally, nationally, and regionally,” Taylor said.  “Therefore, we are thinking about how we can enhance our research and the body of knowledge in the area. We want to support and enhance family-run and closely held businesses.”

The existing course is not only popular with students who are planning to join or start their own family business, but it’s equally important to students planning to go into fields that work with family-owned businesses.

Such is the case of Jeff Wertenberger, MBA ‘18, an investment banking associate for financial services firm Robert W. Baird & Co. In his role, Wertenberger is occasionally confronted with situations that are specific to family-owned businesses. Taking the family business course and attending the symposiums helped him understand those situations more deeply.

Stupp and Wertenberger said all Olin students should be exposed to the dynamics of family businesses—even if they’re not family business practitioners. Even leaders who don’t work for family owned businesses are likely to work with them at some point in their career.

“It’s important to be knowledgeable of these unique dynamics, what motivates them and what’s important to them,” Wertenberger said. “That’s how important it is.”

Creating First-Hand Connections

In his curriculum, Burke brings real-life cases from around the world to illustrate the importance of understanding the nuances of family-owned businesses.

There are approximately 5.5 million family-owned businesses in the country, which Forbes magazine says contribute to more than 50 percent of gross domestic product and employ more than half of the nation’s workforce. As vital as they are to the nation’s economy, fewer than a third of all US family-owned businesses survive the transition from the first to the second generation of ownership. Another 50 percent don’t make it to a third generation.

“How can we—as students, as faculty, as a school—help the people in these businesses do a better job and how can we help the people who aren’t in the family businesses do a better job helping family businesses?” Burke said.

One component of the existing Family Business Program that will expand with the research center is the ability to study real cases and hear speakers from dozens of companies—including Todd Schnuck of Schnuck Markets, Sue McCollum of Major Brands, and Kyle Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller—at different generational stages and with a unique perspective to the craft.

The program also collaborates with the Olin Center for Experiential Learning, pairing students with family businesses on consulting projects to tackle different challenges unique to those firms, applying principles from the classroom to real-world problems.

Fran and Elke Koch, first row. Paul Koch, Dean Mark Taylor, Roger Koch, and Chancellor Mark Wrighton on February 20, 2018, when the Kochs' gift was announced.

Fran and Elke Koch, first row. Paul Koch,
Dean Mark Taylor, Roger Koch, and Chancellor Mark Wrighton
on February 20, 2018, when the Kochs’ gift was announced.

“A course on family business taught with a case book would not be great,” Burke said. “What’s fun about this is the real-life examples that illustrates the conflicts and how challenging the resolution is.”

Taylor said he anticipates the Koch Center for Family Business will contribute to bettering local and global economies by preparing students to assist these unique, yet essential enterprises.

“It is part of our duty as an institution,” Taylor said. “We seek to have high impact internationally, nationally and regional—and this is an opportune area.”

For the Kochs, they envision a thriving Family Business Center as a world-class resource supporting academic research, preparing students to confront these unique issues, and driving long-term success for family business owners.

“We have friends who spend tens of thousands going to Stanford or Harvard to learn about these burning issues—and we think St. Louis could be one of those centers,” Paul Koch said. “We can make a mark in this area that would make us unique.”

KEY ISSUES

The dynamics of family-owned businesses pose unique challenges for business leaders. The challenges are substantial in a segment responsible for 80 percent of global job creation and 64 percent of the US economy.

  • Succession planning and growth. Distribution of assets can become an issue as the business spans generations.
  • Lack of transparency. Closely held firms hold information close to the vest, which constituents may view as being secretive.
  • Competing motives. Profit may not be the singular success driver for leaders in family-owned businesses. They can be more purposeful, but their purposes may vary.
  • Lines of authority. The person truly calling the shots may not have the title or the corner office, affecting how others effectively engage with a family business.

BY THE NUMBERS

Some key metrics about family-owned businesses.

  • 82 percent of US survey respondents said they trusted family businesses versus 58 percent who trusted “businesses in general.” Globally, the numbers were 75 and 59 percent, respectively.
  • Half of respondents know which companies they buy from are family owned.
  • 81 percent of the world’s largest family businesses practice philanthropy.
  • 25 percent describe family businesses as “transparent” in their business operations.
  • 52 percent say they are “well-prepared” for a sudden succession.
  • Of the world’s 500 largest family businesses, nearly 28 percent are in North America.
  • One in five firms are family owned.

Sources: Edelman; EY Global Family Business Center of Excellence; Forbes.




Abigail MacDonald, MBA ’18, contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. Lexi Bainnson, BSBA ’21, edited and formatted this CEL blog post.

Back row: Jeff Brown, MBA ’19; Ingrid Claussen, innovation manager, Rosario Board of Trade;
Nick Wosniak, MBA ’19; Gabe Berkland, MBA ’19. Front row: Abigail MacDonald, MSW/MBA ’18;
Ana Galiano, Austral University, Rosario – School of Business Sciences dean; Ankita Bhalla, BSBA ’20.

St. Louis is known as one of the best agricultural technology ecosystems in the world. With great agriculture universities, world-class research centers, interested investors, and thoughtful infrastructure, St. Louis is a perfect example of a successful ecosystem.

This fall, a team of graduate and undergraduate students at Olin Business School took a deeper dive into agtech ecosystems to learn about the importance of those essential institutions, groups, and entities necessary to have a successful ecosystem. We partnered with Austral University in Rosario, Argentina, and the Yield Lab, located both in St. Louis and Buenos Aires, to look at two different agtech ecosystems. As part of this process, we traveled to Buenos Aires and Rosario in early October.

Wheels up

Before leaving for Argentina, the team conducted research and interviews in St. Louis. We were excited to share their findings with the partners at Austral University in Rosario and the Yield Lab upon arriving in Argentina. We had a full schedule once we touched down in Argentina, and all of us were focused on the goal of the trip: to understand the key drivers of the agtech ecosystem in Rosario and to learn about how it has evolved over time.

Rosario is located in the province of Santa Fe, which is in the heart of soy country in Argentina, making it a perfect place for an agtech ecosystem to emerge. St. Louis is also located in a heavily agricultural region. The team spent some time driving between the cities of Rosario, Cordoba, and Santa Fe. Ultimately, this traveling gave us the opportunity to see the countryside of Santa Fe and how it closely resembles the agricultural region around St. Louis.

On our second to last day in Rosario, our team visited Molinos Agro, a large local soy crushing facility in San Lorenzo (just outside of Rosario). We had spent most of the week learning about the agtech ecosystem from the beginning of the value chain with startups creating new farm technology or genetically engineering seeds.

A fuller view

As a result, visiting Molinos Agro was especially helpful in that it gave us a glimpse into the middle-end of the value chain. The soy beans came into this facility as raw materials and left as either soy mill or soy oil. This was a great experience for our team, as it allowed us to see the effects that startup technology can have on an entire industry.

Our week in Argentina was filled with activities. Throughout the visit our team had the opportunity to interview with accelerators, startup founders, large local corporations, government agencies, investors, and the Rosario Board of Trade. These interviews provided great insights into the Rosario agtech ecosystem. Upon returning to St. Louis, the team has been hard at work to learn more about the Rosario ecosystem and to create a gap analysis between the two ecosystems. This gap analysis will provide insight into the necessary pieces of a successful agtech ecosystem.

Based on our experiences thus far, taking on a CEL practicum project is a lot of work, but it provides students with experience in industries in which they may have never considered working and helps students to develop useful skills in consulting, teamwork, and critical thinking.

Pictured above: Abigail MacDonald, MSW/MBA ’18; Gabe Berkland, MBA ’19; Nick Wosniak, MBA ’19; Jeff Brown, MBA ’19; Ankita Bhalla, BSBA ’20.




“Data can be used for great good to make a significant positive difference in our communities and our lives… but not without some problems.”

– Naveen Pinjani, Sr. Director Big Data Analytics at Daugherty Business Solutions

At the Data for Good conference on October 5, speaker Naveen Pinjani, along with consultant Jonathan Leek, dynamically kicked off a panel on the Vacancy Collaborative. The Vacancy Collaborative’s mission is to address St. Louis’s vacant property issue and perfectly reflects the conference’s core goal: to celebrate the combination of values-based-leadership and analytics.

Leek knew two things before the creation of the Vacancy Collaborative: He was a skilled data analyst and he wanted to help the community. Knowing this and the brutal fact that about 15 percent of all land in St. Louis is vacant, he put his skills to use.

Addressing this issue has been complicated. Leek asked, “How do we address what we can’t understand?” The data problem presented was that there are city employees who are doing the best they can, but aren’t trained in using and analyzing data. Leek recognized that systems are often put in place by those unfamiliar with data best practices. Along with volunteers, Leek set out to use his data skills to tackle the basics—how many vacant properties/lots exist, where they’re located, and what to prioritize.

Over the past year, the Vacancy Collaborative has combined four data sets, cleaned them up, and defined what each set means. They are on their way to incredible impact. The volunteer aspect of the project comes with its pros and cons; Leek explained its lack of bureaucracy is great, along with the autocratic decision-making process, but there’s a lack of input from domain experts and limited tools, resources and time.

Even with the negatives, the Vacancy Collaborative was able to convince Cindy Riordan, CIO of the city of St. Louis. Riodan said, “The vacancy data lit a spark with our [the City of St. Louis] staff.”

The vacancy issue affects the entire city from crime rates, to public health, to the city budget. The Vacancy Collaborative is now working on refining its web portal and even expanding to new data sets unrelated to vacancy. If you’re interested in reading more, check out STLVacancy.com.

Sarah Podolsky, BSBA ’19, wrote this on behalf of the Bauer Leadership Center. Pictured above: Jonathan Leek, a consultant with Daugherty Business Solutions and volunteer with the Vacancy Project, presents to the Data for Good audience.




With the approach of the Scholars in Business dinner on November 8, Isaiah Straub, BSBA

In the wake of Olin’s Scholars in Business dinner on Thursday, we thought it would be appropriate the share a particularly touching thank-you note from an Olin freshman, sent to the sponsors of the Hochberg Scholarship. Named after, Gary Hochberg, longtime associate dean of Olin’s BSBA program, a group of Olin alumni established the Hochberg Tribute Scholarship Fund through a challenge that initially raised $325,000. They include Lee Fixel, BSBA ‘02; Michael Kaplan, BSBA ‘88; and Neil Yaris, BSBA ‘86.

The Hochberg Scholarship has provided funding to three students since it was established in nine years ago. Isaiah Straub, BSBA ’22, sent this letter to the scholarship sponsors on October 16.

Dear Hochberg scholarship sponsors,

I am a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis and a recipient of the scholarship that you sponsor. I wanted to write and let you know how thankful I am for your gift to me, and what a difference your gift has already made in my life.

Gary Hochberg

Gary Hochberg

I grew up in Vancouver, Washington, where my family struggled with poverty. Money was almost a foreign concept, my school lunches were free, and the food at home was obtained through stamps. Looking at colleges my junior year, I recognized that at the vast majority of colleges, attendance was simply financially unfeasible. Military service, partly as a means of affording higher education, caught my eye. However the education at Washington University seemed unmatched and the financial aid I received, now through your sponsorship, allowed me to shed the burden of a service commitment.

Working with the excellent faculty and my exceptional peers has instilled in me a sense of extreme fortune. Attending Olin Business School is such a wonderful opportunity and I am grateful to be here. Washington University has surpassed my expectations. This education will prepare me for the future and provide me the tools needed to carve my own path through life. Your contribution has already irreversibly altered the course of my life, and it has allowed me access to an invaluable education.

Thank you again for being my sponsor. I hope to put your generous gift to good use.

Sincerely,
Isaiah Straub




It sounds like the setup for a bad joke: An artist, an engineer and an economist walk up to a bridge. Instead of delivering a punch line, however, I’ll take this scenario a different direction: Let’s talk about the non-traditional ways Olin has structured business education—some of them in direct response to students.

Consider the artist, whose eye focuses on the bridge’s aesthetic appeal. The engineer admires the integrity of a design that supports hundreds of tons of concrete, steel and people. The economist sees an investment that should yield returns by accelerating the transport of goods, services and labor.

Each has a unique perspective but each considers the other. All three want a sound, attractive, purposeful structure. In that vein, we recognize at Olin that every business student isn’t necessarily interested in a traditional business career. Even further still, every student seeking better business savvy is not destined for a business degree.

For example, we’ve reduced barriers for students approaching business courses from other disciplines, such as students from the Fox School who want to understand marketing better. These are typically rigorous, quantitative courses requiring advanced calculus as a prerequisite. While fully respecting the quantitative nature of our marketing curriculum, we’ve designed a “principles of marketing” course—without the deep quantitative background—for those who don’t need it.

Students themselves drove the introduction of our “business of social impact” minor, which only launched last year, combining faculty expertise from the Brown School and Olin. As BSBA curriculum director Bill Bottom told Student Life last year, “This is an initiative that began from student interest and student research—a group of students…really were quite enthusiastic about their business studies.”

That minor joins the minor in the business of sports, underway for several years, and the newly announced minor in the business of the arts, due to launch next year—along with a course in the economics of entertainment taught by Glenn MacDonald.

We’re even going deeper in the next year—beyond a few courses or a minor—with the introduction of WashU’s first truly joint degree within the university. In 2019, in collaboration with the School of Engineering and Applied Science, we’ll welcome our first students working toward a bachelor’s degree in business and computer science.

“We’ve worked for a year to put this together, and we’ve validated our thinking off of other alumni and corporate partners,” said Steve Malter, Olin’s senior associate dean of undergraduate programs. “This is what the workforce is looking for. This is the future.”

Steve made those comments in the new edition of Olin Business magazine, out now, which dives more deeply into cross-disciplinary business programs than I can here.

As an economist and scholar of renaissance literature myself, you must imagine that I’m a firm believer in interdisciplinary work, combining a broad general curriculum with business education. Real-world problems don’t come neatly packaged. We must look across academic siloes to solve the toughest problems. As leaders, we must be comfortable moving from the highly qualitative to the highly quantitative, using our skills of persuasion, backing our viewpoints with hard-core analysis.

It’s in this context that we speak at Olin about a values-based, data-driven education. That’s why I’m excited by the work Olin has done to reach across disciplines and attract non-traditional business students.




Pictured above: Scholarship donor Neil M. Yaris, BSBA’86, meets with the latest recipient of the Neil Marshall Yaris Scholarship, Hank Hunter, BSBA’20.

Neil Yaris recalls the numbers clearly: When he applied to Washington University 36 years ago to pursue a business degree, the cost was $15,000 per year. The university offered a $5000 scholarship. His father advised him to go to WashU even though it would still be more costly than the New York state schools he could have attended.

“Without the help from that scholarship, supported by Sidney Guller, BSBA ’47, it would never have happened. I was only able to attend this university because of the generosity of others,” said Yaris, BSBA ’86.

This story has come full circle as Yaris, himself, created the Neil Marshall Yaris Scholarship in 1999. He recently met with his 13th recipient, Hank Hunter, BSBA ’20, in Bauer Hall.

“I am truly grateful for the Gullers’ generosity and feel strongly that I should give other young people the same opportunity I was given way back in 1982,” Yaris said. “Sydney helped me feel this way and I have since conveyed the same sense of ‘giving back’ to Hank.”

Guller, himself, has spoken often about his need for financial assistance when he attended Olin Business School. More than 70 years later, Hank Hunter offered similar thoughts, saying, “I would not be at this school if I hadn’t received a scholarship.”

Neil and Hank have developed a particularly close relationship over the past two years. “Though I have known many of my scholarship recipients, my relationship with Hank is certainly the strongest I have had. We have both made that happen. We have met many times on campus as well as in New York where I was able to watch Hank play in the basketball team’s 91-66 victory over NYU,” according to Yaris.

The two also share career interests. Yaris retired in 2016 after a 29-year career trading bonds for firms that include the Royal Bank of Canada, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Credit Suisse. Hunter is eager to launch a career of his own in finance and recently completed a summer internship at Stifel Financial in St. Louis.

He is grateful for the opportunity he has been given, stating, “Neil has really helped me in my career process. He has connected me with several financial firms and introduced me to a lot of smart people. I am truly looking forward to my life beyond college. In the meantime, I want to make the most out of my last two years at WashU, and take advantage of as many things as I can while I’m here.”

Neil’s WashU connections go deeper than his own education and the named scholarship. Two of his children are alumni—Melanie, ‘13 and Charlie, ’16—and his youngest daughter, Annie,’20, is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

His support for scholarship runs deep, stating, “My wife and I are thrilled to give young people the opportunity to attend this great university. We hope these recipients will carry on the tradition and do the same for others in years to come.”

Though numerous students enjoy the benefit of Olin alumni named scholarships, many never actually meet their benefactors. Some will get that opportunity at the Olin annual Scholars in Business event on November 8.

Pictured above: Scholarship donor Neil M. Yaris, BSBA’86, meets with the latest recipient of the Neil Marshall Yaris Scholarship, Hank Hunter, BSBA’20.