Tag: Desk of the Dean



Suppose the scourge of opioids plaguing the United States could be stopped at the source? Suppose 21st century technologies such as data mining, artificial intelligence and machine learning could flag risky drug shipments before they land in the hands of at-risk populations?

How could it be done? And what changes in local, state and federal policy would be required to curb the problem and sharpen the response from experts in law enforcement, public health and industry?

These questions form the heart of a new initiative between WashU Olin Business School and the Brookings Institution. Broadly speaking, the Olin-Brookings Commission is a three-year initiative designed to recruit a dream-team of policy experts and scholars each year who will deeply analyze a single major policy issue and issue policy recommendations.

Made possible by a $750,000 grant from The Bellwether Foundation Inc., each commission will be charged with tackling topics affecting the quality of life for people in St. Louis and across the country. Each year’s panel will issue practical and realistic recommendations informing business strategy and public policy.

“We are pleased to provide multiyear support for the Olin-Brookings Commission,” said Ginger Smith, president of The Bellwether Foundation. “Funding an initiative that deepens the partnership between Olin and Brookings, two leaders in their industries, is where we believe we can make an impact.”

The focus of our first commission

Our first commission convenes this month. This first seven-member commission—in partnership with Olin’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights—will demonstrate how new technologies can curb opioid trafficking and potentially more than 100 other equally destructive examples of illicit trafficking.

At the same time, the commission will evaluate existing policy obstacles and reveal opportunities where policy changes can enable industry and government to implement a real-time detection and alert system across industry and government agencies.

“The initiative is very compelling. It leverages new advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning to proactively detect suspicious opioid orders before they are shipped,” said Anthony Sardella, chair of the first commission and founder of data insight firm evolve24. “This effort holds the promise to save lives, enhance public health and protect our vulnerable populations.”

An initial phase of the opioid research project involves mining a relatively new database from the US Drug Enforcement Agency: the Automated Reports and Consolidated Ordering System. CABI co-directors Seethu Seetharaman and Michael Wall, along with Tony (who also serves as CABI’s senior research advisor), will lead the data analysis portion of the project.

“I am excited that CABI is involved in such a high-stakes national policy-related initiative in terms of showcasing the analytics talent resident in Washington University in St. Louis,” Seethu said. “This could not fit more perfectly with the values-based, data-driven mission of Olin.”

Another key component of the Olin-Brookings Commission is involvement from students, who will serve as “commission fellows” in research and logistical support for each project. Olin PhD marketing student Annie Shi will collaborate with Tony, Michael and Seethu and together, they will be co-authors on all publications that arise from this initiative.

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to announce that our first commission includes heavy hitters from the pharmaceutical industry, academia, law enforcement and advocacy organizations focused on drug policy. Find the list of commission members at the bottom of this column.

A signature program?

The Bellwether grant makes possible a long-held vision of mine, an extraordinary opportunity to further leverage and expand Olin’s powerful relationship with Brookings, while also convening thought leaders who can provide guidance and direction on “megatrends” in global business and public policy.

We envision that each commission’s report—targeting the White House, regional and national government policymakers and the media—would coincide with the springtime Olin MBA capstone experience with Brookings. That is our timeline for a report on the opioid project.

Commission members will convene in a series of virtual meetings—at least while the pandemic continues raging—over the course of this year.

In addition to recommendations influencing business practice and public policy, the initiative is structured to provide insightful, well-researched contributions to industry about societal megatrends, inform and influence the direction of future research and increase students’ knowledge about the confluence of business and public policy.

I’m confident that the Olin-Brookings Commission can become one of Olin’s signature programs, further cementing our commitment to improving life in St. Louis—and changing the world, for good.

Members of commission No. 1, opioid trafficking

  • Anthony Sardella, founder, evolve24; faculty member, WashU Olin Business School. Commission chair.
  • The Hon. Mary Bono, board member, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, former US representative.
  • Dr. Ann Marie Dale, assistant professor of medicine and occupational therapy, Washington University School of Medicine
  • Van Ingram, executive director, Kentucky Office of Drug Control
  • Gina Papush, global chief data and analytics officer, Cigna.
  • Darrell M. West, vice president and director, Governance Studies; senior fellow, Center for Technology Innovation, Brookings



Two events in recent weeks perfectly manifest the investment we’ve made to advance a key strategic priority for WashU Olin Business School—strengthening and broadening our reputation for impactful research.

One of those events puts a human face on our work; the other is more data driven.

Let’s delve first into the personal example. We were pleased last month to recognize Nicolae Gârleanu, professor of finance, who received the Stephen A. Ross Award. This tremendous achievement in finance research is awarded biennially by the Foundation for the Advancement of Research in Financial Economics for the best piece of financial research in the past 15 years.

That announcement came in January, shortly after Professor Gârleanu joined Olin’s faculty as a full professor following 13 years with the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business. While we must acknowledge that Nicolae’s award-winning research was done even before his time at Haas, his presence at Olin illustrates the success of an important tactic we’ve employed: Recruiting strong, mid-career scholars to our faculty.

When I first arrived at Olin, I was impressed by the high quality of the faculty. I wanted to build on that high level of talent, as I’ve discussed in past blog posts. While nurturing our existing talent, we are systematically recruiting seasoned and senior faculty with records of producing top research who want to join our outstanding research faculty. Nicolae’s recent award brings to light an example of how it’s working.

It’s important to note, by the way, that such a strategy only works if faculty see value in joining Olin. They must see that their research is supported as a priority.

“I have not needed extensive financial support; time is a more important consideration for me,” Professor Gârleanu said recently. “Olin offers excellent opportunities to organize one’s teaching and administrative duties in a highly efficient manner. In that regard, it is far ahead of many other universities.”

What the data says

The second significant event illustrating the success of our research strategy came with the release in early February of the 2021 Financial Times full-time MBA ranking. WashU Olin’s top-25 global showing—the highest in our history—was significant in-and-of itself. But hidden among the ranking criteria was this little gem: Olin placed first in the world for research.

That ranking is based on the number of publications per capita in the top 50 business research journals. And although the FT’s tally carried on without five of the world’s highly ranked schools—Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan and Columbia Business School—the trajectory of our research ranking remains remarkable, rising from 12th in 2019, to ninth, then first in subsequent years.

Such a trajectory also gets noticed when we recruit faculty. As Todd Milbourn, vice dean of faculty and research notes, prospective faculty members look at us “to see how productive the faculty are. Are our faculty publishing in the field’s top journals? Are our faculty presenting at the big conferences? We are in the top set of schools in this regard.”

A few more data points

While those examples are recent and significant in our drive toward building Olin’s research reputation, they’re not the only points worth mentioning. Consider:

  • Emphasizing research has meant raising research allowances, increasing the number of funded PhD placements, raising PhD stipends and rewarding research performance through promotion, early promotion and merit awards.
  • Our faculty hiring strategy also included creating the “professor of practice” position, providing the space and time for path-breaking research while maintaining and building on our teaching strength.
  • Our research productivity remains high in other measures, as well. For example, the University of Texas at Dallas’ business research database for 2020, tracking publications in 24 leading journals, ranked Olin 20th in North America, with 160 articles published between 2015 and 2019, up from 151 in the previous four-year period.
  • A broad selection of Olin faculty members have secured editor posts on noted journals—too many to enumerate here. And in related news, our supply chain faculty assembled such a strong lineup of academic papers for the fifth Supply Chain Finance and Risk Management Workshop in May 2019, an important journal in the discipline devoted its entire October issue to the research.

These examples do not represent the end of the work. They’re guideposts, signaling progress in the right direction. And it is worth pausing for a moment to take note of these guideposts—but only a moment.




The third horizon for business school education draws nearer today as WashU Olin begins to accept applications for our first fully online graduate degree and certificate programs—conceived and built for delivery in a digital world.

I’ve written before about my vision for the future of business school, with the third horizon representing how we adapt by creating new and innovative ways to reach students.

My past references to the three horizons, however, have been in the context of adapting to a post-pandemic world. Ironically, our new online specialized masters degree programs were not brought about by the pandemic that has wreaked havoc around the world.

Indeed, they were briefly paused by it, but ultimately to the benefit of the new programs: Entering the online education space is another initiative we are fulfilling as part of our strategic plan, and this has certainly been more richly informed by our experiences over the past year.

With these new online masters programs for working professionals, Olin adds to our impressive portfolio of degree opportunities for students.

Flexibility and excellence

This initiative expands our offerings to a growing segment of the population—those people across the country and beyond who want a first-rate, flexible education as they simultaneously continue in their careers and undertake graduate studies.

For our first foray into online education—but certainly not our last—we offer degrees and certificates in business analytics, finance and accounting. Designed for busy professionals, these programs will have the same high academic standards and learning outcomes as our on-campus program, taught by our experienced, accomplished faculty.

Our strong lineup of online offerings includes the Master of Science in Business Analytics (with three areas of interest: customer, fintech, accounting); the Master of Science in Finance; and the Master of Accounting.

The 24-month programs will have September and May intakes and are divided into three eight-month segments, with each segment delivering a unique credential—graduate certificate, advanced graduate certificate and degree. This allows these professional students to build their resumes during their studies, giving them the opportunity to grow in their careers while they pursue their degrees.

Building on a strong foundation

We are confident these new online programs will deliver a best-in-class learning experience for students, thanks to the investment we’ve made in Olin’s innovative Center for Digital Education.

The CDE is staffed with multimedia producers and editors who work alongside curriculum specialists with expertise in developing coursework for digital platforms. Together, the whole team collaborates with Olin’s world-class faculty to adapt and customize course materials for our digital platform.

And that platform is learn.WashU, our next-generation learning management system—built and customized by the CDE exclusively for WashU students, who will use the platform to stay connected to their coursework, their professors and their classmates.

As I mentioned earlier, these new online programs were always part of Olin’s plan. That’s why we originally invested in the Center for Digital Education, which officially opened in October 2019—about five months before the pandemic burst into our lives.

That fortuitous timing served our community well as our CDE colleagues helped us pivot into virtual learning in the midst of a crisis. I’ve called that the first horizon in our transition to the new world of business education. We took that experience and upped our game with hybrid courses and online-only courses in the 2020–21 academic year—the second horizon.

More than virtual classrooms

And although they were planned before the pandemic, these new online programs represent a small component of that third horizon as we build on what the CDE already knew by applying the experience we gained since March 2020.

Meanwhile, the student experience in these new programs does not end with the virtual classroom. Students in the online programs will also have access to academic services through Olin’s Graduate Programs office and career resources and services through the Weston Career Center.

Online students will receive the same level of service as on-campus students, including a dedicated online academic advisor, tutoring and cocurricular programming. As students pursue their degrees, career coaches and industry specialists will work with them to support their career goals.

To be clear, these new programs do not represent the arrival of the third horizon I so often speak of, but another step in that direction. The entire Olin team—faculty and staff together—have worked together admirably to conceive and launch these new programs, and I am excited by these additions to Olin’s highly ranked portfolio.




Adrienne Davis

The WashU community is extremely fortunate to have in our midst a leading thinker, teacher, practitioner and scholar focused on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Now, that leader, Adrienne Davis, has joined the WashU Olin faculty as a professor of organizational behavior and leadership.

Adrienne’s joint appointment at Olin—in addition to her existing post as the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law—became effective on January 1. She will split her time between Olin and the law school, and she continues as co-director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity, which she founded last year. More on that in a moment.

“I’m excited to take my institutional work over the last decade and pursue research into how diversity can be best implemented across different sectors,” said Adrienne, whose appointment is one-third with Olin and two-thirds with the law school. “I’m especially interested in diagnosing the distinct challenges of diversity in higher education.”

While I also know Adrienne is eager to get back into the classroom, that will wait while she completes a one-year leave—and a book she’s been working on. She’ll begin to teach Olin classes in the 2022-23 academic year, but I expect we will see her around campus—virtually, these days—while she continues her research.

Hitting the ground running

Indeed, she has already contributed profoundly to the Olin community through her insight and guidance on the DEI strategic plan task force I appointed last summer.

I’m gratified by the reception she’s already received from the faculty.

“Adrienne brings a depth of experience in the leadership arena as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Hillary Anger Elfenbein, chair of the organizational behavior area among the faculty. “She complements the research areas within the organizational behavior group. We are delighted to welcome her.”

I feel a sense of anticipation for what fertile new areas of inquiry await Adrienne and our existing faculty.

“I’m so impressed with Olin and with the OB team,” she said. “This will be a really wonderful place to learn a new mode of sharing my research—and sharing it with a different domain and audience.”

This is an exciting next step for both Olin and Adrienne, as she transitions from the administrative role she’s held for a decade as vice provost for the university. Among her many accomplishments in that role, Adrienne helped increase the number of Black tenured and tenure-track faculty on the Danforth Campus, and the percentage of underrepresented faculty of color among tenured and tenure-track faculty. She also designed a series of faculty development and leadership programs that have been producing outstanding new leaders, not only here at Washington University, but nationally.

Returning to her first love

At former Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s behest, former Provost Ed Macias appointed her for a two-year term in that role—and she stayed eight years beyond the appointment. “I’m a legal scholar and lawyer at heart,” she said. “It was exciting to test my research in critical race theory and feminism in the real world to see if they could drive meaningful institutional change. Now I’m excited to get back to my research and teaching full-time.”

And speaking of research, as I mentioned earlier, Adrienne continues in her role as co-director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity, which she founded and launched last year. The center is a forum for research collaborations across campus to study how race and ethnicity are integral to the most complex and challenging issues of our time.

“The nation is at a turning point in rethinking racial justice,” she said. “Many firms and other organizations are on the front lines of this. I’m delighted that I’ll have a role at Olin to lead these new conversations—and I know the business school can be a leading laboratory and incubator for this work.”

On a personal level, I’m also grateful for Adrienne’s willingness to be my special advisor on these issues as Olin builds and implements a strategic plan that allows our community to fully live into its stated values.




Doug Villhard leading a class discussion focused on entrepreneurship—prior to the pandemic.

Since launching this column two and a half years ago, I’ve discussed the many ways WashU Olin has secured its standing as a world-class institution for business school education and research. The wide variety of topics I’ve covered includes digital education, cross-disciplinary programs, the MBA global immersion, scholarships, gender parity, alumni engagement and much more.

But with today’s 31st edition of the Desk of the Dean—the first of the new year—I’m focusing on an area I’ve never addressed before: the entrepreneurship platform, one of our crown jewels and a key pillar of excellence in Olin’s strategic plan.

Nearly a month ago, I was privileged to deliver a congratulatory message to an impressive group of students honored with entrepreneurship awards and, collectively, more than $40,000 in funding from various competitions. As I said at the time, I couldn’t have been more proud of how the WashU Olin community has adjusted to the realities of the coronavirus, and how our students persisted in pushing forward with creativity and innovation during this challenging time.

That December 8 celebration came six weeks after Poets & Quants recognized Olin as the No. 1 entrepreneurship program globally for MBAs—the second consecutive year Olin received that honor. Cliff Holekamp laid the foundation for that recognition a dozen years ago. Doug Villhard, who took over the program when Cliff retired, continued that momentum through the balance of 2019 and all of 2020.

“We’re really proud of pushing the entrepreneurial mindset,” Doug said in our recent interview with P&Q editor John Byrne. “People have a misconception that entrepreneurship is only about starting companies. Our program is also about being innovative and creative within larger organizations—corporate innovation.”

The entrepreneurship award celebration was one of Doug’s additions. It also hailed the return of the Olin Cup, honoring the winning project in Olin’s Hatchery course—dedicated to forging student ideas into startups. The ceremony also highlighted Olin’s BIG IdeaBounce, another new competition Doug introduced.

And last spring, Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning added a marketing Metrics Clinic course to the existing finance Metrics Clinic—both focused on providing student-led consulting projects for local startups.

Continuing the momentum

Those are just a few examples. But what is a program dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship and innovation if the program itself doesn’t innovate? That’s what Doug is continuing to do, in collaboration with the CEL, WashU’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship and its director, II Luscri.

In the coming year, additional courses are joining an impressive slate of more than two dozen focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, Doug has partnered with the US Department of Defense on “Innovating for Defense,” a course focused on solving real-world problems confronting the defense department and the intelligence community.

Another new course—”The Endgame of Entrepreneurship: Leveraging Capitalism for Good”—will help students understand how skills from entrepreneurship and venture creation can be used to improve water quality, climate, education and gender equality globally and here in St. Louis.

Engaging with the community

Those are just two examples of new courses approved by the BSBA curriculum committee recently. Meanwhile, Doug is also working toward a new expansion of the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team course.

Traditionally, the CELect program has paired student consulting teams with St. Louis-based startups on semester-long projects. Soon, however, the program’s reach will extend beyond St. Louis as students consult with startups on both coasts and around the world.

I’m also thrilled to see our entrepreneurship program further engage with Olin alumni and corporate partners, who serve as competition judges and mentors for budding business innovators. Through one simple form, they can connect with Doug to either provide support to our programs or get support through consulting projects and interns.

Two of those avenues of support are also recent developments: First, there’s the Olin Entrepreneurship Fund. This fund will support entrepreneurial initiatives within the Olin Business School, including curricular enhancements, faculty research, student experiential learning and prize money for elevator pitch and business plan competitions.

Then there’s the WashU Venture Network, inviting angel investors to connect with promising WashU-based startups.

In this space, I can only scratch the surface of the work underway as we continue to build, promote and, yes, innovate on our entrepreneurship platform.

We are fortunate to have an extraordinary team focused on this work, a St. Louis ecosystem that strongly supports innovation and values our participation and, of course, creative minds who come to Olin seeking this training.

Pictured above: Doug Villhard leading a class discussion focused on entrepreneurship—prior to the pandemic.