Tag: Executive MBA



Staci Thomas is one of the Olin faculty members who has grown accustomed to "flipping the classroom" — assigning "knowledge transfer" to the homework and spending classroom time on interactive projects and engagement.

We live in a world of change and disruption in all spheres of life. In particular, technology has had a largely positive effect on all aspects of our lives—personal and professional. Education is no exception.

While the pace of technological innovation appears to be accelerating, innovation itself is not altogether new. Over the centuries we’ve moved from scrolls to codex books and more recently toward digital reading technology such as the Kindle and the iPad, and most classroom instructors have replaced dusty chalkboards with more modern alternatives.

Yet the standard process of knowledge transfer in universities—the lecture—hasn’t changed much in around the last 1,000 years, since the rise of the university in the early European Renaissance. This is beginning to change around the world—and at Olin, in classrooms run by professors such as Andrew Knight and Staci Thomas, who adapted classes that used to rely on classroom lectures and projects that students worked on outside of class.

“I thought I needed to flip the classroom so the lectures become the homework,” said Staci, a lecturer in communication. “Class becomes more like a workshop. We do presentations or create communications plans collaboratively. I can see it. I can hear it. I can offer suggestions to improve.”

Now, basic knowledge transfer happens outside of class, through short video clips, video conferences and other technological tools. It’s important to note however, that this method of knowledge transfer is a complement to rather than a substitute for face-to-face interaction. First, we use behavioural science to fine tune knowledge transfer outside of class, based on known attention spans and the creative use of mental stimuli through technology.

Then we use the face-to-face classroom experience to assimilate that knowledge, taking it in more deeply and fully understanding its implications and uses in a range of contexts and collaborative situations, using real-time case studies, seminars and group discussions.

Creating tools to encourage change

At Olin Business School we are building a custom-made e-learning platform tailored to the school’s needs. Equipped to give instructors and classmates the tools to collaborate from around the world, it will seamlessly integrate course materials, online learning experiences, recorded materials and innovative assessment, in an online environment which is uniquely Olin.

Two months ago, three new colleagues joined the Olin team and have already spent time engaging business school stakeholders—students, faculty, staff and alumni—about how a new digital learning platform can best serve everyone. Our goal is to launch a world-leading platform by the time the next full-time MBA students begin their new global immersion just seven months from now (check out my earlier blog post for more about the new MBA programme).

“Our eyes lit up when we saw the focus on teamwork in the MBA redesign,” Simon Harper told me. He’s director of platform operations and service for Olin, part of the three-person team of developers, e-learning experts and information design specialists leading the work. “We see that the tools can easily support collaboration across geography.”

Andrew Knight, associate professor of organizational behaviour, is eager to have additional tools to carry on the transition he’s begun to make in his classroom, where he uses 60 to 80 percent of his classroom time with first- and second-year MBAs on interactive teamwork and leadership exercises.

“I try to use the classroom time to practice teamwork and leadership through experiential exercises to get experience and feedback from their peers,” Andrew said. “I’d like to use class time and technology to shift the one-way flow of information from me to multimedia content and use our time in the classroom in a 100 percent interactive fashion.”

Integrating students, alumni, staff, faculty

What we’re doing at Olin is exciting, but I want to be candid as well: It’s not the first time I’ve been involved with such an effort. It wouldn’t take much sleuthing to know I led a similar effort during my time as dean of Warwick Business School. And I will build on that experience.

The digital platform we will build at Olin will knit together all aspects of the school, tracking students through the whole programme from operations to registration, from class scheduling to faculty scheduling, from the classroom experience to our connections with Olin alumni. We will also build and equip state-of-the-art studios to capture online content.

“We are experienced in this,” Harper said. “It’s our expertise, but it goes beyond that. We’re keen to create new things once we learn the needs, unlocking the further potential of the faculty here.”

Might Olin eventually offer an online degree? Perhaps. Stay tuned. Right now, the plan is to build from the ground up a next generation virtual learning environment to support the new MBA, our professional MBA and, eventually, all our programmes, as well as a platform through which our alumni can better engage with one another.

It’s the right thing to do as we continue to enhance Olin’s global standing. And our students expect nothing less.

Pictured above: Staci Thomas is one of the Olin faculty members who has grown accustomed to “flipping the classroom” — assigning “knowledge transfer” to the homework and spending classroom time on interactive projects and engagement.




Dirk Elsperman, EMBA

Dirk Elsperman, EMBA ’04, executive vice president and COO of St. Louis’ Tarlton Corp., will head a national contractors’ trade association, according to the company’s news release, excerpted below. The appointment is effective April 2019.

As Tarlton Corp. celebrates its Founders Day, the company looks forward to another year of industry service and leadership: Dirk Elsperman, Tarlton executive vice president and chief operating officer, will be sworn in as president of Associated General Contractors of America in April 2019. When he takes office, Elsperman will become one of only four AGC principals from the bi-state area to lead the national organization.

The announcement coincides with an important milestone in Tarlton’s history – Founders Day, a day of companywide celebration each fall that marks the Oct. 2 birthday of Arthur Elsperman, one of the firm’s founders and first generation of leaders. Arthur Elsperman served as the first president of the AGC of St. Louis (now the AGC of Missouri) in 1950.

Locally, five others from Tarlton have served as president or chairman of the state association: J. Al Riley in 1967, Robert Elsperman in 1981, Bob Siess in 1995, Tracy Hart in 2008 and Dirk Elsperman in 2013. Hart, Tarlton president, began her service to the St. Louis chapter in 1996 and also has been active with the national AGC.

Three AGC of Missouri members have served as treasurer of the AGC of America, including Robert Elsperman in 1999. In addition, over the last 20 years Tarlton employees collectively have held more than 100 committee positions with the national association and more than 520 committee positions with the St. Louis/Missouri chapter. In those 20 years, 26 Tarlton employees have chaired or served on AGC of St. Louis/Missouri committees.

As president of AGC of America, which is celebrating its centennial this year, Dirk Elsperman will have the unique opportunity to speak with AGC chapter leaders and members across the United States to glean important industry insights on issues and concerns facing general contractors today.

A leader in the construction industry, Elsperman has 30 years of experience and a history of service in local and national capacities for AGC. In addition to serving as chairman of the board for AGC of Missouri, he has been a contributing member on 10 committees for AGC of America that focus on construction education and training; project management and delivery; Lean construction; government affairs; and labor policy, negotiations and agreements. He also is certified in the AGC of America Advanced Management Program.

The AGC of America is the leading association for the construction industry, representing more than 26,000 firms, including more than 6,500 of America’s leading general contractors and more than 9,000 specialty contracting firms. More than 10,500 providers and suppliers are associated with the AGC through a nationwide network of chapters.

St. Louis-based Tarlton Corp. is a leader in general contracting and construction management throughout the Midwest. The firm has completed many landmark projects in and around St. Louis and holds steadfast to its goal to improve the lives of St. Louisans through construction, civic involvement and philanthropy.




April Powell

Going back to school mid-career to earn an executive MBA is a tremendous accomplishment. Then, there’s April Powell. The recently named general manager for Bon Appétit Management Company at Washington University did earn her EMBA in 2017.

But she also had her second daughter in the middle of the program. While parenting her eldest daughter, 3. And she’s just recently had a third.

All this during a meteoric rise with Bon Appétit, where she started five years ago. Three years ago, she was promoted to director of operations for the 13-café Danforth campus before her most recent promotion.

To top it off, she recruited her boss into the WashU Olin EMBA program.

“She has an incredible engine,” District Manager David Murphy told the Bon Appétit blog. She has “huge confidence, but she’s a deep thinker—she has an insatiable appetite for understanding why things fail. That’s what a leader wakes up every day and thinks about. She never assumes that ‘good’ is good enough.

Read more about April Powell in a profile on the Bon Appétit blog.




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.