Tag: Executive MBA



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.




The political divide between red and blue states seems to fracture more than our views about abortion rights, tax cuts, and healthcare. Research from an Olin Business School professor—with midterm elections just around the corner—shows we’re even wary about buying products online from sellers who might not share our political point of view.

An analysis of more than 550 million items sold by individuals on eBay in 2015 and 2016—transactions totaling $22.3 billion—shows we’re more likely to buy goods from someone we perceive comes from a similar political persuasion.

In other words, eBay buyers in Montana were more likely to buy a clock, a bookcase, or a treadmill from a Nebraskan than from a Californian.

“We were shocked because the location of a seller shouldn’t matter at all,” said Daniel Elfenbein, associate professor of strategy. “Shouldn’t we only care about whether the item is what we want and the likelihood of getting it sent to us as we expect?”

In fact, Elfenbein and his research colleagues Ray Fisman of Boston University and Brian McManus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered that the sales divide isn’t limited to the perceived political persuasion of buyers and sellers. To varying degrees, the researchers found similar trading imbalances in states based on religiosity, ethnicity, and other measures of “cultural distance.”

The authors laid out the research in a working paper entitled, “The Impact of Socioeconomic and Cultural Differences on Online Trade,” to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in January 2019 in Atlanta.

The researchers said the divisions persisted even when the researchers controlled for population differences among states and perceived “taste preferences” among buyers and sellers. Would Californians and Floridians be more likely to trade surf gear? Would Montanans and Texans be more likely to trade hunting equipment?

“The paper was driven by a desire to understand whether these political differences were associated with the propensity of people to do business with each other—and then to rule out other explanations,” Elfenbein said. “No matter how hard we tried to rule out the idea that these political things matter, we still saw it as driving some of the trade patterns.”

The findings suggest that companies that do business across state lines should carefully consider whether their home base is meaningful for potential customers. “I would hope people in that position would have an informed opinion about whether touting their location is an advantage,” Elfenbein said. “I think marketing managers should have an informed view about whether touting their company’s location is an advantage or a disadvantage.”

Another surprise for the researchers: Buyers on eBay only know the seller’s city and state. From that, apparently, they’re extrapolating what they perceive to be the “cultural distance” between them, using that as a proxy for trustworthiness: Am I going to get what I expect to get from the seller?

The researchers did find, however, the likelihood of giving a seller negative feedback is higher when buyers are purchasing from states where the predominant political views are different from their own. It suggests that there is a tendency to be more sensitive to poor performance when they think the seller voted differently.

“There is no correlation between cultural similarity and buyer satisfaction, however, suggesting that differences in trustworthiness are not validated by actual transactions,” the researchers wrote in their paper.




If you’ve noticed a cluster of students moving around Knight Hall and Bauer Hall in similar garb, you’ve caught a glimpse of class spirit from the soon-to-graduate Shanghai EMBA class.

The 66 members of Shanghai EMBA 16 arrived in St. Louis this week for a final week of classes before today’s graduation ceremony. And their orange (for women) and blue (for men) cardigan sweaters turned more than a few heads—thanks to the inspiration of a few class members and the apparel company founded by a classmate.

Members of the EMBA Shanghai class 16 attending a last week of class before graduation on October 26.

Members of the EMBA Shanghai class 16
attending a last week of class before graduation on October 26.

“They wanted to be good-looking when they were together taking pictures. And they also wanted a souvenir of their time in the class,” said Linus Fan, founder and owner of Nena apparel company in Guangzhou, China. He put his designers to work, interviewing 10 members of the class for more information about what they wanted.

Then, he rushed the uniforms into production. Within 45 days of hatching the idea, the class had its official uniform—donated by Fan’s company.

“Mainly, we just focused on the sweaters,” he said. “They wanted to be able to wear this for a long time, even after graduating, and something that would be satisfactory for everyday wear—not too formal.”

Fan founded Nena nearly five years ago after a long career in the apparel business and a master’s degree in Manchester, England. After a number of years, he decided he needed a more broad understanding of all aspects of business, which led him to seek his MBA. The reputation of WashU’s EMBA program in partnership with Fudan University—along with its standing among global EMBA rankings—led him to join the Shanghai program.

Fan took a two-hour flight each month to and from Shanghai for his courses while running his company, which employs 215 people focused on apparel design and manufacturing, serving clients who want to market and sell their own lines of apparel in their stores.