Tag: Faculty

Anjan Thakor is an economist with purpose—and the business world is catching on. Thakor’s research covers wide ground, from corporate finance to banking and corporate governance. However, the John E Simon Professor of Finance’s most recent endeavor got more personal: How can an organization connect its employees to its overall purpose, encouraging them to dive in and give their all along the way?

Along with Robert E. Quinn, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Thakor’s wisdom is featured on the cover of the Harvard Business Review’s July-August edition.

Thakor and Quinn begin by introducing readers to Gerry Anderson, president of DTE Energy, who struggled to engage his employees following the Great Recession of 2008. Having been taught that good economics mean treating employees first by their own self interest, Anderson was reluctant to use empty rhetoric about meaning—much like many firm leaders Thakor and Quinn investigated.

However, the researchers tell, a shift in focus that challenged employees to embrace purpose turned out to be a major success. Thakor and Quinn’s research seeks to provide a framework company leaders can use to develop, embrace, and implement a purpose that drives their organization.


The biggest problem Thakor and Quinn find is that the companies they consult for wait until a point of crisis to find a company purpose. Encouraging a break from the “cynical ‘transactional’ view of employee motivation,” though, can be taken at any time—the sooner, the better. The researchers set up an eight-step process for finding, implementing, and connecting a purpose for employees—one that includes such steps as “envision an inspired workforce,” “recognize the need for authenticity,” and “connect the people to the purpose.”

The most important theme that runs through these eight steps? Be authentic, real, and passionate. Thakor and Quinn have seen companies thrive and fail—and they know the perils of a haphazard campaign based on feel-good words and uninspired drivel. Purpose, for them, is something entirely different. It’s a sense of passion—a vision for a corporation that inspires employees, turns them into leaders, and treats them as intelligent, autonomous human beings.

The work Thakor and Quinn are asking companies to undertake is not easy—it’s part of a process that involves humility, openness, and risk. But these researchers believe in the beauty of an impassioned, purpose-driven company—and they’re hoping to change the business world, for good.

For the third time in four years, a Washington University in St. Louis faculty member has received the highest award that the People’s Republic of China bestows on an individual in higher education.

Fuqiang Zhang, professor of operations and manufacturing management at Olin Business School, has been selected to receive the Yangtze River Scholar Award by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

As an international recipient of the award, Zhang will receive the title of Yangtze River Chaired Professor at the School of Management, University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) and a significant research grant.

This marks the fourth person affiliated with Washington University since 2015 to earn a Yangtze River Scholar honor — also known as the Changjiang Scholar:

  • Shenyang Guo, Frank J. Bruno Distinguished Professor of Social Work Research at the Brown School and assistant vice chancellor for international affairs — Greater China, was named in spring 2017;
  • Guy Genin, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, was named in mid-2015; and
  • Pang Xun, who earned a doctorate in political science from the university in 2010, is an associate professor of international relations at Tsinghua University and won the Young Scholar category earlier in 2017.

Zhang joins a previous Olin awardee: Phil Dybvig, Boatmen’s Bancshares Professor of Banking and Finance, was named a Yangtze River Scholar in 2011 via Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.

Few U.S. universities have as many as two current Yangtze River Scholars. Zhang received his award from the Ministry of Education in May.

“I am very proud to have outstanding faculty like Professor Zhang on our faculty. With his appointment to be a Yangtze River Scholar, he will have the opportunity to develop collaborations in an important area of research with researchers at a premier university in China,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” Zhang said. “The School of Management at USTC is a strategic partner of the Olin Business School. The award will provide a great platform to promote research collaboration between the two schools. The internet economy has been growing at an amazing speed in China. I plan to work on data-driven supply chain research with applications to the global e-commerce industry. I also hope the platform will help our school to develop further relations with the educational and industry sectors in China.”

Since his arrival at Olin in July 2007, Zhang has worked on dozens of research papers and won numerous honors, among them the Wickham Skinner Early-Career Research Accomplishments Award from the Production and Operations Management Society in 2009, the Distinguished Service Award from the Management Science journal in 2009 and 2010, and “best paper” awards at the Chinese Scholars Association in Management Science and Engineering conferences in 2011, 2014 and 2016. He also has won research grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China in 2012, 2015 and 2016.

He serves as a department editor for the Journal of Management Science and Engineering and an associate editor for such journals as Management Science, Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, and Omega-The International Journal of Management Science.

Jennifer Whitten

Jennifer Whitten will join Olin as associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center on July 9. Jennifer comes to Olin from Arizona State University, where she is the director of career services and  instructor in the MBA program at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

At ASU, Jennifer managed career support for a portfolio of four MBA platforms, 10 masters’ platforms and alumni career services. Under her leadership, the W. P. Carey Career Center has seen significant increases in student engagement and employment percentages as well as growth and expansion of employer relationships and activities.

Aside from a stint in Arizona state government focused on creating a career management program for over 35,000 state employees, Jennifer has spent nearly two decades in higher education, serving undergraduate and graduate students in both academic advising and career development and placement roles.

By coming to Washington University, Jennifer is returning to her Midwestern roots and she will bring with her the experience and drive to lead a nimble Weston Career Center team that is focused on preparing our students not only for their first job but for their careers well into the future, connecting with our strong alumni network, and expanding the opportunities available to our students through proactive business development.

I am grateful for the efforts of the Weston Career Center Director search committee chaired by Senior Associate Deans Steve Malter and Patrick Moreton as well as the valuable feedback from many members of the Olin community throughout this search process. I also want to say a special thank you to Karen Heise for her excellent work serving as the interim director of the Weston Career Center.

Emily Gallagher

Emily Gallagher

Emily Gallagher, an Olin postdoctoral research associate, has won a $35,000 research grant that will help underwrite her research into the relationship between healthcare costs, Medicaid availability, and Obamacare subsidies on housing security.

The research highlights the ways access to healthcare yields indirect financial benefits to households and society that go beyond physical well-being.

The grant comes from the Russell Sage Foundation, which is dedicated to underwriting social science research. The announcement of the grant came as Gallagher, who holds a joint appointment with the Brown School, was wrapping up a trio of research papers around questions of household savings, housing security, and earnings stability.

All three research papers lean heavily on a trove of data Brown attained through a partnership with a major tax preparation platform (which has asked to remain anonymous). Researchers have sliced and diced anonymized data from thousands of consenting tax filers and have posed survey questions through the tax platform. Gallagher’s research is part of a broader range of joint projects between faculty at Brown’s Center for Social Development and Olin.

Tying healthcare with housing security

Gallagher’s first paper looked at the effect of healthcare subsidies through the Affordable Care Act on rent and mortgage delinquency rates among low-income households. She found a 26 percent decline in home delinquency rates as households qualified for subsidies through the ACA. This is significant, she said, because the cost of foreclosures and evictions to society—costs borne by tenants, homeowners, landlords, neighboring homes, lien holders, banks—is substantial.

“You wouldn’t think giving people health insurance would reduce foreclosures and evictions, but it does,” Gallagher said. In the study, the average ACA subsidy was about $4,300. Under plausible assumptions, Gallagher said, 33 to 53 percent of that subsidy cost might be offset by the social savings associated with fewer evictions and foreclosures.

In the second paper, Gallagher looked at the Medicaid eligibility of 67,000 tax filers and their propensity to save a portion of their expected tax refunds for a rainy day. Researchers surveyed taxpayers just before receiving their tax refund, asking how much of the refund they intended to keep, use to pay down debt, or consume within the next six months.

“When you look at households that are right on the verge of having to declare bankruptcy, they intend to save more when they gain access to Medicaid,” she said. In fact, the taxpayers say they intend to increase their savings by about 4.4 percent of the tax refund amount, or $93 on average. The savings, “modest in absolute magnitude, are substantial when compared to the impact of interventions explicitly designed to encourage saving among low-income and financially constrained households,” she wrote in the paper.

“It’s hard to nudge low-income households into saving more, but as it turns out, Medicaid is a successful way of doing that for households in the most trouble.” For households that are doing better, Medicaid appears to have no effect on their savings behavior.

Stabilizing income through better healthcare access

Preliminary results from Gallagher’s third paper, still in draft form, show a taxpayer’s access to a healthcare subsidy — and, as a result, health insurance — increases the person’s income stability. When people get treatment for chronic conditions, reliably take their medication, or address mental health issues, they’re more reliable workers and maintain jobs longer — leading to a steadier income.

“People are experiencing fewer unexpected variations in their income by being on the subsidy,” Gallagher said. Health conditions can cause “unexpected labor shocks” that destabilize income. To the extent that health conditions are exacerbated by a lack of health insurance, households with insurance tend to report fewer unexpected income shocks. In contrast, “when a person reports they have variable income because of expected factors, such as due to seasonal jobs, there’s no effect there.”

Gallagher led the research under the counsel of Olin’s Radhakrishnan Gopalan, professor of finance, and Michal Grinstein-Weiss, a professor and associate dean for policy initiatives at the Brown School.

The first paper, “The Effect of Health Insurance on Home Payment Delinquency: Evidence from ACA Marketplace Subsidies,” is under second review for publication. The second, “Medicaid and Household Savings Behavior: New Evidence from Tax Refunds,” is in the submission process. Gallagher is drafting the third paper “The Effect of Health Insurance on Earnings Stability: Evidence from the ACA Marketplace.”

“The broad thing we’re looking at is that we massively expanded our social safety net” by passing the Affordable Care Act, Gallagher said. “People think of it as just improving people’s health and, maybe, reducing medical bills. We’re looking at indirect financial outcomes that you wouldn’t expect health insurance to affect.”

Joe Lacob, the owner of the NBA franchise Golden State Warriors, whose $1 million donation led to the creation of Olin’s minor in the business of sports, offered some leadership lessons during a 17-minute video interview with program director Patrick Rishe, published recently on YouTube.

As Rishe, professor of practice-sports business, writes on the YouTube page: “On the Warriors first day of practice to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, I had the good fortune to interview Mr. Lacob, owner and CEO of the Golden State Warriors. Mr. Lacob has been a champion for Washington University, and he was generous to spend time with me on such a busy morning.”

The interview starts Lacob’s recollection of the day in 2012 when, as a relatively new owner of the franchise, he went to center court to retire the jersey number of star Chris Mullins. Fans greeted him with a chorus of boos, apparently in response to a controversial trade.

Five years later, the team has three NBA championships under its collective belt — in 2015, again in 2017, and finally, a third just a few days ago when the team defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers. He made his comments to Rishe before the third championship.

“We stayed on our plan and obviously, it’s worked out,” Lacob told Rishe. “Five straight playoff appearances, three finals appearances, two championships. And more importantly and things I’m perhaps things I’m even more proud of, is the way our organization has performed as a whole, the business side as well as the basketball side.”

Lacob noted that leaders make sure the entire organization is watching the little things as well as the big things: “What makes an organization successful is constantly being aware that you have to do everything well,” he said. “You have to pay attention all the time. Every little thing counts.”

Lacob’s donation in 2014 led to the creation of the minor in the business of sports program, which is available to undergraduates across the WashU campus.

Rishe’s interview with Lacob is one of 50 that will be featured in his upcoming e-book, They Shoot, They Score…Lessons in Leadership, Innovation, and Strategy from the Business of Sports. The book will feature several national sports executives, including Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks; Kerry Bubolz, president of the Vegas Golden Knights; Tom Penn, president and co-owner of LAFC; and several St. Louis-based sports executives, including Chris Zimmerman, president of business operations, St. Louis Blues; Dan Farrell, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals. The book is expected to be available Aug. 1, 2018.

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