Tag: Faculty

Entrepreneurship professor Doug Villhard (top center), works with students in the CEL

Right now, Ally Gerard should be on the west coast working in the corporate partnerships department for the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team. A student in Olin’s business of sports program, Ally landed the internship after a very competitive recruiting process.

Coronavirus had other plans, however, and the internship was scrapped—a situation a great many of WashU Olin’s undergraduate and graduate students now face. Still, Ally’s chance to flex her Olin muscles, apply her skills and gain experience has not been lost.

That’s thanks to a new seven-week course Ally, BSBA ’22, and more than 300 of her fellow students are taking right now—a course Olin’s faculty and staff conceived and launched in a matter of weeks as the pandemic gutted internship opportunities for our students.

“Applied Problem Solving for Organizations” began as an idea in late April. By the time the course began June 1, more than 30 faculty members had volunteered to serve as project advisors. Dozens of companies—many with Olin alumni in leadership—had proposed projects offering real-world experience to our students.

Ultimately, the team at Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning had settled on 50 projects for teams of four or five students, many of which include both graduate and undergraduate students.

Preserving experiences for summer

“I wanted to help out the students who were confronted with internship challenges,” said John Horn, professor of practice in economics and advisor to Ally’s team. “It’s not a perfect substitute, but it’s really pretty good. I’ve heard from students who kept their internships that their virtual experiences were challenging. Their employer is also trying to figure out the program in real time.”

Another faculty advisor, Durai Sundaramoorthi, senior lecturer in management, expanded on Horn’s last point.

“This is an interesting alternative to a traditional internship,” he said.  “This project gives a broad perspective about the entire business of entrepreneurship. It is a great learning experience for students.”

Built with care—and haste

Enough cannot be said about the urgency with which the Olin community tackled this challenge—from the CEL, which organized the curriculum, to the staff that promoted the program and recruited students, to the Weston Career Center, which guided students toward the opportunity and worked with potential clients, to the alumni who recognized the need and offered project opportunities.

It’s worth noting that the opportunity worked in both directions.

“Honestly, we had to scrap existing plans to bring on summer interns due to the pandemic,” said Jay Li, BSBA ’16, and director of marketing for Regatta Craft Mixers. “When I received the email from Dean Taylor about the program, we rushed to pitch a strategic project we’ve been struggling with.”

Now, an Olin team is working with the New York-based beverage maker to gain insight from its consumer research to inform a grocery-store selling strategy.

Solving real-world problems

Ally’s team is working with St. Louis-based Insituform Technologies—a pipeline rehabilitation firm—to research industry best practices and conduct a competitive intelligence analysis to understand the regional differences in the firm’s operations. She’s leading the team, which includes graduate students.

“This is my first experience in ‘leading up’ to students much further along in their higher education journey,” she said. “The CEL has fostered a working environment that pushes us to grow as consulting professionals but also as empathetic leaders and teammates.”

In many ways, of course, this turn of events was disappointing. We have exceptional students who have worked hard. We have built a world-class career center, which has been knocking it out of the park with student placements and internships—then, a global crisis.

We can’t get the internships back, but we can make sure our students have a meaningful experience. We can make sure our students have a story to tell about the work they did this summer. We can—and we have.

Pictured above: Entrepreneurship professor Doug Villhard (top center), works with students in the CEL’s summer program.

In the Western world, people have a hearty appetite for natural products, especially natural foods. Yet a new article by an Olin professor—an opinion piece backed by research—says no theoretical or empirical evidence exists to support widely held beliefs about the superiority of natural things.

“Nature is not particularly benevolent,” the authors write.

The paper, published in May in Nature Human Behaviour, is a collaboration between Sydney Scott, assistant professor of marketing at Olin, and Paul Rozin, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to foods labeled “organic” and “all natural,” many people use natural and herbal medicines and personal care products.

“People are drawn to these natural labels because they think nature is safe and benevolent,” Scott and Rozin write. “However, these beliefs are often wrong. Nature did not evolve to help mankind.”

Tomato paste debate

“In the lay mind,” they write, “naturalness is destroyed by almost any process that involves human intervention.” A product’s history of processing “is more important than the actual content of a product for determining naturalness.”

Consider tomato paste processed with added sugar. It’s not as natural as plain tomato paste. But if the sugar then is removed, it’s then the same as the original paste; the tomato paste has undergone two processes and is back to its original content. Still, many will view it as less “natural.”

“When process and content are dissociated, processing appears to be more important” to “natural” advocates, the authors say.

In a way, naturalness has moral meaning to Westerners, according to the paper, “Actually, natural is neutral.” Mainly, people think naturalness is morally superior.

Scott and Rozin wrote the article before the pandemic, but “I’ve wondered if it can be applied to the psychology of people’s reactions to coronavirus,” Scott said.

“Some people infer coronavirus is a deliberate product of human creation. It’s as though people are deeply reluctant to believe something so tragic could be caused mostly by nature.”  

GMO foods

The issue plays out clearly in the resistance to genetically modified (GMO) foods, Scott says, even as evidence suggests GMO products are as safe as conventional foods and can have advantages in disease resistance, shelf life and nutrition.

The people who hold the most extreme views opposing GMO foods think they know the most about GMO food science. But they actually know the least, according to research Scott and others conducted.

“The moral aspects of GMO opposition suggest that the innovation of CRISPR, which makes genetic editing more targeted, precise, accessible and affordable, might be met with similar opposition,” Scott and Rozin write in their new paper.

Believing nature is benevolent causes people to overlook its dangers, they say.

“The central point is that many people believe natural things are good for humans,” Scott says.  “Sometimes that is true, but sometimes it is not. 

“This deeply held belief in the benevolence of nature causes people to focus on risks caused by humans, even in cases where risks caused by nature are equally dangerous.” 


Consider pesticides. “We focus on thoroughly testing and regulating commercial pesticides,” the authors write. “Yet plants naturally produce pesticides to protect themselves from fungi, insects and animal predators. In fact, 99.99% of the pesticides we consume (by weight) are natural.”

The point is not to scare people about the amount of natural pesticides they consume, Scott said. “I want to point out the imbalance between how much we talk about and focus on synthetic pesticides and what proportion of our diet they comprise.”

The authors also point to natural and herbal health products. For instance, in the 1990s, some weight-loss remedies contained ephedra, a plant native to central Asia. Ephedra is dangerous, and it was linked to dozens of deaths in the United States before it was banned in 2003. “People did not realize that this natural, amphetamine-like compound could constrict blood vessels and increase the risk of stroke.”

Yes, the authors acknowledge, nature brings us wonderful things. Beautiful mountain vistas, waterfall, birds, sunsets.

“It also brings us earthquakes, floods and death itself,” they write. “It does not exist to help us or to harm us.”

In 2011, a tornado destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri. Shutterstock photo

WashU Olin alumni have continued to benefit from their membership in the community many years after leaving campus. This is part of an occasional series of vignettes about the alumni experience. Today, we hear from Evan Waldman, EMBA ’09,CEO, Essex Industries

Two years after Evan Waldman graduated with his Executive MBA, his company, Essex Industries, engaged Olin’s Anjan Thakor, director of doctoral programs and John E. Simon Professor of Finance, to help establish a base for its strategic planning.

“There were three of us on the executive team who had been through the Executive MBA program. We were excited to work with the business school—particularly Anjan Thakor,” said Waldman, who had taken a strategy course with Thakor and was happy to reconnect.

“We wanted to update our strategic plan and we really didn’t have a process for it at the time,” he said. “Anjan was a good resource to help us establish a solid foundation and common vernacular. He also worked with us to level set on where we were and where we wanted to head.”

Waldman continues to draw on Olin and its resources —particularly the faculty expertise and their network of real-world companies and case studies.

“They also know the theoretical and academic approaches, which can be provocative to those who are tied up in the day-to-day realities,” Waldman said.

Stay in touch.

Center for Experiential Learning

Business Development

  • Dorothy Kittner, MBA ’94, associate dean and director of business development and corporate relations 314-935-6365 | kittner@wustl.edu

Alumni & Development

Weston Career Center

Executive Education

  • Kelly Bean, senior associate dean and professor of practice in leadership 202-797-6000 | beank@wustl.edu

The US sports blackout because of the pandemic has left at least a $12 billion crater in the national economy. And even if stadiums and arenas light up anew soon, they won’t look the same.

An Olin sports-business expert doesn’t expect the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball to welcome fans if/when they return in 2020, for example. Football, however, likely will allow a limited number.

Patrick RIshe

Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Olin, estimates the shutdown of professional, college, scholastic, community and recreational sports across America has impacted the sports industry by $12 billion.

“And that number could more than double,” Rishe said.

“From restaurants, hotels, production crews for local/regional sports programming, vending machine and game operators and more, when sports don’t happen, it has a trickle-down effect on the entire economy,” he said.

Rishe did a deep dive into data for ESPN. His analysis shows the sudden disappearance of sports will erase at least those billions in revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs, “an economic catastrophe that will more than double if the college football and NFL schedules are wiped out this fall” by the pandemic.

Rishe analyzed the impact of a lack of fan spending, using Fan Cost Index data from Team Marketing Reports and attendance estimates, which are publicly available.

College football and MLB

Rishe calculates that a cancellation of the college football season would collectively cost the 65 Power 5 schools more than $4 billion.

Ditto for America’s favorite pastime. Forty percent of Major League Baseball revenue is derived from fan spending on tickets and game-day spending at ballparks, Rishe pointed out.

“These losses will likely exceed $4 billion alone this year,” he said. “I don’t see any scenario at present where fans are back this year—not unless teams or leagues invest heavily in testing for fans. And I don’t see that happening this year because they already have to exhaust quite an effort to ensure players and staff are tested.”

Rishe does foresee pro basketball and hockey returning to play.

“But with no fans,” he said. “Both will likely select just a few cities where they will complete their season in an atypical way never before seen.”

The NFL and college football seem headed for some seats filled for games.

 “I do believe we will see a small percentage of fans allowed back,” Rishe said. “The challenge for teams and athletic departments — aside from allowing a small percentage of fans in — is to decide which fans will be allowed in. Your biggest college donors are likely to be given priority, but will they be willing not to attend all games so that some of the other season ticket holders and students can attend games?”

Youth sports

It’s not just the absence of professional and college sports causing economic pain.

In 2019, the youth sports industry was pegged at $19.2 billion. Rishe estimates the loss to youth sports to be at least $2.4 billion, and he said he believes his estimate is “conservative.”

“There are many communities all over the country that historically have hosted youth sports tournaments fielding nonlocal teams, which fuels local tax dollars from visitor spending at hotels and restaurants,” he said.

“Not this year. It’s yet another example of this trickle-down effect hitting multiplex sports facilities in mid-sized and small towns across America quite hard.”

Think about it. No buses rented. No concessions or tickets. No meals or festivities surrounding sports. Imagine how many vending machines in elementary, middle and high schools, and at community fields aren’t netting a single quarter for months on end.

The coronavirus pandemic has shattered and shuttered businesses. Here, three Olin experts offer insights into potential opportunities as businesses struggle to emerge from the economic storm.

“The biggest question businesses are learning to ask themselves is, ‘Are we essential?’” said Doug Villhard, professor of practice in entrepreneurship and academic director for entrepreneurship. “If that answer was recently proven to be ‘no,’ then now is the time to form strategies to make your organization ‘essential’ in the future.”

How will businesses change because of the pandemic?

Minyuan Zhao

Minyuan Zhao, associate professor of strategy: “Businesses may have to rethink their value propositions. Before the pandemic, a nail salon was there just because women were ‘supposed’ to have their nails done, a florist was in business because flowers were ‘supposed’ to be at various events, and retailers invested in second-day delivery because consumers were ‘supposed’ to like fast delivery. The crisis will change all this. Collectively, we will redefine what is truly essential to our lives, and what we can do without.”

Peter Boumgarden
Peter Boumgarden

Peter Boumgarden, professor of practice in strategy and organization: “It’s important for businesses to think hard about the ways in which their short-term demand is impacted both by general consumer confidence, which is likely to be down in the short-run, and the social proximity people need to receive your products or services, which is potentially impacted due to changing social norms around public gathering.

“Think of a concert venue or a restaurant. They might want to creatively plan for some kind of viable model of reduced operations.”

What opportunities could exist as we emerge from the crisis?

Doug Villhard

Villhard: “Look for ways to solve the biggest problems you and your customers are now facing. It will be one of two things: supply or demand. Work quickly to become essential in one of these areas.”

Boumgarden: “Organizations should think hard about how to develop the flexibility to ramp up or down operations more quickly and seamlessly if a second wave of the virus forces a similar social distancing. Think of a hospital system that is opening up for elective services but also wants to be ready to move back to a COVID-19 response set-up. I can see new opportunities for those who can help organizations do this transition planning more effectively.”

Zhao: “The most obvious opportunity is the online businesses: virtual meetings, virtual classes, virtual concerts, virtual tourism, etc. But I think the opposite is also true: street corner coffee shops where you can say hi to the neighbors and connect with the offline world. 

“The new business models also create demand for robust infrastructure, especially the digital infrastructure in data storage, transfer and security.”

What can businesses do to position themselves for opportunity?

Zhao: “It’s probably too early to make costly strategic moves, but businesses can start to reassess their business models and all the assumptions that support their business models. It’s shocking how many assumptions are now in question.”

Villhard: “Re-read your website and marketing materials.  You’ll immediately be able to tell if those concepts are suddenly ‘dated’ in light of the crisis. Revise them to speak to the new challenges your customers now face. The world changed overnight. Your organization needs to adapt as well, and you need to show you are a thought-leader in the new world.”

Boumgarden: “I would encourage business leaders to find ways to run mini-experiments during this time. Use these as an opportunity to tease out creative hypotheses with your customers that you might not have done previously. If you can do this in inexpensive ways now, this is a great opportunity to learn.”

Villhard: “In entrepreneurship we teach to ‘start with empathy.’ Put yourself in the mindset of the problems your customers are now facing. If you do so, an unprecedented number of new ideas will immediately emerge for you.”

Do some businesses currently have an advantage over others?

Villhard: “If your solutions are both domestic and/or virtual/digital you are extremely well-suited. And if they are not, work quickly to get them there.”

Boumgarden: “I see leaders having to wrestle with new types of problems. Imagine trying to figure out the Paycheck Protection Program as you consider whether or not your loan will be forgiven. Or trying to predict the likelihood of viral reoccurrence and its impact on your supply chain. Many organizations do not have this expertise internally and have to look outside for support. Organizations and individuals with strong social networks can tap into new forms of expertise outside their own walls.”

Anything you recommend for business owners/managers to read?

Villhard: “Refresh on the classic book Innovators Dilemma. If you are an established company, you are about to be attacked by dozens of startups. And many of them will now be run by recently laid-off workers who have been sitting on an innovative idea in your industry for years and now find themselves in a perfect opportunity to strike against the establishment.”

Boumgarden: “I’m really enjoying a new rhythm of a weekly reading of The Economist. This is for two reasons. First, I find that a daily newspaper (like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal) makes me too attuned to the ups and downs of the news. A weekly is more emotionally digestible. Second, I find that in offering stories from around the globe, The Economist expands my understanding of the interconnectedness of our global economy.”

Zhao: “I’ve found it very helpful to look back into history and reflect on the big picture—how we came to where we are. More to that point, I find it helpful to write in addition to read. Write about how we see the world, and sometimes you’ll be surprised by what’s on your mind.”

She recommends the following: The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, by Adam Tooze; The Last Kingdom, by Bernard Cornwell; The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry; and The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan.