Tag: Faculty



Dennis Zhang, Olin associate professor of supply chain and technology, has been named a co-winner of the 2022 Production and Operations Management Society (POMS) Early Career Research Accomplishments.

Dennis Zhang
Zhang

The award is one of the most prestigious honors in the operations management field. Zhang received the award in April during the POMS conference, which was virtual because of COVID concerns.

“I am honored to receive this recognition,” Zhang said. “This is very motivating, and I hope to continue contributing to the field through research and service.”

POMS chose Zhang based on his contribution to platform operations, especially retail platform operations, as well as his contribution to data-driven methodologies in operations, such as field experiments and applied machine learning.

For example, Zhang’s paper, “Reducing Discrimination with Reviews in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from Field Experiments on Airbnb,” published in Management Science, is the first study on how to use review information to fight against statistical discrimination on sharing platforms.

And “Customer Choice Models vs. Machine Learning: Finding Optimal Product Displays on Alibaba” is the first to implement a choice-model-based assortment optimization algorithm in a large-scale ecommerce setting. Operations Research published the paper.

Zhang joined the Olin Business School in 2016. His research focuses on operations in innovative marketplaces and in the public sector. He has built theoretical models to extract reliable insights from data and uses data to improve existing models. Before he joined the Olin faculty, he finished his PhD at Northwestern University and worked at Google as a machine learning software engineer.

The award co-winners are Ruomeng Cui of Emory University and Hummy Song of the University of Pennsylvania.




Etsy sellers are taking their battle with Etsy Inc. public this week to protest higher fees and other changes the company says are necessary to compete for shoppers.

Starting Monday, April 11, thousands of Etsy sellers put their shops on “vacation mode,” urging customers to boycott the platform for a week.

Etsy is a global online marketplace where people come together to make, sell, buy and collect unique items. People create individual virtual storefronts and sell millions of items including art, jewelry, face masks, furniture, pottery, on and on.

Kaitlin Daniels headshot
Daniels

Etsy CEO Josh Silverman announced in February that, while sales and revenue were at all-time highs, transaction fees would increase 30% in April. Sellers, in turn, organized a collective strike through the platform Coworker.org.

“I think this is one more instance of workers flexing their bargaining power. We see this playing out in the broader economy in the form of rising wages and ‘the great resignation,’” said Kaitlin Daniels, assistant professor of supply chain, operations and technology at Olin. Her research focuses on the operations of gig-economy platforms and the resulting impact on consumer and service provider welfare.

Just the latest in a series of changes for sellers

The fee increase is just the latest in a series of changes that irk Etsy sellers.

“It’s worth noticing that Etsy worker complaints extend beyond the fee increase,” Daniels said. “They are also demanding changes to the Star Seller program and the offsite ads program.”

The Star Seller program rates sellers’ customer service, e.g. responding to 95% of emails within 24 hours. Etsy’s discovery algorithm prioritizes sellers in part based on their Star Seller status. 

The offsite ads program allows Etsy to promote sellers through paid ads on other websites. This program automatically charges the promoted seller a 12% fee (about twice the usual fee) if the ad produces a purchase. Most sellers cannot opt out of these offsite ads.

“These programs restrict how sellers run their Etsy business, which limits sellers’ flexibility in how they balance their Etsy work with the rest of their lives. Since flexibility is one of the main reasons people say they work gigs, it is not surprising that these programs are unpopular.”




If you run into Olin’s Erik Dane at an academic conference, watch out.

Dane, an associate professor of organizational behavior, will be happy to talk with you about data you’re analyzing, methodological trends, the Cardinals, the Cubs, the endorphins of running.

Dane

But he and his coauthor, Kevin Rockmann, professor of management at George Mason University, also might ask you the pointed question they, as editors of the Academy of Management Discoveries, have been asking people for years:

“How often do you open the latest issue of one of our leading journals and read each article—or even one article—in its entirety?”

Dane and Rockmann threw down the gauntlet in a March 7 article for AACSB International, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business: “It’s Time for Academics to Write Differently.”

The snooze button

“Stop hitting the ‘snooze’ button on your academic writing,” they implore readers. “Instead, produce scholarship that audiences will not only read but—dare we say it—enjoy.”

The article is based on research they published last year in the Academy of Management Discoveries, “Listen up! Revitalizing our writing to stir our readers and supercharge our thinking.”

They surveyed members of the journal’s editorial review board, asking them to rate two lists. The first: Nineteen top academic journals from the Financial Times 50’s list of prominent journals in business school disciplines. The second list contained 25 popular press outlets that report on management research (e.g., The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal).

“The results were startling,” Dane said. “Our 77 respondents ranked the nonscientific journals higher, not just for enjoyability, which is troubling enough, but also for informational value.”

If their small study is an indication, he said, “even scholars are put off by academic writing.”

More citations for your work

Dane and Rockmann, however, are on a mission to drive home these points:

  • Researchers serve their careers and their audiences better by writing in more accessible prose.
  • When scholars experiment with literary techniques, they improve their thinking as well as their writing.
  • Established journals could begin promoting fresher academic writing by posting public-facing content on their websites, reserving complete papers for print.

“We argue that there are several compelling reasons for academics to revitalize our writing,” they say.

Vigorous writing can aid career advancement. “Studies have shown that better-written papers—those that use techniques such as first-person narration and vivid contextual detail, and go easy on scientific jargon—are more broadly cited on the whole.”

Accessible writing expands the audience for ideas. “By continuing to write only for other scientists (who mostly, as we’ve seen, prefer to get their knowledge elsewhere), we cede the practitioner audience to Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review and other venues for ‘translational writing.’”

Experimenting with literary techniques can improve scholars’ thinking as well as writing. “Too often, we approach our subject matter with our ‘scientist’ hat already fixed in place. Inflexible habits of thought don’t do justice to the world’s phenomena—or our own theory-making. If we looked at the world with an eye toward dramatizing rather than dissecting, we might see possibilities and points of view that would otherwise remain invisible within our cognitive comfort zone.”




In the wake of the slap heard ‘round the world—actor Will Smith’s blow to comedian Chris Rock’s left cheek—scholars in the business of entertainment at the Olin Business School say the situation is shot through with reputational risk.

But not where you might think.

In the middle of the ABC TV broadcast of the Oscars on March 27, Rock’s joke at the expense of actor Jada Pinkett Smith prompted her husband to bound onto the stage and smack the comedian. Soon after, Smith twice shouted at Rock—using an expletive both times—to not mention his wife’s name.

Olin finance Professor Tim Solberg, academic director for the school’s minor in the business of the arts, said the biggest risk may lie within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself.

As the NAACP in a statement decried “the way casual violence was normalized tonight,” the Academy Awards leadership was considering its response amid calls to take disciplinary action.

Solberg

“The academy itself may suffer damage if it does not take action,” Solberg said, noting the academy issued a statement saying it does not approve of violence. “There is a lot of discussion on the radio and on the web around this as it relates to a public display of violence by highly visible and admired stars.”

Solberg raised the prospect of the academy stripping Smith of his Oscar for best actor in a motion picture for his role as the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in “King Richard.” Smith received the award about 45 minutes after the slapping incident. The act of violence could constitute a violation of the academy’s code of conduct.

On Monday, the academy issued a statement condemning the action and noting it would start a formal review to “explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.”

Ironically, Solberg said, Smith and Rock may suffer no ill effect in their earnings. “The two stars have their followings and the audience is segmented,” he said. “They will probably not have a drop in earnings as a result. In that sense, their brand is not harmed financially.”

Glenn MacDonald, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy at WashU’s Olin School, agreed with Solberg.

MacDonald

“In entertainment, they often say there is no such thing as bad publicity. Obviously, getting attention for doing something people would generally find disgusting is a counterexample,” said MacDonald, who teaches a course in the economics of entertainment at Olin. “But a wise guy comedian getting hit on TV by a very physical guy for making a bad comment about the latter’s wife is really just extra attention for a couple of guys in the latter stages of their careers.

Rock’s joke made reference to Pinkett Smith’s hair. She has spoken of her hair loss as a result of alopecia.

Solberg noted a fourth potential stakeholder that could be affected: the movie studios. “While financially, the stars have their brand and their following, unless a studio boycotts or the public cancels Will Smith—a major box office star making money for the company—due to the public show of violence, he will maintain his financial draw even if his brand is tarnished,” Solberg said.




On March 21, President Biden issued an urgent warning to American business leaders to strengthen their companies’ cyber defenses immediately. In recent weeks, experts have been surprised by the lack of full-scale cyberattacks by Russia. But the threat of devastating cyberattacks is still very real and American companies and individuals must remain vigilant, warned Liberty Vittert, professor of practice of data science at Olin Business School.  

“With the war in Ukraine seeming to only ramp up, instead of down, and Putin’s aggression against those that would defend the Ukrainian people increases, it only seems appropriate to ask ‘What is an act of war against the United States?’” Vittert said.

Liberty Vittert, professor of practice in data science at Olin Business School, studies how big data is impacting society. Photo art created by Jennifer Wessler
Vittert

The United States was launched into World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 American soldiers and civilians. That was an act of war that the U.S. could not ignore. It’s unlikely that Russia would attack the U.S. in the same way, though.

“Most assume that nowadays it would be an act of cyber warfare, not an actual physical attack. But what does that mean?” Vittert asked.  

“The Russians and the Chinese have been responsible for cyberattacks for years on the United States. From the SolarWinds Russian-linked cyberattack in 2020, and the cyberattack on the Colonial Oil pipeline less than a year ago, we have numerous examples of Russia testing our systems. 

“China has been much worse, with multiple Chinese-linked cyber hacks on Microsoft, on Google and even on our news sources like The New York Times,” she said.

Previous cyberattacks have not been treated as acts of war, which begs the question: What sorts of actions would cross that line?

“If Russia targets the U.S. banking system, is that enough? Do they just need to access the systems, do they need to shut it down, do they need to steal? What is bad enough that we would call it an act of war?” Vittert said.

“If pipelines are targeted, how long do they need to be down before it is an act of war? Someone I spoke with recently said it would be an act of war if Americans died. If the U.S. has access to oil pipelines shut down for any period, I can guarantee you there will be deaths. How many is necessary to consider it an act of war?

“The answers to these questions are complicated and frankly unknown. This is a new tool in the new toolbox of war,” she said.

Already, Russia has attacked Ukraine in multiple ways, including hacking business and financial systems in the country. As for an attack in the U.S., Vittert said it is just a matter of time.  

‘They only need to get in once’

“Most would say that the U.S. has the most sophisticated (cyber) defense systems and—on the other side of it—the most sophisticated attack systems,” Vittert said. “But the problem with cyberattacks is that they only need to get in once to cause devastating damage, whereas we have to defend against so many.” 

Most large corporations and financial systems likely have in-house cyber protection capabilities but, for smaller businesses, Vittert recommended hiring a cybersecurity company to ensure your company is protected. All businesses—large and small—should review their cyber protection systems to ensure they are up to date and as protected as they believe them to be.

“This isn’t something to take lightly whether it be an attack from a foreign adversary or simply a criminal one,” Vittert said.

As for individuals, Vittert said it’s important to change your passwords regularly and never use the same password for your banking systems as you do for other websites.

“It’s much easier to hack a magazine website, for example, but if you use the same passwords, you’re potentially facing some real trouble,” Vittert warned.




Last month, Russia and China declared that their friendship had “no limits.” But since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, that friendship has been strained. As the war has gone on, China has sought to distance itself from Russia to avoid the same financial sanctions and economic isolation that has rocked Russia in recent weeks.

Most recently, China’s top envoy to Washington went as far as to pledge his country “will do everything” to de-escalate the war in Ukraine, but refused to condemn Russia’s attack. 

Following President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping March 18, international business experts John Horn and Patrick Moreton at Olin Business School offered their perspectives on the developing situation, the challenges facing China and what impact its actions could have on the Chinese and global economies.

China is watching closely

All along, China’s stance in the conflict has been more anti-American than pro-Russian, said Moreton, professor of practice in strategy and management and academic director of the Olin’s MBA Global Immersion program.

Moreton

“China’s official narrative on Ukraine reflects their dissatisfaction with the position the U.S. has taken on issues that they consider core interests, including Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong—to name just three—and a general chafing at what they consider the American outsized role in the global political and economic system,” Moreton said.  

“I would expect that these are some of the issues that will come up when the U.S. and China sit down to discuss Russia and Ukraine.”

Horn, professor of practice in economics, agrees.

“My sense is that China is looking at this not as a communism versus the rest of the world construct, but rather as China versus the rest of world construct—what’s best for China,” Horn said.  

Like many countries, China likely thought Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was going to be a very short-term effort. If this had transpired, and Russia did not face strong pushback from other countries, Horn said China could have interpreted that as an opportune time to militarily take control of Taiwan.  

But much to Russia’s chagrin, the situation has not played out as expected, putting China in a tricky position.

What’s at stake for China?

Horn

“From China’s perspective, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, if successful, could have provided an increased opportunity for China to partner with western Europe as a trade alternative to the United States, if the latter had been seen as unable to use its leadership position to prevent the Russian aggression,” Horn said.

Moreton added, “There is also the possibility that China sees considerable opportunity in the current crisis and may very well be asking the U.S. and the European Union for concessions on issues it considers important in exchange for a particular response to Russia’s request for help.”

It’s a delicate balance for China, though. The Chinese government and businesses are acutely aware of how Russia’s actions have decimated its international business and trade and want to avoid the same fate. While China is Russia’s No. 1 trading partner, China relies more heavily on trade with the European Union and the U.S.

Beyond financial and economic implications, there are also serious reputational issues at stake both outside of and inside of China, Moreton said.

“The fact that the Chinese people aren’t being allowed to see what is happening in Ukraine seems to me to be a clear indication that the Chinese leadership sees a legitimacy problem at home if it supports Putin and it becomes widely known just how wrong his invasion and conduct of the war has been,” Moreton said.  “The Chinese people are not indifferent to the suffering of others, and they, like most Americans, expect their government to conduct itself in a moral manner.”

From a global perspective, Horn said, “The Chinese government appears to be playing this situation in a way that at the end, China is stronger than where they were a month ago relative to the United States, relative to Western Europe.

“And while a successful Russian invasion could have drawn into question the U.S. role as a global leader, the fact that the majority of countries have followed the U.S.’ lead with economic and trade sanctions, and that there hasn’t been a backlash toward the U.S. more broadly, makes that potential goal harder to achieve,” he added.

What is the best approach to working with China?

Moreton said it’s important for Americans to recognize that each country has many different types of interests, some of which are familiar and others that are quite different based on culture, stage of development, regional and global security, etc. 

“In that regard, I think it’s important for Americans to recognize that what we think is right or wrong may not appear so to China and vice-versa,” Moreton said. “This doesn’t mean we acquiesce to these interests. Rather, it simply means that countries trying to work with China have to try to understand their interests and offer a set of carrots and sticks that resonate productively with China’s interests and are consistent with the country’s values.”

But imposing economic sanctions on China is likely not on the table, in part because it would be too politically risky for the Biden administration Moreton said.

“The fractured nature of the American body politic makes harsh sanctions on China like what we have imposed on Russia very hard to pull off politically,” he said. “There are plenty of political and media opportunists who will jump on an opportunity to beat the Biden administration about the head for the inevitable disruptions that this move will have. To pull it off right now would require a level of political leadership beyond what I’m seeing in our political system.

“That’s not to say that more selective sanctions like we currently have aren’t possible, though.”

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Image: Shutterstock)