Any global business leader understands that international events drive opportunities and influence decisions. Agile business leaders pivot quickly when unanticipated events arise. Business goals remain constant. Strategy and tactics may have to change to meet the unexpected. These are lessons WashU Olin students learn day in and day out. Today, the team at Olin is putting those lessons into practice.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, my Olin colleagues have confronted the challenge admirably. We’re retooling our celebrated global immersion for the next class of full-time MBA students—while accounting for an unanticipated public health crisis.
The result: The MBA students in the class of 2022 will span five cities across three continents in their global immersion, beginning in St. Louis and continuing to Washington, DC; Barcelona; Paris; and Lima, Peru.
Our inaugural class covered St. Louis; Washington, DC; Barcelona; Beijing; and Shanghai, all the while taking classes, consulting with business professionals in-country and creating solutions for real-world business problems.
Given today’s headlines, and because the health and well-being of our students is paramount, we had to make decisions now. We had to pivot, while preserving the important global experience that has quickly become a cornerstone of the WashU MBA—so much so, in fact, that Poets & Quants named us the program of the year for our work.
From the start, we’ve pressed the opportunity for students to gain global business literacy in a variety of economies and markets. We’ve spoken about the agility today’s business leaders require when operating in cultures different from their own. And our students have bonded tightly in a unique and united global experience.
Class of ’22 students will take virtually the same courses their predecessors took, gaining similar outcomes. This time, however, students will experience even more diverse business perspectives.
As well as adding a major European capital and world business center to the itinerary—Paris—we are adding a stint in Lima, the capital city of Peru’s emerging economy, with opportunities to study sustainability concerns and startup opportunities. An economy with local production in textiles and ecotourism. A culture risen from a tumultuous history, where economic development is a priority.
For students who were deeply committed to the possibility of an experience in China, we haven’t left them behind either. When the current crisis subsides, we plan to offer an elective residency in Shanghai—along with other residencies in Tel Aviv and Berlin.
WashU Olin is a global business school. We’ve invested in the program and in our students in order to develop globally mobile business leaders who are nimble enough to confront challenge dynamically.
To be sure, we didn’t anticipate this challenge. But in confronting it, we’re creating a new and exciting version of our global immersion.
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 Michael Tessier, MBA ’16, director of finance, Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.
Following a stint
in the oil and gas business in Texas, Michael Tessier returned to St. Louis.
Connections he forged while he was an MBA student with Urban Chestnut Brewing
Co. cofounders David Wolfe and Florian Kuplent led to a job with the brewer.
Last year, Tessier
returned to Olin, signing on Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. as a client for a
project with the Center for Experiential Learning.
While earning his
MBA in finance and strategy, Tessier had worked on a practicum project for
Urban Chestnut focused on the brewer’s domestic production and marketing. Now,
as the company’s finance director, he had the chance to leverage Olin students
for a project that looked at financing options, production modeling and
marketing for an autonomous German-based subsidiary of the brewer.
“The group helped
formulate tools we still use today to evaluate the business,” Tessier said.
“The university does a really nice job helping clients set up for success.”e, Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.
Samuel Roth’s wife and children landed around 6 a.m. today, February 6, 2020, in Riverside, CA, on the second evacuation flight to leave Wuhan, according to an update on the FlightAware website Roth posted on Facebook a day earlier.
Media reports say the flight was to land at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “They landed at Travis (Air Force Base) this morning. I think they will be there quarantined for two weeks,” Roth confirmed in an email on Wednesday afternoon.
A WashU Olin alumnus is working to bring home his wife and two children from Wuhan, China, where they arrived last week intending to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with family—and instead, found themselves at the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak.
Samuel M. Roth, MBA ’19, learned almost immediately upon their arrival in Wuhan that Daisy, his wife, and children Adalynn, 10 months, and Abagail, 5, had been told to hunker down in his in-law’s apartment and stay put. Roth’s in-laws live in Wuhan’s Xinzhou district in the northeastern part of the city.
He told CBS News they were told to avoid big gatherings. The network reported today that 106 people have died of the virus since the outbreak began and about 1,000 Americans are in the city of Wuhan.
“My family wasn’t able to get on the most recent chartered evacuation flight,” said Roth, an associate brand manager for Kimberly-Clark in Neenah, WI, in an email to Olin Blog. The US State Department has said priority for air transport from Wuhan would be given to those at greatest risk for contracting the virus.
“We’ve got a 10-month-old, we’ve got a 5-year-old,” Roth said in his interview with CBS News. “They’re susceptible, and they should be prioritized.”
“Initially I was trying to get ahold of the embassy and get them on the chartered flight. That ship has sailed, literally,” Roth told Olin Blog. “At this point, we’re hoping there will be subsequent rounds of evacuation. I’d like her out of there, but I’m not overwhelmed with anxiety. They’re staying at home and washing often.”
Roth’s congressman, US Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-WI, relayed a message from the US embassy in Beijing saying there wasn’t enough space to accommodate Americans wishing to depart by air. “The Department of State is working diligently with the government of China to identify alternative routes for U.S. citizens to depart Wuhan over land,” the embassy statement said, in part.
Roth has stayed in
touch with his family throughout and said that for now, boredom may be the
biggest issue his wife and kids have to confront.
“We are hopeful
that there will be more opportunities for them to get out of Wuhan,” he
said. “For now, they are just staying inside, keeping hands washed and
trying to stave off boredom with books, movies, games and the like.”
With the mission of “doing well by doing good,” Mastercard seeks to leverage its rich data resources to make a positive economic and social impact in the communities in which it works.
Tied to the “Data for Good Initiative” established in 2016, Mastercard partners with the Center for Analytics and Business Insights within Washington University in St. Louis on student-led practicum projects that use data from merchant retail locations.
Provided by Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth, this aggregated transaction data is intended to drive social-economic insights that will benefit the wider St. Louis community, home to Mastercard’s operations center.
The student project team this year consisted of six graduate students: four in the customer analytics program and two full-time MBA students. The team focused on forecasting economic changes that may result from the anticipated opening of a Major League Soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis in 2022.
The team analyzed the impact of two similar MLS stadiums in San Jose and Orlando, which opened in the last four years, and used the results from those analyses to predict potential results for St. Louis.
I was very excited to apply the knowledge and theories learned in class to a real-world event, especially when the project is tied to an exciting upcoming opportunity that the local community is excited about.
By working side by side with the team of faculty advisors—professors Seethu Seetharaman, Michael Wall and Meng Liu—the team has looked through more than 700,000 rows of data, built predictive models, and generated insights about the changing spending patterns associated with the stadiums in three cities.
After three months of hard work, the team successfully completed the analysis using both qualitative research and quantitative model building. The work indicates that the MLS stadiums in comparison cities San Jose and Orlando helped increase overall retail spending in adjacent neighborhood areas, and the same can be expected for St. Louis.
The team gave its final presentation to the Mastercard senior executive team in the first week of December 2019. The team was able to impress the client team with comprehensive analyses and thorough recommendations, which led to a rich discussion of how to make St. Louis a more attractive destination, both for investors and the community.
The team also laid out potential next steps for Mastercard to tactically implement partnerships with the new MLS team and to further bolster the fall 2019 recommendations with further analyses.
The project was a great learning experience and the highlight of my semester. The great combination of MBA and SMP students in a team environment created the perfect conditions for us to learn from each other.
Analytics students learned how to translate the results of models into business insights and communicate them clearly to a client, and the MBA students learned more about the underlying analytics concepts.
We all grew incredibly fast throughout the course of the project, and ultimately delivered strong results for the client. As I am graduating this December, this is also a perfect close to my amazing experience at Olin over the last two years.
Pictured at top: Muhammad Hassan, MBA ’20; Sarah Fuller, MBA ’20 and CEL-fellow; a representative from Mastercard; Michael Wall, CEL/CABI faculty adviser; Phoebe Do, MBA ’20; another client representative; Yuyun Li, MSCA ’19; Pamela Chen, MSCA ’19; another client representative; Hanzu Xu, MSCA ’19; Siyi Wang, MSCA ’19; another client representative; Seethu Seetharaman, CEL/CABI faculty adviser.
WashU Olin leaped 10 places to 44th in the new Financial Times global ranking of MBA programs released today thanks to growth in MBA starting salaries, strong scores for career services and admirable faculty research productivity.
Additionally, Olin benefitted from a high ranking for our commitment to corporate social responsibility, affirming our strategic pillar focused on equipping students to be values-based, data-driven leaders.
“I’m deeply gratified by the recognition of our hard work on behalf of our students,” said Dean Mark P. Taylor. He noted that while the FT annual ranking includes an evaluation of the global experience each program provides, this year’s ranking does not account for Olin’s newly launched global immersion.
“Our 38-day international immersion places Olin as the most global full-time MBA program in the world,” Taylor said.
Last year, Olin was ranked 54th. This year, strong scores for career services and career progress, Olin’s near-parity between male and female students and an increase in the percentage of international students contributed to pushing Olin up to 44th globally. WashU MBA students also reported starting salaries averaging $131,207, up substantially from the prior year.
The FT ranking also placed Olin ninth in the world for research productivity—up from 12th last year. Finally, Financial Times’ surveys placed WashU’s MBA program 29th in the world for corporate social responsibility.
This story originally appeared in the 2019 edition of Olin Business magazine.
On a pristine Thursday in July, a group of WashU Olin MBA students sipped two varieties of Spanish sparkling wine and sampled pan con tomate in the main house of the 500-year-old Barcelona winery where they’d spent two afternoons collecting data.
The students had strolled among the knotty vineyards, smelled the soil and ducked into dark cellars lined with bottles of aging cava. They’d heard about the wine-making process and the family values that drive the latest generation of vintners at the Raventos i Blanc winery 40 minutes from the city’s center.
By 9:15 that evening, the sights, sounds, aromas and flavors had become another data point. Students clustered on sofas and barstools around the lobby of the Pulitzer Hotel in downtown Barcelona. Melding their research data with the culture and values they’d absorbed firsthand, they prepared team presentations for class the next day while three Olin professors milled about, offering insights and answering questions.
The scene was emblematic of WashU Olin’s newly rebooted full-time MBA program and its crown jewel: a ’round-the-globe immersion in international business designed to set students up for a richer business school education and set them apart from their peers. Students absorbed a rigorous schedule of classroom work, course-driven field excursions and presentations in Washington, DC, Barcelona and Shanghai.
By the time they returned to St. Louis 38 days after they left, the verdict was clear: The new MBA program was a success.
“I was prepared to feel like a student on this trip and to take incredible classes from amazing professors,” said Kendra Kelly, MBA ’21. “But I wasn’t prepared to see myself as a working professional in these places. In six weeks, I feel like I’m leaps and bounds beyond where I would have been had I not participated in this.”
Eighteen months in development
At a faculty meeting on May 23, 2018, Dean Mark P. Taylor challenged instructors to consider a bold new plan for the full-time MBA program. By then, a team of staff and faculty had already completed several months of behind-the-scenes work. New courses had been conceived. International locations had been chosen. Partner institutions were identified.
With faculty approval, the race was on to implement the new program in time for the arrival of first-year MBA students in late June 2019. The newly rebooted program would include options for MBA students to accelerate their education and graduate a semester early by foregoing a summer internship.
It would also offer students the option to pair their MBA with a concurrent specialized master’s degree in about 23 months.
But the real meat of the new program would be its biggest challenge, drawing dozens of instructors and scores of staff members into the planning process. The required global immersion would be an enormous logistical feat as WashU Olin arranged travel, meals, lodging, coursework—and prepared for inevitable surprises—for nearly 100 students across three continents.
Planners piloted the program over spring break in March 2019, taking 70 first- and second-year students to Shanghai and 35 to Barcelona for a compressed version of classes and excursions. Organizers returned with insights on how to manage transportation logistics, how to engage weary travelers and how to pace the coursework.
The goals were clear: Build the global mobility of Olin’s latest cohort. Set the tone for a program rooted in values-based, data-driven decision-making. Establish a baseline in international business for students with varying levels of business experience. Provide perspective on how business is done across different cultures, countries and economies when students begin core classes.
By the end of the trip, Professor of Practice Patrick Moreton—the faculty director and chief organizer of the global immersion’s academic experience—was confident it had met the goals.
“These students were absorbing and engaging with the environment in ways we’ve never seen before,” Moreton said, citing the papers, presentations and simulation results students had submitted throughout their journey.
The student presentations, designed to solve market entry questions and operational problems for real companies in the United States and abroad, incorporated rich learnings from their own field observations and data collected from financial documents and company research.
“They did a great job,” Moreton said, acknowledging that the students were deliberately challenged to use business concepts they hadn’t yet formally learned. “The experiential design of the courses lets students see the value of these concepts in action and achieved great learning outcomes.”
Rebooting the full-time MBA
Elements of the redesigned program for full-time MBA students at WashU Olin
A required global immersion for all students entering the program, including a 38-day ’round-the-world trip with coursework and excursions at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC; in Barcelona; and in Shanghai.
An option to accelerate the MBA experience and finish a semester early by foregoing the traditional summer internship between years one and two.
An option to earn a specialized master’s degree.
Bonds for life
Faculty members were also impressed with the quality of the cohort. From the beginning, program leaders acknowledged the new program would attract a certain type of student—a student prepared to touch down in St. Louis and depart almost immediately for faraway lands. With the highest yield rate in Olin’s MBA history, it was clear prospective students made Olin their top choice—specifically for the global experience.
Meanwhile, those nearly six weeks of global travel also fulfilled another goal: Organizers expected the program to create deep bonds among members of the cohort. And bond they did.
Sixteen students celebrated birthdays during the 38 days of travel. Four students formed an impromptu band using idle instruments in a DC pub. Another took a long weekend away from Shanghai to get married—and was showered with classmates’ well wishes when he shared wedding pictures on WeChat, the Chinese social media platform everyone used to stay connected. Ten students rented a yacht in Barcelona for a water-borne city tour and an afternoon swim. Students visited karaoke bars in Beijing, walked on the Great Wall, toured DC monuments and gazed into the soaring ceiling of Barcelona’s Sagrada Família basilica.
“We spent a lot of time together. We had meals together. It really helped us inside the classroom because we are really comfortable talking to each other, asking each other questions,” said Benjamin Gaffney, MBA ’21. “It helped the academic conversations as well.”
Ashley Macrander, assistant dean and director of student affairs for graduate programs, said students frequently cited the deeper cultural competency they’d gained as an important takeaway of the program.
“This experience has given our students an even stronger start than they’ve ever had before,” Macrander said. “They care about each other as colleagues and friends. They’ve formed tighter bonds with Olin. It’s made them even more engaged students and that’s going to make them more engaged alumni.”
One after another, students praised the strength they drew from one another through the trip, a strength derived from the bond they’d created—and the understanding they’d gained of each person’s ethnic, professional and social backgrounds.
“People from different backgrounds, different industries, different countries, different life experiences—and when we work in teams, we get to share all our different ideas and see how they come together,” said Abhinav Gabbeta, MBA ’21. “All these different perspectives fill the different gaps you have.”
Students drew on one another as they worked on a series of projects that began in St. Louis, continued at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, extended to the cava producers in Barcelona and finished with garment manufacturing plants on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Rigorous coursework around the globe
It’s Friday morning in early August and the mercury creeps toward a high in the upper 90s. Four first-year WashU MBA students dodge other commuters in Shanghai’s People’s Square subway station and squeeze aboard the No. 2 train, standing chin-to-shoulder for a quick ride two stops to the west.
Susie Bonwich, Zach Frantz, Duckenson Joseph and Linh Nguyen—joined by two Chinese-speaking guides—have scattered into the city seeking insights about the coffee shops and confectioners doing business in Shanghai. Their classmates have gone in other directions, visiting other stores.
Before departing WashU in late June, all the students visited Strange Donuts, a St. Louis-based chain of shops with locations around the region and in Mexico City. Jason Bockman, the owner and a former Olin student, had been invited to consider opening a doughnut shop in Shanghai. The question for the students: Should he?
“I’m really excited about this project,” said Bonwich, who joked about her previous experience as a corporate trainer for a premium global burger restaurant chain. “I feel like shaking fries will actually have some value in this program.”
The four students visited four different shops, including a simple coffee shop, a high-end bakery and a patisserie. Their mission: Gain competitive insights. Evaluate square footage. Compare what Chinese diners prefer—their values—against the US palate. That work would merge with data from Bockman’s business and lessons they’d learned in their course on business models in a global environment, taught in a Shanghai hotel ballroom.
“For sure, I’m looking at all of this very differently. Before, I’d try to look at a business model and see how a company made money,” Frantz said. “But this is giving me a framework to see more about why decisions are made. I have a much more data-driven framework.”
trip, students blended on-the-ground experiences with in-the-classroom lessons.
The business models course invited students to contrast retail strategies
across a variety of industries—including hardware, cosmetics and apparel—among
retailers on three continents.
In the hardware
industry, for example, contrasting values came to the forefront as students
noted less of a do-it-yourself mentality among Chinese homeowners compared to
Americans. That’s largely thanks to the lower cost of labor—they can more
easily afford a plumber—and the lack of space to store and work with home
Global Management Practices course in Barcelona included student visits to
three wineries as they developed strategies for expanding cava in the US
market. Their business and policy course at the Brookings Institution included
detailed briefings on global economies in Europe, South America, Asia and
Africa. With visits to Chinese garment makers and global distribution centers,
students explored the role of operations strategy in their global business
Threaded throughout, students trained on effective teamwork, received communication coaching to hone their presentation skills and met with counselors from the Weston Career Center.
“I didn’t think the global immersion would add so much to my experience, but I feel like I’m so much ahead,” Joseph said. “I have a lot of stories I’ll be able to tell an interviewer.”
Changes, differences, similarities
experience, faculty and staff watched and learned as the class of 2021 served
as the vanguard for Olin’s new full-time MBA. They provided social and
political insights to help students assimilate across three unique cultures.
They prepared for the inevitable upset stomachs and ear infections that would
interrupt any group of 100 adults over six weeks. They noted—and will adjust
for—the time it takes to secure visas for a large group of students attempting
to traverse the globe.
And they tweaked
schedules along the way in an effort to preserve a rigorous academic experience
alongside the rigor of international travel—with all the demands of border
crossings, jet lag and laundry.
“The faculty has
had to adapt the schedule to students’ needs,” Gaffney said. “We very much
appreciate those changes, but also, you just need to learn: While this is the
plan, it may change.”
In the end,
students appreciated the opportunity to contrast the cultures and values across
so many stops, integrating that perspective into their work. They noted the
late-morning, late-evening routines among Spanish businesses—and their
preference to begin meetings with more small talk and a personal connection.
They recognized that the Chinese palate doesn’t favor sweets to the degree
Americans do. They saw the ways Chinese manufacturing conditions contrast with
Americans’ preconceived notions.
“Honestly, the thing I’ve seen most powerfully is the similarities,” Gabbeta said. “It’s all about the human connection we’re making. We’ve gotten to know the people. There may be a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, as long as we share that human connection, we can make some really powerful differences in the world.”
Faculty and Courses
IN ST. LOUIS
Values-Based, Data-Driven Decision-Making
Stuart Bunderson, Director, Bauer Leadership Center and George and Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics and Governance
Seethu Seetharaman, Director, Center for Analytics and Business Insights and W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing
IN WASHINGTON, DC
Global Institutions and Values
Tarek Ghani, assistant professor of strategy
Lamar Pierce, professor of organization and strategy and associate dean for the Olin-Brookings Partnership
Global Management Practices
Sam Chun, assistant dean and director of executive education, professor of management practice
Peter Boumgarden, professor of practice, strategy and organizations
Understanding Business Models in a Global Context
Daniel Elfenbein, associate professor of strategy
Anne Marie Knott, Robert and Barbara Frick Professor of Business
Implementing Strategy through Global
Lingxiu Dong, professor of operations and manufacturing management
Fuqiang Zhang, professor of operations and manufacturing management
Foundations of Impactful Teamwork
Andrew Knight, professor of organizational behavior
Effective Communication for Business
Cathy Dunkin, lecturer in business communications
Amy Shiller Brown, Molly Cruitt, Sarah Gibbs, Judy Milanovits, Gabe Watson and Katie Roth Wools contributed to this report.
Pictured above: Students in the 2021 MBA class during the scavenger hunt in Barcelona in 2019.