It was at WashU that Ray and Leah Yeh first considered becoming entrepreneurs. Years before opening The Foundry Bakery in 2018—named by Eater as one of 26 essential St. Louis restaurants—they were WashU students signing up for the Skandalaris Venture Competition, which provides mentorship and resources to early-stage WashU ventures and startups.
“The entrepreneurial bug caught us back then,” says Leah, MBA ’11. The project they entered into the competition wasn’t selected, but their participation still proved instrumental. “It gave us a lot of experience and also a lot of courage to start another business.”
Ray earned his master of arts in biology and biomedical science from WashU in 2010.
Today, The Foundry Bakery, in Maryland Heights, is the kind of place where you want to become a regular. Establishing meaningful relationships with customers is at the core of their business model. WashU Chancellor Emeritus Mark Wrighton stops by almost every week to pick up his usual order of Berry Trio Walnut Bread and Taiwan Toast, a soft loaf perfect for making French toast.
WashU Olin continued to show positive momentum in the Financial Times ranking of global MBA programs, capping a five-year trend by moving up 39 spots in the tally, according to the 2022 ranking out last week.
“I’m gratified to see the hard work of our staff and faculty, and the commitment of our students and alumni, recognized through the trend we have seen in this ranking,” said Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor.
The FT’s 2022 ranking includes the return of seven MBA powerhouse schools after a mid-pandemic absence. With the return of those schools— Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, UC Berkeley, MIT Sloan and UCLA—WashU Olin Business School held strong in the 2022 ranking, showing excellent results in areas including career services and global course experience.
Olin came in at No. 29. Olin showed gains in areas including international course experience, which rose from 66 to 24 in the ranking, and career services, with a rise from 72 to 60 in that category.
Emphasis on global business
“We have placed a premium on establishing and building global business experience for the leaders of tomorrow,” Dean Taylor said. “It’s gratifying to see that emphasis—as well as the hard work in career services—affirmed in the Financial Times ranking.”
Objectively, Olin also showed significant gains in other categories, including the percentage of MBA students employed within three months of graduating. In that category, 94% had jobs versus 73% the year before.
Wharton topped this year’s FT ranking, followed by Columbia and a tie for third between Harvard and INSEAD. In their last appearance in the FT ranking two years ago, the four schools ranked second (Wharton), eighth (Columbia), first (Harvard) and fourth (INSEAD), respectively.
“It is a great performance when you look at the competition,” said Shannon Reid, Olin’s strategic initiatives analyst and the person with her finger on the pulse of the rankings.
Five Olin students are featured in “Real Humans of MBA Students: Washington University Olin MBA Class of 2023” on the Clear Admit website.
They are Brendan Barry, Allison Wise, Adesola John-Ladega, Maria Alejandra Espitia and Ishmael Kodjoe.
Barry, of St. Louis, served six years in the U.S. Marines before he joined Olin. “I think my experience in the military brings a lot of value to my class. I led a lot of teams and had exposure to high-stress situations,” he told Clear Admit. “I learned to develop a sense of calmness that I think most of my classmates appreciate, especially during group projects.”
Wise, of West Bloomfield, Michigan, previously worked in the aviation industry. “I worked on the military side of the company,” she said. When COVID hit, “we didn’t get as affected as the commercial side, but I saw an entire business change before my eyes in a matter of months. It really frightened me for a while, but it taught me how to be lean, resilient, and how to take the punches as they come.”
John-Ladega, of Lagos, Nigeria, came to Olin because “I was looking to get more international experience, particularly in investment banking. In 2020, as the pandemic struck, I had the opportunity to reflect on my professional journey as I left the physical workspace to a remote environment. I decided to move my career to the global stage just about the time when various economies of the world were opening up and the campaign for diversity and inclusion became much more prominent.”
Espitia, of Monteria, Colombia, sought “a close-knit community to develop strong relationships with classmates and professors while having a more personalized education, and Olin met the criteria. Its class size has allowed me to create personal connections with all my classmates and professors, which have enriched my knowledge and perspective.”
Kodjoe, of Accra, Ghana, told Clear Admit: “The small class size at Olin is excellent for building lasting relationships with colleagues. The focus on global business education exposes you to the dynamics of international business. Factors that figured prominently–class size, financial aid and faculty.”
The winning team of the seventh annual PepsiCo MBA Invitational Business Case Competition included Tyler Whiteman, MBA ’23.
Whiteman is a first-year student who had spent most of the past decade in musical theater as an actor, singer and dancer out of New York City. Then COVID hit.
“In a matter of days, I watched as the virus devastated my industry,” the St. Louis native said. “After repeated calls from my agent delivering unfortunate news of all my jobs being canceled, I decided to hit the drawing board: I knew if there was ever a time to make a massive switch in my life, this was it.”
On October 14, he was among MBA students from 16 universities who were randomly assigned to nine mixed teams of four from different schools. PepsiCo gave them the case the next morning.
“Being a rather large career-switcher, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t somewhat intimidated by the other top MBA programs represented among the competing teams,” he said. Those programs, among others, included Columbia, Cornell, Harvard and Yale.
The teams brainstormed, crunched numbers and refined their ideas for nine hours throughout the day that Friday. That Saturday, they presented solutions to PepsiCo senior executives and talent acquisition team members.
Texas Christian University’s MBA program and the Neeley School of Business presented the virtual competition. First place of $7,000 was awarded to the team of Whiteman, Brent Schlagel (SMU, Cox School of Business), Adriann Dolphin (Harvard University, Harvard Business School) and Mayank Mehra (TCU, Neeley School of Business).
We asked Whiteman about his experience.
What was the most challenging aspect of the competition?
“The case competition was completely virtual, which presents a productivity and fatigue challenge in a time-crunch setting like this. Fortunately, my teammates and I have had plenty of practice Zooming in our respective MBA journeys thus far.
“I felt this challenge the most when it came time to present our final recommendation to the PepsiCo executives. The performer in me craves the in-person audience and live energy that simply cannot be replicated through a computer screen. That’s all the more reason my teammates and I sought to really bring that energy to one another throughout our presentation, even though we were stationed in different parts of the country.”
You had to learn to work with others very quickly. Did you learn anything from that experience?
“Yes! I virtually met my teammates for the first time the evening before the case was distributed. The next morning, we hit the ground running. (The case was emailed to everyone at 9:30 a.m. with a final slide deck submission deadline at 6 p.m. that evening.)
“My team really capitalized on that time given to us before the case was received. For about an hour, or so, the four of us connected, honed in on individual skill sets and strategized our approach for the next morning.
“Takeaways from this experience center on the importance of building that foundation of ‘team’ and expectations before diving into the work. We weren’t given a lot of time to do this, but I would say what we did with that time was extremely productive and heavily contributed to our success the next day.”
How did your Olin experience prepare you for the competition?
“Being a rather large career-switcher, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t somewhat intimidated by the other top MBA programs represented among the competing teams. That being said, it is quite exciting to see the progress I have made in just a short amount of time, here at Olin. A little shy of 190 days since beginning the full-time MBA program, I attribute much of my performance at the PepsiCo case competition (and overall success) to my Olin family of professors, coaches, peers and alumni.”
What distinguished the winning team from the other teams’ efforts? Can you tell us about the case?
“The case revolved around innovation, branding and go-to-market strategies. There were two innovative products—a Mountain Dew beverage and a Doritos snack—about to be launched individually to market. We were tasked with the objective to convince the board why these products should, instead, be released synergistically as a bundle through both point-of-sales and marketing efforts, rather than through two separate campaigns.
“Our recommendation included a financial assessment and break-even analysis of the product bundle, a created branding campaign titled: D2 CREATE YOUR MIX, and finally a strategy to implement the branding and merchandizing recommendation over the proposed four-quarter timeline—all in about nine hours. Though I wasn’t able to see presentations from other competing teams, I would say the judging panel seemed to be most impressed with my team’s ability to work so strongly and seamlessly with one another in such a truncated timeframe. It is always fun to get the wheels of top decision-makers at a top firm turning; I believe our team did just that.”
Xu is the director of Global Category Management at Emerson Systems and Solutions. She manages more than $200M across electrical, mechanical, computing and software categories for the company’s control system platforms.
She is an alumna of McDonnell partner Tsinghua University in Beijing and decided to pursue her MBA after she moved to St. Louis. Xu started her career at Emerson the same year she graduated, and over the past 13 years has held positions in analytics, logistics, strategic planning and sourcing, and category management across supply chain functions, according to the McDonnell website. Today Xu is an influential global supply chain leader.
Everything started with a box of vintage neckties Lloyd Yates sold from his dorm room under the name Tylmen Ties. Five years later, Tylmen has pivoted twice, dropped “ties” from its name and embraced artificial intelligence, 3D modeling and virtual sizing technology. Now, Yates has his sights set on confronting one of the biggest challenges for online apparel retailers: the high rate of returned purchases.
It’s a problem he only began to appreciate as he considered expanding Tylmen’s product line from ties and pocket squares into suits. Body scans and virtual reality, he reasoned, would modernize the experience, letting customers virtually try on the clothes.
“As we were workshopping this, we were learning there was a bigger problem,” said Yates, MBA ’22. “We want to tackle this bigger problem of online retailer returns”—a problem partially caused by ill-fitting purchases.
Consumers spent $650 billion buying apparel online in 2020—the biggest online shopping category. But Yates said consumers are three times more likely to return those items. Some industry estimates put the online apparel return rate as high as 30%, costing retailers nearly $200 billion a year.
As a 19-year-old quarterback-turned-receiver for Northwestern University, he wasn’t seeing that far into the future when his father gifted him an old box of vintage neckties that he sold to classmates on campus—60 in his first week. Soon, he was selling ties and men’s fashion accessories online, based on his own designs. He landed Northwestern as a client in 2017. The work was a legacy to his great grandfather, James Andrew Keyes, a Rock Island railroad porter, who instilled in those around him an appreciation for impeccable fashion.
When the coronavirus pandemic erupted, Yates pivoted into producing facemasks that doubled as pocket squares and reaped a heap of publicity in the process. Now the second-year MBA student credits his professors for challenging him to look deeper—beyond selling suits out of an electric sprinter van—as he pivots toward a fashion technology platform.
“We’re developing a marketplace for customers and apparel brands to connect over common sizing using virtual sizing technology. Every time a customer shops with us, they automatically get paired with clothing items that fit them best,” Yates said. “This results in confident online shoppers who receive style recommendations from all sorts of brands that fit them, while retailers acquire new customers and reduce returns. It’s a win-win for everyone.” Think of it as an online mall that saves your sizing information and only recommends apparel in stock, that fits you great.
In early fall, Tylmen was in the development phase of a new app that would let consumers take a recorded video, get their measurements, and begin to generate custom recommendations. The company is planning to launch before the holiday season to assist shoppers and retailers with 50-plus brands on the platform.
“The endgame is to be the No. 1 platform to take shopping into the digital age,” Yates said. “We want to perfect how consumers shop, giving them the utmost confidence that they’ll get clothing that fits you and looks great.”
First sales, 2016
Incorporated as LLC, April 28, 2017
Lloyd Yates, MBA ’22, founder and sole employee
$5,000, Weston Career Center entrepreneurship grant