Tag: Olin Business Magazine

By Carlos Restrepo, originally published in the 2018 edition of Olin Business magazine.

Spencer Burke

Spencer Burke

Before launching Washington University’s first family business course, Olin Business School’s Spencer Burke felt confident in his knowledge of the topic. After all, Burke, principal at the St. Louis Trust Company, had worked as a corporate lawyer for 15 years and an investment banker for 25 years.

“It wasn’t until the course started that I came to understand just how difficult some of the issues are,” said Burke, an adjunct lecturer at Olin. “The challenge arises from the inherent complexity of doing two difficult things—often in conflict—simultaneously: One, having family harmony. And the second is running a successful business. Those are two very challenging tasks, especially when put together.”

In the five years since starting the course, Burke has taught students the complexities of family-owned business, an area of study he believes is necessary for students seeking any business career.

In fact, the need is great enough that Olin is well on the way to establishing a full-fledged research center on the topic. The Koch Center for Family Business is in the planning stages thanks to a donation of more than $9 million from Roger, Fran, Paul, and Elke Koch. Paul, BSBA ’61, JD ’64, MBA ’68, and Roger, BSBA ’64, MBA ’66, are co-chairmen of the board, and the third generation in leadership at Koch Development Co., a St. Louis-based developer and manager of commercial real estate and owner/operator of select entertainment attractions.

The Koch’s donation will also endow an Olin professorship and Dean Mark P. Taylor is seeking a candidate for the position, a faculty director for the new family business center. The center is the next phase of a family business program begun under former Dean Mahendra Gupta in 2016 with an initial $1.09 million gift from the Kochs.

“There are really three heroes in this,” Paul Koch said. “Mahendra, who comes from a family business in India and saw the need; Spencer Burke, who kept the fire burning; and Dean Taylor, who is an internationally experienced business leader and he picked up that this is a huge issue all over the world.”

The Koch Center for Family Business will not be a brick-and-mortar space, but rather a program within Olin aimed at developing research and disseminating knowledge into the dynamics of family businesses.

“This is not about creating some building or monolithic thing,” Burke said. “This is about addressing the unique issues that family businesses have and giving people interested in that an opportunity to learn more.”

Student-Led Initiative

When John Stupp III began his Olin MBA in 2013, the school had no family business program, prompting him and fellow students to inquire with Gupta about developing a curriculum around the topic. He commissioned five students to analyze the feasibility of a formalized family business program.

From both a practical and theoretical standpoint, there are a significant number of differences among business approaches between family and non-family enterprises, Stupp said. They include issues of succession planning and estate taxes, as well as separating personal and business related-matters.

“The team felt the differences between family and non-family enterprises were drastic enough that it demonstrated a need,” Stupp said. He and his colleagues saw their vision grow further when Burke agreed to teach the family business course and begin to launch Family Business Program.

That program includes a half-semester course, a student-run club, and an annual symposium and speaker series. “These different avenues allow students to experience a diversity of theoretical and practice thought and gain insights into family business best practices,” Stupp said.

Stupp said his interest in family enterprises came about in part from his family’s 162-year-old business, Stupp Bros. Inc., which provides infrastructure development and banking services across the United States. While at Olin, Stupp said he wanted to prepare to continue his family’s tradition of success by learning more deeply about succession planning and how to effectively manage a business while separating family and professional matters. He now serves as director of project management for the company.

“Students get totally focused on big, publicly traded companies. They get no exposure to what family businesses are like,” Roger Koch said. “Family businesses by far create more jobs than any other sector of the economy. There are great careers to be had in family businesses. They’re very long-term oriented. They don’t only think about the next quarter.”

Global Impact, Regionally Based

Dean Taylor said expanding the family business initiative into a full-fledged research center supports Olin’s strategic plan by leveraging the school’s world-class research to create and disseminate knowledge in an innovative way and preparing students for careers in enterprises with global reach.

“Family businesses are among the biggest job creators internationally, nationally, and regionally,” Taylor said.  “Therefore, we are thinking about how we can enhance our research and the body of knowledge in the area. We want to support and enhance family-run and closely held businesses.”

The existing course is not only popular with students who are planning to join or start their own family business, but it’s equally important to students planning to go into fields that work with family-owned businesses.

Such is the case of Jeff Wertenberger, MBA ‘18, an investment banking associate for financial services firm Robert W. Baird & Co. In his role, Wertenberger is occasionally confronted with situations that are specific to family-owned businesses. Taking the family business course and attending the symposiums helped him understand those situations more deeply.

Stupp and Wertenberger said all Olin students should be exposed to the dynamics of family businesses—even if they’re not family business practitioners. Even leaders who don’t work for family owned businesses are likely to work with them at some point in their career.

“It’s important to be knowledgeable of these unique dynamics, what motivates them and what’s important to them,” Wertenberger said. “That’s how important it is.”

Creating First-Hand Connections

In his curriculum, Burke brings real-life cases from around the world to illustrate the importance of understanding the nuances of family-owned businesses.

There are approximately 5.5 million family-owned businesses in the country, which Forbes magazine says contribute to more than 50 percent of gross domestic product and employ more than half of the nation’s workforce. As vital as they are to the nation’s economy, fewer than a third of all US family-owned businesses survive the transition from the first to the second generation of ownership. Another 50 percent don’t make it to a third generation.

“How can we—as students, as faculty, as a school—help the people in these businesses do a better job and how can we help the people who aren’t in the family businesses do a better job helping family businesses?” Burke said.

One component of the existing Family Business Program that will expand with the research center is the ability to study real cases and hear speakers from dozens of companies—including Todd Schnuck of Schnuck Markets, Sue McCollum of Major Brands, and Kyle Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller—at different generational stages and with a unique perspective to the craft.

The program also collaborates with the Olin Center for Experiential Learning, pairing students with family businesses on consulting projects to tackle different challenges unique to those firms, applying principles from the classroom to real-world problems.

Fran and Elke Koch, first row. Paul Koch, Dean Mark Taylor, Roger Koch, and Chancellor Mark Wrighton on February 20, 2018, when the Kochs' gift was announced.

Fran and Elke Koch, first row. Paul Koch,
Dean Mark Taylor, Roger Koch, and Chancellor Mark Wrighton
on February 20, 2018, when the Kochs’ gift was announced.

“A course on family business taught with a case book would not be great,” Burke said. “What’s fun about this is the real-life examples that illustrates the conflicts and how challenging the resolution is.”

Taylor said he anticipates the Koch Center for Family Business will contribute to bettering local and global economies by preparing students to assist these unique, yet essential enterprises.

“It is part of our duty as an institution,” Taylor said. “We seek to have high impact internationally, nationally and regional—and this is an opportune area.”

For the Kochs, they envision a thriving Family Business Center as a world-class resource supporting academic research, preparing students to confront these unique issues, and driving long-term success for family business owners.

“We have friends who spend tens of thousands going to Stanford or Harvard to learn about these burning issues—and we think St. Louis could be one of those centers,” Paul Koch said. “We can make a mark in this area that would make us unique.”


The dynamics of family-owned businesses pose unique challenges for business leaders. The challenges are substantial in a segment responsible for 80 percent of global job creation and 64 percent of the US economy.

  • Succession planning and growth. Distribution of assets can become an issue as the business spans generations.
  • Lack of transparency. Closely held firms hold information close to the vest, which constituents may view as being secretive.
  • Competing motives. Profit may not be the singular success driver for leaders in family-owned businesses. They can be more purposeful, but their purposes may vary.
  • Lines of authority. The person truly calling the shots may not have the title or the corner office, affecting how others effectively engage with a family business.


Some key metrics about family-owned businesses.

  • 82 percent of US survey respondents said they trusted family businesses versus 58 percent who trusted “businesses in general.” Globally, the numbers were 75 and 59 percent, respectively.
  • Half of respondents know which companies they buy from are family owned.
  • 81 percent of the world’s largest family businesses practice philanthropy.
  • 25 percent describe family businesses as “transparent” in their business operations.
  • 52 percent say they are “well-prepared” for a sudden succession.
  • Of the world’s 500 largest family businesses, nearly 28 percent are in North America.
  • One in five firms are family owned.

Sources: Edelman; EY Global Family Business Center of Excellence; Forbes.

By Jean Dubail, originally published in the 2018 edition of Olin Business magazine.

David Karandish

David Karandish

When David Karandish was a WashU engineering undergraduate, he didn’t think his computer science major would give him everything he needed for the career he planned. He also wanted to learn something about business—especially entrepreneurship.

As a double major in two different colleges, Karandish’s academic choices presented a challenge, even for someone of his considerable determination.

“There wasn’t a lot of overlap,” said Karandish, BSCS ’05, who added a second major in entrepreneurship at Olin. “You had to really carve out your schedule to make that work.”

After graduation, he founded or ran a string of tech-oriented startups, including Answers.com. He recently founded Jane.ai, an artificial intelligence application he likens to Siri or Alexa for the workplace.

Having run several of his own businesses, Karandish is more convinced than ever of the value of melding computer skills with business acumen. Software engineers can benefit, for example, by knowing something about how the product will be marketed.

“I think it would be awesome if engineers came out of school somewhat more business-minded,” he said. There is, he added, “a big opportunity to break down between silos.”

Meeting a need in the marketplace

That’s exactly the purpose of a new initiative from Olin Business School and the School of Engineering & Applied Science: a joint degree program, the first such degree Washington University will offer.

The new bachelor of science in business and computer science will allow Olin students to hone their tech skills through the engineering school while encouraging computer science students to improve their business chops through Olin.

“We’ve worked for a year to put this together, and we’ve validated our thinking off of other alumni and corporate partners,” said Steve Malter, Olin’s senior associate dean of undergraduate programs. “This is what the workforce is looking for. This is the future.”

The program’s architects are confident demand for its future graduates will be strong.

“We know there is a lot of need for these types of positions—someone who can use both disciplines, the engineers as well as the analytics and strategy,” Malter said.

What WashU educators have done, however, is not merely add the core requirements from one school to those of the other. Instead, faculty and administrators from both schools selected certain courses from each discipline to tailor a unique mix for the new degree.

Chris Kroeger, associate dean of the engineering school, gave a tongue-in-cheek description of the process of drafting the joint curriculum. “We totally threw all the requirements up in the air,” he said. “With the faculty from both schools, and insightful feedback from alums, we picked up the ones that made the most sense for the objectives of this program.”

Kroeger described the resulting core curriculum as a “hybrid” of the separate business and computing programs. Malter agreed. “It’s not two programs shoved together. The two faculties will be working together to deliver the material.”

Officials in the provost’s office, whose blessing was needed to advance the program, were impressed by the way faculty and administrators from the two schools collaborated to create something unique.

“It was very thoughtfully and intentionally put together,” said Associate Provost Erin Culbreth, adding that the combination of business and computer skills is “kind of a great match. Anything in the tech industry is super-hot.”

Some program details are still in development, but the new joint program will be first offered in fall 2019 and will, include extracurricular work such as a capstone program, a visit to Silicon Valley, and an internship in the startup technology space.

“This is definitely a real differentiator,” Malter said. “There will be experiences that are unique to this new degree.”

Building interdisciplinary expertise

The new joint degree won’t be the first interdisciplinary program at Olin, where Dean Mark Taylor has encouraged approaching business education from different perspectives—aligning with several pillars of the school’s strategic plan, including innovation and a global focus.

For example, in 2017-18, Olin began offering a minor in the business of social impact.

The new program was the brainchild of a group of students who pitched it to Olin faculty and administrators after conducting a survey of their peers and reviewing similar programs at other institutions. They aimed to bring an ethical dimension into business decision-making and to foster the use of market-based techniques to address social problems, particularly in the nonprofit sector.

Heather Cameron, hired in 2016 by the Brown School of Social Work and installed as the Michael B. Kaufman Professor of Practice for Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, was asked to take the lead in creating the new program.  Cameron, who also holds a courtesy appointment at Olin, designed several new courses, several of which she herself taught during the program’s first year.

“There is an increasing focus on using market-based tools to address social problems,” Cameron said. “Students want to use their business training to work with government and civil society actors to address social and environmental challenges.”

Offerings for the social impact minor include Olin School classes in “Not-for-Profit Accounting” and “Ethical Issues in Decision-Making,” along with classes from other schools in architecture, urban studies, political science, and environmental studies.

Among the classes Cameron has taught as part of the new minor was “Social Entrepreneurship,” where Shivakshi Rana, MBA ‘18, served as a teaching assistant. For many of the students, Rana said, the class marked a departure from their usual studies in one discipline.

“This was the first time in school they were able to branch out from the regular business or arts and sciences curriculum,” Rana said. “There was a definite sense of enthusiasm and excitement.”

New perspectives on business

Among the students was bioengineering major Grace Tedder, BSBME ’20. She said she took Social Entrepreneurship partly to escape the isolation she sometimes feels in the engineering school, but mostly because she had become interested in the subject after reading a book on it in high school.

‘The class broadened my ideas about methods we can use to create social change, and allowed me to explore different challenges and approaches in social enterprises, nonprofits, and other forms of social entrepreneurship,” Tedder said.

Tedder got first-hand experience with that type of work while participating in the Madagascar Sustainability Initiative through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. She was part of a team that worked with a local carpenter to build a solar dehydrator to preserve produce—and also taught local women how to pickle.

Drawing from those experiences, she is considering working in the medical devices field after graduation. “Having that kind of crossover could really help,” she said.

Business major Michael Kramer, BSBA ’18, MSCA ‘19, took the Social Impact class partly to learn how business principles could be brought to bear on nonprofit social enterprises like the Special Olympics, where he had long been active.

Cameron’s class “provided the perspective to stop evaluating social enterprises as donation-seekers and (instead) as potentially scalable businesses,” Kramer said.

Olin also offers several other minors, which, while not strictly speaking “interdisciplinary,” provide new perspectives on business for somewhat “nontraditional” business students.

They include a minor in the business of entertainment, led by Glenn MacDonald, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy. The minor is designed to appeal to two groups of students—Olin students thinking about working in the entertainment field, and students from the creative disciplines who want to make their artistic pursuits economically sustainable.

“The courses are full of actors and singers and artists,” MacDonald said. “We’re going to teach you how to run a little business, how to eat, how to protect your intellectual property, how to do things like licensing, how to deal with galleries and managers.”

All these efforts, and particularly the new joint degree, have the same general aim: to make Olin students as well-rounded—and employable—as possible in an age of increasing specialization.

“It will be very obvious, the value it’s going to have,” Kroeger said. “We believe there will be strong interest.”


Several Olin programs meld different disciplines with business principles for a nontraditional b-school education.

  • Bachelor of science in business and computer science. Coming fall 2019. WashU’s first true joint degree program, through both Olin and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
  • Minor in the business of sports. Begun fall 2014. Launched with a $1 million gift from Joseph S. Lacob, co-executive chairman and CEO of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
  • Minor in the business of entertainment. Begun March 2016. Students are required to take three of their 15 units outside of Olin.
  • Minor in the business of social impact. Begun fall 2017. Offered jointly through Olin and the Brown School of Social Work.
  • Minor in the business of the arts. Tentatively coming spring 2019. Made possible with a $1 million gift by Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, an equity partner at New York City-based hedge fund Elliott Management Corporation, and his wife Linda.