Tag: Professional MBA



Cash Nickerson

The 2018 Olin Business magazine shared a series of vignettes featuring alumni faced with a business decision requiring them to weigh data with their values. We featured these stories to support Olin’s strategic pillar focused on equipping leaders to confront challenge and create change, for good. This is one of those vignettes.

Data and values are important in making big decisions, but as Cash Nickerson, JD ’85, MBA ’93, points out, “there are really very few momentous decisions.

“We make hundreds of decisions in a day,” said Nickerson, an author and president/principal at PDS Tech Inc., one of the largest engineering and IT staffing firms in the United States. “Many are trivial. But many of the trivial decisions come back to you in one form or another.”

Nickerson thinks in terms of a “structure of thought,” a muscle he’s developed so those everyday decisions are still based on data and values. “What fascinates me more than how someone makes the big decisions is the algorithm an executive uses for making the everyday decisions,” he said.

For him, that algorithm focuses on people.

“I like to think of myself as very numbers driven as well as values driven,” Nickerson said.

“My philosophy is that I wake up every morning and remind myself of the uniqueness of humans. To me, it’s a value to treat each person as an individual.”




This story includes material contained in a news release issued by the American Accounting Association. Researcher Philip Berger received financial support for this research from Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

A common assumption is that stock analysts gather earnings and other pertinent information to communicate to current and potential stockholders, and then incorporate that information by revising their current-quarter earnings forecasts.

So much for that perception. A new study involving two WashU Olin faculty members finds that analysts disseminate earnings news by revising share-price targets or stating they expect firms to beat earnings estimates, often tempering such information—even suppressing positive news—to facilitate beatable projections.

The study discovered that, when it comes to the current-quarter earnings reports that are analysts’ most closely followed work product, analysts become selective about which forecasts they update and what information they convey. The researchers found that later forecasts issued by the same analyst—such as share-price target revisions, forecast revisions to the other quarters’ forecasts or textual statements about earnings after the last quarterly forecast—surprisingly predict errors in the analyst’s own current-quarter forecast. These associations are much stronger for good news, consistent with analysts catering to managers’ desires to meet or beat earnings forecasts.

Kaplan

Their paper—coauthored by Zachary Kaplan and Chad Ham, both assistant professors of accounting at Olin, along with Philip Berger of the University of Chicago—is scheduled for the March issue of The Accounting Review.

Using data from 8,860 analysts covering 7,933 unique companies over 71 quarters, the researchers reported the likelihood of a downward revision of current earnings estimates came at a 50-percent greater possibility than an upward revision: 19.5 percent downward vs.13 percent upward. When it came to revising stock-price targets and future-earnings estimates, however, the reverse was true to a 20-percent greater possibility: 11.2 percent upward vs. 9.3 percent downward. The firms most likely to meet or beat earnings were those with positive price-target revisions, suggesting those revisions were at least partially motivated by prior omitted earnings information.

Ham

There are two important takeaways from these findings, Kaplan and Ham said.

First, one of the reasons managers are so successful in meeting or beating earnings forecasts is that they persuade analysts to omit positive news from forecasts.

“Managers care a lot about beating earnings forecasts, and analysts rely a lot on managers, so upsetting them is not really an option,” Kaplan said. “Additionally, analysts care deeply about conveying information to their clients, so they cannot merely issue beatable forecasts. The way we find analysts deal with this dilemma is by conveying positive news through the text of their reports and share-price target revisions—this allows managers to meet or beat estimates while also allowing the analyst to update clients about positive news.

“Non-clients, who rely on earnings forecasts because they do not have access to the whole of an analysts’ work product, end up with skewed information, but this is not an issue for the analysts’ business,” Kaplan said.

The researchers said that analysts purposefully lower, or “walk down,” projections. By keeping earnings forecasts low and neglecting some positive developments, the researchers wrote, analysts “cater to managers’ preferences for a walked-down (earnings) forecast pattern. The pattern we document, however, includes avoidance of walking up rather than only a walk-down. … Non-earnings forecast signals are more prevalent for positive news than negative news, consistent with analysts responding to incentives to issue [earnings] forecasts managers will meet or beat.”

Second, by not disseminating all information through current quarter’s earnings forecasts, which are widely available through commercial databases, analysts provide an advantage to clients who have paid for access to the full breadth of their research product.

“Analysts convey information in ways that enable them to be of service to clients, who they care about, and, at the same time, to avoid displeasing corporate managers, who they also care about,” Ham said.

The study may offer a lesson to the broader public: Perhaps widely circulated earnings forecasts aren’t as informative as people think.  If you want the best information an analyst has to offer, you have to pay for it.

In a separate survey of brokerages’ reports to clients, the researchers learned that — without changing forecasts — analysts didn’t refrain from explicitly predicting firms would beat or miss their targets … and the “beat” or positive predictions outnumbered the “miss” or negative predictions by roughly 30 percent.

Image above courtesy of Shutterstock.




Almost exactly five years ago, some of the most spectacular facilities of the Olin campus opened for their first day of classes: students, faculty, staff and WashU leaders gathered in Frick Forum for free coffee and doughnuts and to celebrate the debut of Bauer Hall and Knight Hall.

In fact, exactly five years ago tomorrow, my predecessor, Dean Mahendra Gupta, drafted a blog post announcing the opening ceremony—noting that the new buildings would double WashU Olin’s footprint on the Danforth campus—and heralding a dramatic renovation to Simon Hall, which had opened as Olin’s headquarters under Dean Bob Virgil’s leadership.

On that St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, under a crisp blue sky that shone down through the atrium, WashU officials made their remarks before a banner announcing “Four Buildings, One Olin,” a sign of pride and, perhaps—in its explicit mention of Olin’s split campus—an acknowledgement of the challenge ahead.

That challenge was this: maintaining a sense of unity and esprit de corps among the faculty and staff of our extraordinary business school. With Olin employees spread among Knight Center and Knight, Bauer and Simon halls, a special commitment is required to foster collaboration among faculty, teamwork among staff members and a sense of camaraderie among everyone who passes through our hallways, our common spaces and our classrooms.

I wasn’t here for the grand opening, but I’m delighted now by what I see among my colleagues as they have taken on the challenge, with admirable results.

This academic year, for example, Hillary Anger Elfenbein has kicked off a series of “across the field” luncheons for full-time faculty. The idea was to convene on either side of Mudd Field one Friday a month. So far, the faculty has met for three such gatherings.

“The idea is for faculty to interact on an informal basis—particularly those who work in separate buildings,” Hillary said. “Ever since we moved to separate buildings, it’s been harder to have informal interchange. This initiative is meant to address that. The faculty appreciate it greatly.”

Since my arrival at Olin, I’ve also had the pleasure to meet and engage with many of the faculty and staff at a series of events the Olin Staff and Faculty Advisory Committee has arranged. Though I could only participate in the recent doughnut party through Twitter, I have enjoyed mixers in the courtyard, an ice cream social and our holiday ornament exchange in December—an extremely exuberant (and surprisingly competitive!) event indeed.

I am equally gratified by the work Sandy Vaughn has put forth in organizing a series of lunch-and-learn events that have bounced back and forth between Simon and Bauer halls.

So far, staff and faculty have had the chance to attend four such events, two of which relied on the expertise of our faculty: most recently, Hillary Elfenbein focused on negotiating and, before that, Sergio Chayet hosted a lunch-and-learn on project management.

Earlier sessions drew on WashU HR experts sharing resources for career development and wellness initiatives on campus.

Of course, none of this replaces the one-on-one interactions that happen every day, or the team-oriented projects that advance our school’s work for students, alumni, and the community at large, or the work of our faculty that advances our international reputation for path-breaking research and educational excellence. In fact, our “across-the-field” initiatives are a reflection of the fact that we indeed think and act as “one Olin.”

Pictured above: Olin Professor Sergio Chayet, director of the master of science in supply chain management program, hosts a lunch-and-learn for Olin staff and faculty on project management on January 25, 2019.




Xing Huang

Xing Huang

With a web browser or a cellphone, consumers today are making decisions about causes to fund, stocks to pick, movies to watch, restaurants to visit, products to buy, and music to hear partly based on the answer to a single question:

What does everyone else think?

Sites such as Yelp, Amazon, Rotten Tomatoes, and Kickstarter harness the collective wisdom of past consumers to guide future customers. But before those customers jump on the bandwagon and buy a dinner, a book, or a movie ticket, suppose there were a way to make the bandwagon better?

That’s the central question behind “Harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds,” a research paper by Olin’s Xing Huang published in the journal Management Science. Huang and Zhi Da of the University of Notre Dame used data from financial platform Estimize.com, where professional analysts, amateurs, and students provide quarterly earnings-per-share estimates for publicly traded companies.

The researchers found that the less each Estimize user knew about other users’ estimates, the more accurate the crowd’s average estimate became. In fact, the difference was profound: When Estimize users could see other users’ estimates, the consensus estimate beat the Wall Street consensus nearly 57 percent of the time. When they couldn’t, however, the consensus was more accurate 64 percent of the time.

“The problem with seeing others’ information is that people tend to herd with others,” Huang said. “That makes individual forecasts more accurate, but … reduces the consensus accuracy.”

The observed herding behavior was among the paper’s key takeaways. When individual users have access to forecasts from the community at large, they tend to “herd” along with other forecasts. But even further, herding behavior makes users “individually smarter, but collectively dumber.” The paper also noted that herding matters most when “influential users” make their forecasts early.

Results covering data from March 2012 to June 2015 were so stark, Estimize changed its platform by October 2015 to prevent users from seeing other users’ estimates before posting their own. “We were floored by the results,” the Estimize blog reported. “The ‘blind’ data set was unequivocally better.”

“We were also quite lucky to collaborate with Estimize to run experiments where we can randomize the information sets of users,” Huang said.

The researchers used data from 2,516 Estimize users who made estimates ahead of 2,147 earnings releases from 730 firms. But Huang said the results could be instructive for any site that aggregates crowd wisdom—including voting platforms, crowd-funding sites, or product review pages—if they can segregate individual views from those of the community at large.




Zandy Schorsch, MBA ’19, contributed this blog post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

Oscar Wilde once said that rugby is a good occasion for keeping 30 bullies far from the center of a city. This semester, students from the undergraduate and graduate levels of Washington University Olin Business School have been working with the Center for Experiential Learning to perform the opposite—assess the viability of bringing a professional rugby team to the city of St. Louis.

Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, and Major League Rugby was founded last year to provide fans with professional-level rugby competition here in the states. The league kicked off its inaugural season with seven original teams. With nationally televised games on CBS and sold out tickets in many of the cities, there is a growing sense of optimism as MLR prepares for its second season.

The league has aggressive plans for expansion, with teams in New York and Toronto joining for the 2019 season and Atlanta, D.C., and Boston joining in 2020. St. Louis has emerged as one of the potential cities for an MLR expansion team, and the CEL was hired by a local entrepreneur to determine whether such a venture is feasible.

The CEL’s client, a husband and wife duo with a lifelong passion for rugby, believe the loss of the city’s football franchise has created an opening for rugby. Through dozens of interviews with rugby players, coaches, executives, and MLR league officials, the CEL team developed a strong understanding of how a rugby team in St. Louis would operate and the number of fans it would be able to attract.

Although St. Louis has always been a baseball town, there are hundreds of registered rugby players in the local area across all levels of the sport, as well as several nationally recognized rugby programs.

While the CEL team was able to develop a demand forecast for rugby in St. Louis, only so much can be learned about stadium financing and team operations from phone interviews and emails. As a result, the client decided to bring the CEL team to Glendale, Colorado, to meet with the Raptors, the MLR regular season champions, to learn more about the business side of rugby operations.

Learning about rugby operations from the Raptors.

During a full-day of meetings with the Raptors, the CEL team learned about stadium financing, team and stadium operating costs, revenue drivers, marketing and sales strategies, and unexpected expenses associated with managing a professional sports team.

The CEL team also got to learn the fundamentals of rugby from some of the professional players, such as tackling techniques and field goal mechanics.

While the CEL team requires more practice if they hope to play professionally, the data the team was able to collect from the Raptors proved invaluable for their analysis. The client capped off the trip with dinner at a local pub, a great opportunity for the student team to connect with their client informally.

Upon returning to St. Louis, the CEL team took the lessons learned from the Raptors to develop a financial model the client could use to make an informed decision about bringing professional rugby to St. Louis. The team developed an intuitive financial model that accounted for attendance numbers, concession sales, merchandise sales, stadium costs, advertising, and a host of other variables posed several challenges.

Effectively communicating the outputs from the financial model, as well as highlighting the key assumptions and inputs that produce those outputs, was also critically important.

By building a strong relationship with the client throughout the semester, and leveraging the abundant resources of the CEL and Washington University, the CEL team was able to provide a final deliverable that gave the client a holistic view of everything that goes into managing a professional sports team and stadium.

The financial analysis demonstrated that a team in St. Louis is feasible, so be on the lookout for a local MLR team in near future.

Overall, the CEL is a unique opportunity for students to work on real-world projects that have a direct impact on their community. Bringing a professional sports team to St. Louis is the type of project that major consulting firms and investment banks would be envious of, and for the clients who hire the CEL, they get to receive professional-level services from the very students who, upon graduation, will be joining those types of companies.