Tag: Research Centers



Employees with a higher purpose have more well-being, more happiness and even lower stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings from a new survey by two WashU Olin professors.

And the effects were more substantial when they had written down their purpose statements.

Also, employees of organizations with higher-purpose statements are happier and prouder of their organizations than are employees at workplaces without such a statement, the results show. Again, the effects were stronger when the purpose statement was written—and tied to society, employees and customers, rather than shareholders.

The findings echo the August 2019 announcement by the powerful corporate lobby group of U.S. leaders called the Business Roundtable, focusing the future on purpose. Such evidence of a national shift dovetails nicely with one of Olin’s key strategic pillars: values-based, data driven decision making.

Anjan Thakor and Stuart Bunderston

“As human beings, we are wired for purpose—to know why, to seek meaning in the things we do,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center and the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance. “When we have clarity on what our purpose is, we are happier and more fulfilled.”

Bunderson and Anjan Thakor surveyed 1,109 people in May to learn about their commitment to and perceived worth of a personal and organizational higher purpose.

Thakor is coauthor of the book The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization, director of Olin’s doctoral programs and the Center for Finance & Accounting Research, and the John E. Simon Professor of Finance.

Conference leads to curiosity

The professors’ curiosity was piqued during a fall 2019 conference they organized on WashU’s campus about personal and organizational higher purpose. Academic researchers, consultants and corporate leaders came together to share findings and experiences.

A presentation by Vic Strecher of the University of Michigan particularly struck Bunderson and Thakor, they write in their report June 2020 report “Personal and Organizational Higher Purpose: Survey Results.”

Strecher noted that workers’ stress levels and dissatisfaction were rising, even as economic conditions were improving. As for the next group entering the workforce, he also mentioned that suicidal ideation had doubled on US college campuses in the past decade. Stretcher stressed the importance of a personal higher purpose in coping with the stresses, noting that someone who does not “repurpose their life” at retirement is 2.4 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than someone who adopts an authentic higher purpose.

Speaker Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller, emphasized the importance of organizational higher purpose. Some 65% of people would give up a raise if they could fire their own boss, he said. He also noted that an employee’s boss is more critical to that employee’s health than the family doctor.

“These remarks and other discussions at the conference made us curious to know more,” Bunderson and Thakor say in their report on their survey.

“What does personal higher purpose really do for people? How do individuals perceive the value of personal purpose in their lives? What is the role of an organization’s higher purpose in the lives of its employees? Are there any connections between personal and organizational higher purpose?”

Write it down

The 1,019 individuals they surveyed in May were employed and chosen as representative of the American population’s gender, racial and geographic diversity.

“I was most surprised by the fact that when companies have written statements of higher purpose,” Thakor said, “not only do the employees trust its leaders to make socially responsible decisions, but also better business decisions.”

Bunderson said he was “very surprised at how much more powerful these effects are when the purpose statement is written down. It’s like that old saying that a goal you don’t write down is just a wish.”

Additional findings included:

  • A majority of respondents had a personal higher purpose, but most had not written it down;
  • Having a written personal statement of purpose helped people in various ways, including coping with stress and finding happiness;
  • Curiously, those with a written higher purpose also reported higher levels of anxiety;
  • The incidence of written statements of higher purpose was higher among organizations than among individuals;
  • Employees at organizations with higher purpose statements were prouder of working for their organizations and happier than other employees;
  • Organizational higher purpose statements were more effective when written down and when they emphasized society, customers, employees and stakeholders other than shareholders;
  • Employees of organizations with higher purpose statements are more likely to have personal statements of higher purpose.

“We aren’t exactly sure why that is the case, but it may be that employees who work for organizations with a higher purpose statement are inspired to develop one for their lives,” Bunderson said. “This may be one way that good work practices can positively impact employees’ personal lives.”

The finding about higher levels of anxiety, he said, is “generally consistent with research suggesting that a sense of duty or stewardship toward something or someone can be both a burden and an important source of meaning.”

Using the survey findings, Bunderson and Thakor have built a personal higher purpose index and an organizational higher purpose index.

“These will enable us to examine how personal and organizational higher purpose and their perceived outcomes change over time,” Bunderson said.

Capitalizing on purpose

Businesses have risen from ruins because of their ability to recognize and capitalize on purpose, Thakor emphasizes in presentations. Those businesses have excelled and grown. But they don’t do it at the expense of making a buck.

Thakor cites a couple of examples of organizational higher purpose in his working paper “Higher Purpose, Incentives and Economic Performance.”

  • Detroit-based DTE Energy clarifies its higher purpose as being “a force for growth and prosperity.” The company names four pillars through which its social impact is to manifest: people (“improving lives and creating opportunity”), places (“partners with communities for growth”), planet (“leadership toward cleaner energy and environmental stewardship”) and progress (“powering a brighter tomorrow”).
  • Tree T-PEE, based in Arcadia, Florida, offers water-containment systems for agribusiness. It articulates its higher purpose as helping farmers conserve water and energy in farming.

Learn more

To explore more about the concept of a higher purpose, you may want to read these blog posts:




A combined effort from WashU Olin Business School’s Center for Research in Economics and Strategy, Koch Center for Family business and the St. Louis Small Business Task Force aims to provide support for small businesses in a trying time while providing experiential learning opportunities to undergraduate students.

According to a press release published on PRWeb on May 26, the partnership, headed by Glenn MacDonald, Olin professor of economics and strategy, paired groups of students with seven local businesses. Each business represents an industry that’s been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders.

The businesses involved include:

“I think this is a great opportunity to bring together top-notch minds to help our business community and the regional economy,” Glenn MacDonald said in the PRWeb press release. “Our students are some of the brightest and most motivated individuals in the country, and I am excited to involve them in this effort. It is a win-win—the students will learn from this unique experiential learning opportunity and the business owners will come away with a fresh perspective and innovative solutions.”

In addition to helping small businesses and getting real-world experience, the top three teams  received a cash prize.

Student Nolan Stafford presents the Eckert’s Farm final case.

Alivia Kaplan, BSBA ’22, acted as the program manager for the endeavor—so she got to see every aspect of students’ presentations and recommendations play out.

“It’s giving us the opportunity to use the skills we learn in class to help local business owners navigate their way through this particularly difficult time,” she said. “Supporting local entrepreneurs by helping them address the challenges presented by COVID-19 is an amazing way to support our community.”

And the project gave Kaplan the experience of being a consultant—and an entrepreneur. “This project gave me the opportunity to learn more about the day-to-day challenges of running a business. Working with these entrepreneurs to understand their approaches to problem solving and change management has given me insight into the approaches I want to take, both in work and in my personal life.”

Teams of undergraduate students presented their final recommendations to the business owners in a series of publicly-streamed Zoom presentations on June 3 and 5.

A student team presents to the So Hospitality Group (left center), as well as taskforce founder Erin Joy (top left) and Alivia Kaplan (top center).

Judges presented the first-place win to the student team representing So Hospitality Group, followed by Chill Pak in second place and Diba Imports in third.

For Kaplan, this experience has meant helping her community while honing her own business skills. “It’s exciting to see how the skills I’m learning at Olin can be applied to help real people and real businesses,” she said. “And I feel like the project we’re doing is going to have a positive impact and help local companies adapt as they approach new challenges.”




Can data science be used for good? The answer is 100% yes.

Can data science be used for bad? The answer is also 100% yes.

“And the difference between the best applications and the worst applications is us,” said keynote speaker Jaime Metzl at Olin’s conference November 1 on data responsibility and the ethics of analytics.

Metzl, a renowned technology futurist, kicked off the event. Olin’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights and the Bauer Leadership Center, in partnership with the school’s Leadership Perspective series, organized the conference.

Speakers also included representatives from Maritz Motivation Solutions Inc., Americas-Teradata, Bryan Cave LLP, Mastercard, Express Scripts Inc., Edward Jones and Daugherty Business Solutions.

“The challenge is that this future is coming at us much faster than most of us understand or appreciate,” Metzl said. “And the reason for that is that we are in an era of exponential change.”

Such rapid change is leading to a world where science fiction and science fact are connected, he said.

“We have to get out of our day-to-day, conservative mindsets to really be able to imagine where we are going,” Metzl said. “Because it is an exciting, crazy, frightening, new and fast-approaching world.”

‘Massive data pools’ and our values

Metzl cited the future of medicine as a prime example. The world of symptom-based medicine is shifting “to a new world of predictive medicine,” aided by human genome sequencing.

“We’re very soon moving into a world where every kid is going to have their whole genome sequenced,” Metzl said. “We’re going to have in very short order these massive data pools.”

Which brings up a lot of questions: How will we use the data? What are the applications that we think are OK? What are the applications that worry us?

The most sensitive application of new technologies will be for human reproduction, Metzl said.

“We humans are going to increasingly not conceive our children through sex, but we’re going to conceive our children through in vitro fertilization. We’re going to do it in the lab. And the reason is because taking conception outside of the human body will allow us to apply science to procreation.”

We must make sure that our best values guide the use of technology, Metzl said.

“This is not a conversation about technology. It’s a conversation about ethics.”

Other speakers at the conference included the following:

  • Jesse Wolfersberger, chief data officer at Maritz Motivation Solutions, on “Incorporating Guard Rails Around Transparency, Targeting and Tracking.”
  • Bonnie Holub, managing partner at Americas-Teradata, on “The Road Ahead: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Analytics and Visualization.”
  • Sam Garner, associate at Bryan Cave, on “Privacy Risks of Using 23andMe and AncestryDNA Services.”

The morning also featured a panel discussion on “Creating a Data Responsible Culture.” Panelists were Amit Bhagat of Amitech Solutions, Shawn Hilleary of Matercard, Chris Lehmuth of Express Scripts, Emily Spriggs of Edward Jones, and Andy Sweet of Daugherty Business Solutions.

Watch the entire Data Responsibility and Ethics of Analytics conference here.

Pictured: Technology futurist Jaime Metzl speaks at the Olin conference.




Olin

The Center for Analytics and Business Insights, along with the Bauer Leadership Center, hosted a seminar March 26-27 on values-based/data-driven decision-making. The seminar, which hosted nearly 50 executives from a variety of local data-centered companies—including Wells Fargo and Teradata—was a huge success.

Seethu Seetharaman led the morning session for participants in a March 26-27 workshop on values-based, data-driven decision-making.

Seethu Seetharaman, director of CABI, kicked off the event with a discussion on hypothesis testing.  Seetharaman, W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing, brought statistics to life with riddles and brain teasers. With a group filled with professionals working with statistics daily, Seetharaman’s brain teasers still expanded their knowledge and truly kept them on their toes. A quick example of a brain teaser to try at home:

“A light flashes red 75% of the time and green 25% of time. You have to predict what the next flash will be. Is it reasonable to use a biased coin weighted to flip toward red 75% of the time to predict the next flash? Or is it more reasonable to just predict red?”

Seethu Seetharaman and Stuart Bunderson teamed up on the March 26-27 workshop on values-based, data-driven decision-making.
Seethu Seetharaman and Stuart Bunderson teamed up on the March 26-27 workshop on values-based, data-driven decision-making.

The answer is actually no. The likelihood of having the coin and the light flash the same color is slim because there are two separate events. The two events will only align 62.5% of the time, so it’s safer to predict red from the get-go with its 75% probability. 

The first afternoon was followed up by Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center. Bunderson, George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance, discussed values-based decision-making, incorporating values and ethics in business, while backing them with statistical evidence.

Bunderson amusingly warned the data-focused audience, “We are now entering the domain of moral philosophy… we answer which outcomes we should be striving to achieve through discussion and mindful reflection, informed by theoretical frameworks.”

Bunderson continued, asking, “What are values?”

Values are beliefs about preferred “end states.” They can be explicit or implicit, but regardless, represent the fundamental building blocks of an individual’s character or organization’s culture.

Values are all about the why of a business: the how represents tactics and execution, the what are objectives and KPIs, while the core why are values and the mission. The why drives the what and the how.

At the end of the session, Seetharaman’s statistics-heavy lecture paired perfectly with Bunderson’s value-based message. The audience collectively resonated with the idea that a business is firmly, at its core, driven by values.

However values must guide decisions made and then must be secondly backed by statistics. You must be able to understand your KPIs while still keeping true to your business’s mission.




Bart Hamilton

Nearly three years ago, Barton Hamilton was preparing to moderate a panel discussion at Olin’s first family business symposium, among the earliest manifestations of the school’s fledgling family business initiative.

Three symposia and $9 million later, Olin has launched a full-fledged research center dedicated to the issues surrounding family-owned business—with Hamilton taking the lead as its first director.

Dean Mark Taylor appointed Hamilton to the post effective February 2 and with that appointment, the Koch Center for Family Business is officially launched. Sure, Hamilton said, there’s a lot of work to do moving forward.

But he’s thrilled to be part of realizing the vision of the Koch family—which includes two WashU alums and St. Louis real estate developers—who underwrote Olin’s sixth research center.

“The Kochs told me this is part of their legacy,” Hamilton said. “I feel great responsibly to be a steward for their legacy and do what I can do to make the vision a reality.”

A focus on research

Elke and Paul Koch, BSBA ’61, JD ’64, MBA ’68, and Fran and Roger Koch, BSBA ’64, MBA ’66, launched the focus on family business in 2016 with a $1.09 million donation to Olin Business School. The donation paved the way for a family business initiative featuring regular symposia on the subject, a course on family businesses, student practicum projects with family business owners and a student club.

The effort was, in part, also driven by interest from students, who approached former Dean Mahendra Gupta about the subject and later presented him, at his request, with a full-fledged outline and justification for the program.

Hamilton—who is also the Robert Brookings Smith Distinguished Professor of Economics, Management and Entrepreneurship—said the foundation laid by the family business initiative will remain in place and expand.

The secret sauce of the new center, however, will be research into the unique dynamics that drive family businesses and their power, representing 64 percent of the US economy.

“We want to know the secrets to success that Cargill and Enterprise have, but there’s a lot of companies in the $50 million to $200 million range that are the backbone of a lot of communities,” Hamilton said. “Those are also businesses that face a lot of challenges and we want to understand what those challenges are and figure out how we can help them achieve more success.”

For example, are family businesses more successful in the long run than non-family businesses? They’re not thinking about the next quarter, they’re thinking about the next generation. Yet, there is a tradeoff: How do family businesses introduce new ideas and innovation when the tendency may be to do things the way they’ve always been done?

Another area ripe for research: What is the interaction between family dynamics and business dynamics? As families grow, how do they provide dividends and wealth to an expanding slate of brothers, sisters and cousins, while continuing to invest in the growth of the business?

He is excited by the prospects for what research can tell us about family business, how it can help family business owners improve and how it will guide students who will be owners of, customers of, clients of and partners to family businesses.

“This is something we can be distinctive in,” Hamilton said. “We’re putting our flag on the map and telling the world that this is something that’s important to Olin and to Washington University.”

Next steps

One advantage of a funded research center, Hamilton said, is the ability to purchase data and fund research on a scale unavailable before. Data into family-owned and closely held businesses is hard to come by, often requiring a lot of manual effort to compile.

In fact, two of his own research projects are still a long way from publication because of the mammoth effort involved in collecting and analyzing the data. One project is looking at the differential performance of CEOs in family businesses, depending on whether the CEO came up from within the family, came up in the business (but were not family members) or came from outside the business altogether.

Hamilton said the family business symposia will continue, as will a class in family business led by adjunct professor Spencer Burke, principal at the St. Louis Trust Company, who has served as the initiative’s de facto leader since its launch.

Other steps ahead for the Koch Center for Family Business include searching for and identifying promising research projects, identifying staff administrative support and recruiting a board of advisers for the center.

“The Kochs want us to be a research leader in this area,” Hamilton said. “There’s not much that’s been done given the importance of this to the economy.”