Tag: Specialized Masters

Preston Tharp, MBA

This was posted on behalf of team lead Franklyn Nnakwue and his teammates Prateek Deval, Ryan Sun, Aria Ren, Amy Yu and Cathy Wang.

As a group of MBAs and specialized master students at Olin Business School, we worked on one of the most challenging analytics projects. Our client, Direct Supply, has a long relationship with Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning and Center for Analytics and Business Insights.

Direct Supply is a company that specializes in providing equipment, e-commerce, and service solutions to the senior living industry. With 35 years of history, it has many customers. For this project, we focused on the business’s products. Our goal was to leverage data to draw insights that Direct Supply could use to improve customer experience and operational performance.

Field trip to Direct Supply

To better understand Direct Supply’s business model, the team went on a one-day field trip to Milwaukee, where Direct Supply is located. After the interaction with the sales team, marketing team, data science team and supply chain team, we had a more robust understanding of the business and the ways our project could be transformative

We also understood that the project is not solely about writing code and answering the questions, but also about testing the viability of our recommendations.

Real-world challenge and timely adjustment

As we dug deeper into the project, we found that the initial hypothesis that we were working with wasn’t feasible. “Welcome to the real world,” said our professor, Seethu Seetharaman. As we sought to pivot our analysis, Professor Seethu and Professor Michael Wall offered us a lot of help in redefining the questions and finding other approaches to solving the problem. We finally figured out an alternative approach that could fulfill Direct Supply’s initial goal.

Projects won’t always go smoothly as planned, and challenges would always appear along the journey. The faculty advisors, CEL committee and CEL fellow were helpful in ensuring that the team was on the right track.

This was a precious experience for the team. The project offered us a great opportunity to get involved in solving real-world business problems. It was definitely the highlight of our academic experience at WashU.

Pictured at top: A client representative; Preston Tharp, MBA ’20; Nithin Ramachandran, client; Aria Ren, MSCA ’19; Franklyn Nnakwue, MBA ’20; Cathy Wang, MSCA ’19; Ryan Sun, MSCA ’19; Amy Yu, MSCA ’19; Michael Wall, CEL/CABI faculty adviser; Prateek Deval, MBA ’20; Seethu Seetharman, CEL/CABI faculty adviser.

Shirley (Jingxuan) Zhou, MSCA ’19, wrote this on behalf of her team for the Center for Experiential Learning.

Edward Jones, a full-service brokerage firm with a high reputation, concentrates on working with serious, long-term investors across both the United States and Canada. With more than 18,000 financial advisers, the company helps clients make sense of investing. At Edward Jones, each financial adviser has their own website, allowing clients to get to know more about the advisers and their business.

During the past four months, a team of two MBA and four MSCA students cooperated closely with Edward Jones’s marketing team and analytics team to explore customer behavior on these sites and measure the effectiveness of the advisers’ microsites.

In the meantime, professor Seethu Seetharaman and Michael Wall also provided constructive guidance on data processing and marketing strategies, ensuring the project was at the right track.

Using data analytics to make an impact

The whole process could be divided into four steps:

  • Identify if customized microsites provide benefits over standard microsites.
  • If they do, explore the optimal level of customization.
  • Discover driving factors that lead to customization by an adviser.
  • Provide business insights and recommendations obtained through the analysis to improve microsite performance.

On December 5, the team visited the headquarter of Edward Jones, delivering the final presentations to both marketing team and analytics team. According to different audiences, the team had different focuses. After showing the data analysis results, key insights and recommendations, both teams were impressed about their work.

Real-world experience

The CEL practicum has offered the team a great opportunity to apply data analytics skills to real business world. While leveraging the analytical skills and business sense to help Edward Jones better optimize its business-decision process, the team also gained a lot of experience and knowledge on team collaboration and communication. This is definitely an amazing experience for every team member.

Pictured above: Madhuri Mada, MBA ’20; Gaurav Malik, MBA/MSCA, x’20; Sabrina Alexandre, MSCA ’19; Shirley Zhou, MSCA ’19; Katherine Yin, MSCA ’19; and Max Jiang, MSCA ’19.

Sandy Sun, MSSCM

A three-member team of WashU business analytics students vanquished at least 49 other teams in the 2019 Teradata Data Challenge in Denver last month. Their victory was the second in consecutive years by an Olin team in the prestigious competition, which draws entries from around the globe.

“We didn’t really expect to win,” said Sandy Sun, MSSCA ’19. “It was exciting and amazing.”

Sandy Sun, MSSCM '19, delivering her team's presentation at the 2019 global Teradata analytics competition in Denver.
Sandy Sun, MSSCM ’19, delivering her team’s presentation at the 2019 global Teradata analytics competition in Denver.

The winning team included Sun, Jingxuan Zhou, MSCA ’19, and Peiyilin Shen, MSFTA ’19. They delivered their presentation—after months of work developing their solutions—on October 20 and learned of their victory the next day. The company—which provides database and analytics-related software, products, and services—received more than 50 submissions from around the world and chose 16 teams as finalists to compete in Denver, Colorado, at the Teradata Universe Conference.

In an email, Sun said the team’s challenge focused on a client, Hire Heroes, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing free support to veterans and military spouses as they transition to the civilian workforce.

“To better support its operation and services, the organization really needs donations to make a difference,” Sun wrote. “Hence, we chose ‘donor development’ as our topic, trying to provide some data-driven business recommendations to improve its current development.”

Zhou said the project, which the team had been working on since May, depended on their ability to clean and analyze more than 100,000 records spread across several data sets. The team’s faculty advisers were Olin professors Xiang Hui and Seethu Seetharaman, director of the Center for Analytics and Business Insights and faculty director of the specialized master’s in business analytics program.

The team organized the organization’s donor lifecycle into acquisition, retention and recurrence. Through their analysis, they were able to develop strategies they believed would support Hire Heroes to positively impact more heroes.

“The analytics are easy for us. It’s translating it into business insights that is difficult,” Sun said. “That may be why we won. We needed to make sure our client knew what we were doing.”

A five-member team of customer analytics students won the same competition last year, defeating 44 teams in the global competition.

The 2019 team worked hard to present its ideas by telling a story so the audience would find it easy to understand. “After all, technical skills in data analysis, machine learning are always just tools to gain insights,” Sun said. “The ability to show results to untechnical people is equally important.”

Commencement season is upon us, and we couldn’t be more proud of the class of 2019. Whether you’re finishing your BSBA, your master’s or your doctorate, we have plenty of reasons – and opportunities – to celebrate you. Here’s the rundown on your Olin graduation ceremonies.


The 158th annual WashU May Commencement Ceremony takes place Friday, May 17 at 8:30 a.m. in Brookings Quadrangle. Learn more.

BSBA Recognition Ceremony: Friday, May 17, 11:30 a.m. at the Field House, Athletic Complex. If you’re attending, get the details on arrival, seating, the ceremony and more.

Can’t make it? Watch via livestream on the Olin graduation website or our Facebook page.


The 158th annual WashU May Commencement Ceremony takes place Friday, May 17 at 8:30 a.m. in Brookings Quadrangle. Learn more.

Graduate Programs Recognition Ceremony: Friday, May 17, 3:00 p.m. at the Field House, Athletic Complex. If you’re attending, get the details on arrival, seating, the ceremony and more.

Can’t make it? Watch via livestream on the Olin graduation website or our Facebook page.

Other recognition ceremonies

All week, WashU will hold ceremonies to recognize and honor various populations – from members of our military to cultural recognition to students with children and families. See the full list.

For faculty

Graduation isn’t just for the students – it’s a celebration and an honor for our faculty members, too. Faculty information can be found on our graduation website (password protected).

Did we answer your question?

If not – check out our graduation website for more information, or for WashU questions, contact commencement@wustl.edu.

Tom Tian, BSBA; Lilu Li, MSF-WAM; Robert Huang, MSFC; Tim Solberg; Alvin Nguyen, MSFC; Carl Compton, BSBA; James Pai Hao-Lun, MSF; winners of the 2019 Quinnipiac portfolio competition.

For the second time in as many years, a WashU Olin team grabbed the first-place trophy at the prestigious Quinnipiac Global Asset Management Education Competition in New York City March 28-30, 2019.

A six-member team of master’s of finance students and BSBAs competed against 75 teams for the trophy in a competition culminating months of work managing a portion of the Washington University endowment fund, analyzing stock choices and presenting about the team’s investment strategy.

Olin Professor Tim Solberg coached the winning team, which included Tom Tian, BSBA ’20; Lilu Li, MSF-WAM ’19; Robert Huang, MSFC ’19; Alvin Nguyen, MSFC ’19; Carl Compton, BSBA ’19; and James Pai Hao-Lun, MSF ’19.

“Professor Solberg successfully put together a very diversified team,” said Nguyen, the team leader. “James has advanced technical skills, therefore he increased our team productivity by gathering necessary data from different sources, then cleaning them up, and uploading them to Bloomberg for analysis. Liyu’s quantitative background, Robert’s in-depth fundamental knowledge, and Tom’s quick thinking enabled us to combine all the resources needed to conduct our comprehensive analysis report quickly and efficiently.

“Carl transformed our analysis into an excellent PowerPoint presentation and collaborated with other team members to polish their presentation skills,” he added. “I leveraged the strengths of my teammates so we can work in complementary partnership to maximize each other’s strengths and compensate for individual weaknesses.”

An Olin team also won the same competition last year. In both cases, the students had participated in WashU’s “investment praxis” course, taught by senior lecturer Charles Cuny and Solberg. In the course, students manage a $1 million segment of Washington University’s endowment.

This year’s team didn’t have to fight through a wicked nor’easter to make it to the competition, but they shared the same appreciation for the discipline, teamwork and rigor required to compete.

“The competition gave me a much more holistic, hands on experience to the world of finance than is readily available at most schools,” Compton said. “The ability to run $1 million of real money puts much more emphasis on the psychological side of finance that escapes the normal classroom setting. It is very easy for students to nod their head in agreement when a company is worth buying or selling, but when the money is tangible, you begin to question your assumptions and selling policy.”

Using the new finance lab in the Kopolow Library, Solberg taught the team how to use Bloomberg terminals to determine portfolio attributions by industry sector and stock selection. It was while coaching the team last year he realized a financial lab would be much better for tutoring than having terminals spread throughout the campus.

Compton said the competition forced the team to do performance attribution and analyze a portfolio from multiple different angles, pushing them to better understand where their portfolio was underperforming or outperforming—and why.

“It’s easy to give a presentation on a portfolio that does better than the market, because no one questions you,” he said. “It is much more difficult to be convincing when your portfolio underperforms the market, and you have to argue that the portfolio performed exactly as it was expected to, even with huge drawdowns from unforeseeable losses from two holdings.”

He said the team felt confident standing in front of a panel of judges, delivering a robust answer to every question “and walking out of the room knowing you killed it.”

Pictured above: Tom Tian, BSBA ’20; Lilu Li, MSF-WAM ’19; Robert Huang, MSFC ’19; Tim Solberg; Alvin Nguyen, MSFC ’19; Carl Compton, BSBA ’19; James Pai Hao-Lun, MSF ’19.

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.”