Tag: Undergraduate

Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Nina Gerson, BSBA ’17. Nina works as an investment banking analyst at Union Square Advisors.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I am currently in my second year as an investment banking analyst at Union Square Advisors, a boutique investment bank that advises technology companies on M&A and late-stage private capital raising. Upon completion of the analyst program this summer, I will be joining CapitalG (formerly known as Google Capital) as an investor on their growth equity team.

I believe having an undergraduate BSBA from Olin helped set me apart from other candidates during recruiting for investment banking. Moreover, Olin’s supportive, close-knit community provided me with the resources to explore and prepare for a career in finance.

Olin has a very entrepreneurial environment. While at Olin, faculty supported me and my peers in our efforts to build out the Washington University Investment Banking Club (WUIB), WUIBWomen and bringing Adventis to campus to teach financial modeling. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take advantage of the opportunity to tap the bright network of students, faculty and staff within Olin for support, ideas and collaboration.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

The first class I took at Olin, Management 100, was a defining moment in my college journey. I vividly remember working in a group on a HBS case study on Southwest’s business model. I was drawn to the applied nature of the case study method and the collaborative, group work environment that is present in most of Olin’s classes. Once I was exposed to this method of education, I quickly switched from a pre-law track into the business school.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

Since I graduated two years ago, I have lived in both SF and NYC. Both cities are hubs for Wash U grads and have a great community – both professionally and socially. Olin and its associated professional clubs do a great job of encouraging students to reach out to alumni and I love to hear from current students and stay involved via their outreach.

Why is business education important?

Graduating with a BSBA prepared me for the technical, conceptual and applied aspects of financial concepts that we work with on a daily basis in investment banking. In addition, my classmates and I received the gift of a national professional network that we can tap post-graduation, an opportunity most students only have after earning an MBA.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

Seize the years you have at Wash U and in Olin. Olin’s students, faculty and staff are eager to mentor, advise, collaborate and support each of you. This is a special moment where you have an incubated environment of striving individuals with similar goals and hopes as your own. I encourage you to use this time to explore your personal and professional ambitions to the fullest.

In early 2017, WashU Olin marketing alum Diana Zeng decided to launch the greatest rebranding campaign of her young career.

The product was Diana Zeng.

Until that January day, the “Diana Zeng brand” was about developing marketing strategies for startup organizations and nonprofits. By the end of the process, the brand was about a new career in the fine arts. The new Diana Zeng was all-in as a painter.

In between, she retooled the product and, for a time, even identified herself by a riff on her Chinese name—Zen She—to separate the “old” Diana from the new. She devoured biographies of fine artists and plunged herself into developing her studio practice so she could unleash the artist she knew had always been inside.

“I’d been working with startups since graduating. I saw that they often built something from nothing. That’s essentially what being an artist is: starting something from nothing,” said Zeng, BSBA ’14. “I took it seriously.”

The business of the arts

Two years in—with the confidence that she can support herself as an artist—Zeng is returning to Olin to speak to some of the first students in WashU Olin’s minor in the business of the arts. The genesis of the new business minor was a $1 million donation from Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, and his wife, Linda, inspired by their daughter’s experience as a fine arts student.

The new program targets students in the creative arts who want to make a career of their talent, but need to understand how to run their careers like a small business—complete with a grasp of marketing and branding, pricing, customer relationship management and finances.

“Don’t Mind Us in the West Wing,” by Diana Zeng

Glenn MacDonald, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy, will teach one of the foundational courses of the minor — “the business of art” — and invited Zeng to speak to his students on October 3.

“Diana is an Olin graduate who used her business skills to fashion a visual art business that allows her to make the art she loves while paying the bills,” MacDonald said. “She is an excellent example of the outcome we anticipate for the students who complete our class.”

In some ways, Zeng is the mirror image of the students targeted for the business of the arts minor. Instead of an artist needing business acumen, she was a business student who had never met an artist or visited an art museum growing up. The closest she’d come as a child to making art was learning Chinese calligraphy and ink painting in Chinese school.

She had harbored an interest in art, however, and she took her father’s advice as an undergraduate: major in business, but use every elective to explore other interests. She took courses in queer theory, poetry and nature, and art classes at the Sam Fox School—enough, in fact, to earn a minor in fine art.

A day of reckoning

"I Shouldn't Be Here," by Diana Zeng
“I Shouldn’t Be Here,” by Diana Zeng

A year before Zeng’s graduation, while seriously involved with Sam Coster, the WashU 2012 grad she’d met in her freshman year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A year of treatments forced the disease into remission—for a bit.

By the fall of 2016, the lymphoma had returned and, once again, been beaten back. Zeng and Coster had begun a New Year tradition, asking each other: If you had a year to live, what would you do?

By then, Zeng had held several marketing positions with St. Louis-area nonprofits and startups. The pair had married in October. A month later, the presidential election made them consider drastic changes. In January, as 2017 began, Coster asked Zeng: “If you had a year to live, what would you do?”

“I’d paint,” Zeng blurted out.

And thus began the process—outlined thoroughly on Zeng’s own website—that led her to remake her career and pursue her passion.

“The first year and the second year of my art career have looked drastically different. The first year wasn’t so much focused on making art. It was very difficult and very dark and it wasn’t great,” Zeng said. “The second year has really been about challenging myself and the creation of art. It’s been fulfilling in a really great way. It hasn’t been a very linear progression.”

Sharing the experience

"Finding Solace," by Diana Zeng
“Finding Solace,” by Diana Zeng

Today, she’s grateful for the business background she gained and can draw a direct line from that experience to her early success as a professional painter, supporting herself in the fine arts. In fact, her first solo exhibition opens Aug. 23 at St. Louis’s Bonsack Gallery.

With that experience comes an appreciation for branding and marketing, for telling her story and finding an audience for that story. It also taught her how to value the work.

“The intrinsic value of my work is important. Understand the value of your work: I say that over and over again to artists,” Zeng said. She has benchmarked herself against other artists at her career stage—and those whose career trajectory she aspires to emulate. Assigning value—a sticker price—to her work is difficult, but necessary.

Under-price it and you cast doubt on whether the work has value. Overprice it and—well, you don’t make the rent. And yet, Zeng said, “It’s the hardest thing to let go of a piece of work and sell it. I genuinely love it and hate it. I want to keep all my work.”

Though hard, it’s not impossible, of course, and a business approach to her career is key. Zeng said artists must not shy away from viewing their work as a business or approaching art as a career.

“It does not interfere with the integrity of your work,” she said. “Connecting how art and business are aligned—I didn’t have that experience in school. This minor wasn’t available. It definitely would have made the possibility of going into art feel more feasible.”

Annelise Morgan and Ryan Farhat-Sabet, BSBA

In early spring, Betsy Morgan spent five hours on the phone with Bob Harbison as he dictated four years’ worth of preschool enrollment numbers from Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Harbison, a retired early childhood education activist, was the only person on earth with the data Morgan sought—and he wasn’t about to let it out of his sight.

Madison Stoecker and Betsy Morgan, BSBA ’19.

Thus began the extended two-day phone call with Morgan, BSBA ’19, as she gathered data for her project in Management 490. The elite, yearlong honors seminar is offered by invitation only to top undergraduates eager to take a deep plunge into research methods—a capstone course that only seven students took in the 2018-19 academic year.

“I wanted to spend my senior year creating a piece of knowledge, working with someone I could trust,” Morgan said. “It was a lot of work. There were times when I said, ‘Why did I do this?’ But I feel retroactively proud that we did it.”

Morgan partnered with another 2019 graduate, Madison Stoecker, on a project to measure the long-term educational outcomes for students in Oklahoma’s universal preschool program—a program that’s drawn considerable press over the years. But, Morgan and Stoecker said, it hadn’t been analyzed for its effectiveness.

Ironically, the marathon data-dictation session didn’t provide useful data for their project. But the pair’s research unveiled good news for the state’s program: Students’ average ACT scores showed a statistically significant increase for all counties in Oklahoma. For lower-income counties, the effect was 50 percent higher than the average.

Seven students, three major projects

Marisa Ippolito, Hank Michalski and Aneesha Bandarpalle, BSBA ’19.

Morgan and Stoecker’s project was one of three that seven BSBA students took on in the course. “These are students who have excelled and demonstrated their ability to do independent work in close consultation with some of our most rigorous researchers,” said Bill Bottom, the Joyce and Howard Wood Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and one of four professors who tag-team the course.

Marisa Ippolito, Hank Michalski and Aneesha Bandarpalle partnered on a paper examining the way teams are formed—and the dynamics when international students are involved in forming teams. Annelise Morgan and Ryan Farhat-Sabet dug into data from the Chicago Police Department to examine the effects of implicit racial bias in the distribution of parking tickets.

In the team project, the students analyzed data they collected from a survey of 229 students in an on-campus lab. They found that people want to work with people who are similar to themselves—regardless of whether they were American or “international.” But mostly, students wanted to work with teammates who practiced “good behavior” as a teammate in class. They recommended that professors always assign students to groups to avoid built-in bias against international students.

In the Chicago parking ticket project, students found no clear trends beyond the fact that white police officers tended to be biased in how they ticketed in different ZIP codes: white officers were less likely to ticket in white areas than in black or Hispanic areas.

The cadence of the course

Students in the course spend their first semester rotating among the four professors: Bottom; Tat Chan, professor of marketing; Bernardo Silveira, assistant professor of economics; and Ohad Kadan, H. Frederick Hagemann, Jr. Professor of Finance and Vice Dean for Education and Globalization.

Each introduces students to a different aspect of the strategy and techniques for academic research. Throughout the semester, the students look for research topics that pique their interest and consult with the instructors to hone their topics.

“These are rigorous, empirical projects,” Chan said, “Science in general is sort of a team sport. They each do one proposal for each faculty member and as a group, we discuss the merits of each of these proposals for projects.”

“It’s very entrepreneurial,” Silveira said. “I don’t suggest topics. They come up with their projects. It’s hard to find that at the undergraduate level, with this level of maturity and sophistication.”

‘Unbelievable experience’

Why would senior BSBA students spend their final year in such a grueling course when they could be coasting toward graduation?

“Challenging yourself and being intellectually curious just for the sake of being curious is very underrated,” Farhat-Sabet said. “We’re still focusing on ourselves through this project, but it’s a different side of ourselves. It’s a challenge for sure, but I can say I’ve had this experience.”

And while their projects might not appear on the surface to have any direct bearing on their business school education, the students all appreciated the applicability of their work to the careers they were about to begin.

With graduation behind them, the seven students are all dispersing to new jobs in the next few weeks. Ippolito will be a consultant with Deloitte starting September 30 in Cleveland; Michalski starts August 19 as a category specialist for Jet.com in Hoboken, New Jersey; Bandarpalle will be a consultant with McKinsey & Company in Chicago starting August 9.

Morgan will be a consultant with Deloitte in New York; Farhat-Sabet is moving to Washington, DC, to work for boutique tech consulting firm CapTech.

Stoecker starts September 27 with McKinsey in Chicago; Morgan starts today at Boston Consulting Group.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Ippolito said. “It was experiential learning and to have help from our advisers—you don’t always have that perspective.”

Pictured at top: Annelise Morgan and Ryan Farhat-Sabet, BSBA ’19, present their work on bias in Chicago parking tickets from their honors thesis course.

Suzana Deng

Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Suzana Deng, BSBA ’17. Suzana is an eCommerce Analyst at Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I am an eCommerce Analyst at Nestle, helping to grow and optimize the online channel for the world’s largest food and beverage company. This includes evaluating marketing activations, identifying opportunities in organic search/share of voice, and analyzing business performance. All while trying to resist the freshly baked Toll House cookies. My Olin education has provided me with a foundational understanding of business and opened the door to many exciting opportunities.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

I first discovered my love of marketing in Professor Sawhill’s Principles of Marketing class, and it was reinforced later when I took his Marketing Strategy course. A defining moment was when Professor Sawhill held up a box of Cheerios and said they’re just little oat circles that taste like cardboard – the added value comes from the emotional connection the brand evokes in customers. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by brand management and hope to make it a part of my career someday.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I’ve been back on campus recruiting for Jet and also have several people from Olin on my team at work – best of all, I met my boyfriend at WashU (we were both marketing/operation supply chain management majors at Olin) and we’ve been experiencing East Coast life together.

Why is business education important?

Business education gives you a very holistic understanding of how organizations effectively leverage their strengths and resources to meet their objectives – whether it’s a corporation or non-profit – so it’s a great base for any career path.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

As a student it was never fun to hear, but I can confirm that networking / forming connections is extremely important to have a successful career. In the workplace, be sure you’re building and maintaining good relationships every day – you never know when these can come in handy. In addition, be a resource to others when you can – it’s all about give and take.

The St. Louis Business Journal released its 2019 “30 Under 30” list featuring five Olin alumni: Daphne Benzaquen, Breona Butler, Brian Chao, Joseph McDonald and Phillip Sangokoya. Here’s a summary with links to each honoree’s full write-up on the Business Journal website.

Daphne Benzaquen, PMBA ’17, at 29 years old is the creative designer and CEO of daph., a lifestyle brand in which high-quality baby alpaca fur and llama leather pieces are created and 20% of sales are donated to Peruvian and St. Louis communities. In addition to daph., Benzaquen founded The Chomp blog and Daphne Benzaquen Consulting. She also serves as community director of ThriveCo.

Breona Butler, PMBA ’18, at 27 years old is an IT portfolio manager at Keefe Commissary Network. Butler pursued her MBA to bridge the gap between business and technology. Through her ability to understand business and technology, she has helped reduce her department’s costs by 15%.

Brian Chao, BSBA ’12, MBA ’13, at 29 years old is the chief financial officer at the Starkloff Disability Institute. Prior to accepting this position, Chao had been a passionate supporter of the Institute. Through his position at Starkloff Disability Institute, Chao has helped to raise more the $1 million in a year for the first time.

Joseph McDonald, EN ’15, MBA ’15, at 27 years old is the co-founder and COO at Epharmix, a digital health care company. Epharmix, which McDonald launched following graduating WashU, “simplifies proactive patient engagement for providers, payers and employers.”

Phillip Sangokoya, BSBA ’11, at 29 years old is the specialty finance relationship manager and the assistant vice president of U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation. In three months, Sangokoya has “underwritten and/or closed over $10 million in investments to organizations advancing social impact, small business growth and real estate.” In addition, he also is the co-founder of BRAND of St. Louis.