What makes a story great? Ask 10 readers and you’ll get 10 answers.
In general, you’ll hear terms like relevant, original, or insightful tossed around. What exactly do those words mean? Readers want a narrative, one with questions raised, details delivered, and truths revealed. The best stories make a connection, piquing imaginations and stirring emotions along the way. At the end, they spur readers to do something potentially transformational: learn more.
Alas, the best stories aren’t always the most read or trafficked on social media. Instead, they were the ones that broke new ground and changed how schools, stakeholders, and shifts were viewed. In 2018, there were plenty of stories like these on Poets&Quants – ones that balanced the rigors of business and education with the fuzziness and frailty that comes with our humanity. From personal tragedies and dubious decisions to promising trends and historic breakthroughs, here is the editorial team’s picks for their favorite stories of 2018.
It is a story as old as time – or at least 80s movie comedies. A plucky band of misfits will come together to beat the odds (and then hold a kegger to celebrate). That same story played out at USC’s Marshall School of Business in 2018 (sans the kegger, I think). Here, gender parity was achieved – 52% female enrollment, to be exact – for the first time among top-ranked business schools. Make no mistake: This was a student-driven enterprise, with heavy credit due to Daniel McCartney, Jessica Schleder, Casey Brown, and Baylis Beard.
The process was sparked in the same way as any successful startup: a startling observation. Noting that just 32% of the last MBA class were women – a lower percentage than women in the engineering program – these students decided to act. Like fledgling entrepreneurs, they surveyed fellow students and collected data. While the program boasted female-led clubs (and even a Manbassadors chapter), many female students were unaware of the resources available to them. On top of that, there was minimal communication devoted to inclusion.
These were among the observations made in a 14-page report from these four students, which laid out the best practices at other business schools, such as posting profiles of prominent female students and faculty on their websites. The report even offered action steps, such as boosting yield and conducting aggressive recruiting from students themselves. Sure enough, Marshall administrators were blown away by the pitch and executed the student recommendations to a tee. The result? Female enrollment jumped by 20% in one year, accompanied by a 10% rise in yield.
The big lesson, says Daniel McCartney, is that any change demands uncompromising commitment. “The mistake a lot of business schools make is they get a tremendous amount of lip service. If you want to change culture, you have to have 50% women. Then the culture will change almost instantaneously.”
“There by the grace of God go I.”
It’s strange how quickly a life can change. Just ask Zachary Katz…from a phone behind reinforced glass in prison.
In January, Katz was sentenced to nearly six years in prison stemming from a fatal accident. On October 5, 2013, Katz was barreling down a Bay Area freeway – the wrong way, no less – for nearly two miles before colliding with a taxi cab. This caused a chain reaction that took the life of Pedro Juan Soldevilla and injured two others. The accident occurred just eight miles from the Stanford GSB campus, where Katz was a first year student. A preliminary blood screen at the accident showed a blood-alcohol content of .158, nearly two times the California limit.
Katz wasn’t your average student – even by Stanford standards. A high school valedictorian, he pulled a 4.0 GPA at Harvard, while also completing coursework at Oxford and eventually earning a master’s at Cambridge. At Genentech, he’d spearheaded strategic planning efforts for teams studying areas like infectious diseases. A Renaissance Man bar none, Katz had contributed work to the Harvard Advocate, the school’s journal of fiction, poetry, art, and criticism – and even published a novel a year after the accident.
Now, all Katz can do is reflect and regret, as he counts off the days until his release in 2023. While he blames his epilepsy for contributing to this tragedy, he is slowly recognizing the unfathomable damage he has caused, particularly the loss suffered by Soldevilla’s wife and children. “Every single day for four and one-half years, it has been at the forefront of my mind,” he told the court at his sentencing. “None of the arguments around my epilepsy change the fact that this was done by my hand.”
The MBA is going to pot…quite literally.
As more states legalize recreational marijuana – and more enterprises sprout up to fulfill demand – the stigma associated with being a cannabis czar is increasingly dissipating. But there is still a ways to go.
“You’re talking to a felon right now,” says Dan Devlin, a 69 year-old Harvard MBA and head of an edible marijuana production company called Db3, in an interview with P&Q. “I cannot get a mortgage today because my income comes from a cannabis company. Our company cannot get a debit card.”
Alas, Federal and state laws aren’t quite in alignment when it comes to legal marijuana. Still, momentum is clearly swinging to the states and MBAs are taking notice. To them, the marijuana industry – with few barriers to entry – is a chance to become an industry pioneer, to set the market and possibly get rich in the process. That’s one reason marijuana case studies, conferences, and courses are beginning to pop up across business schools. UCLA Anderson has launched a club devoted to the industry and standard-bearers like Wharton and Stanford are increasingly pouring resources into marijuana-related offerings.
That said, don’t expect the next wave of marijuana conglomerates to necessarily come out of business schools. Anthony Dukes, a professor of marketing at USC Marshall, sees MBAs playing a far different role in the industry. “We don’t have students coming to us saying they are interested in opening a dispensary, it’s more, ‘I’m interested in venture capital, or entrepreneurship, or private equity.’ That’s where I see the soft spot for the MBA.”