“Back in business.”
That’s the theme for the coming fall. For 16 months, COVID-19 tested business schools to practice what they preached. In response, school leaders assessed their operations top-to-bottom, embracing new models and redistributing resources. And MBAs followed suit, re-writing the rules for building networks and impressing employers. Still, this progress came with a price: cancelled trips and scaled back traditions – a year of missed opportunities and lowered expectations.
At Washington University’s Olin Business School, one missing piece was the Global Immersion – a requirement that made Olin the MBA Program of the Year in 2020. Started in 2019, the Global Immersion turns the traditional academic structure upside down. Here, the overseas trip – often a 2nd year elective– kicks off the summer core for everyone. At Olin, MBAs travel from Washington DC to Barcelona to Shanghai. Together 24-7, they take classes, conduct site visits, and complete consulting projects for clients. In their spare time, Olin MBAs bond by exploring local sites and delicacies. Best of all, students don’t pay any extra costs for flights, food, or lodging.
THE GLOBAL IMMERSION RETURNS
Bryanna Brown, a first-year MBA and former recruiter for Teach for America, frames the Global Immersion as “Around the world in 39 days.” It is an experience, she says, that no other business school offers – one that gives students immediate first-hand experience in making decisions within a global context. Her classmate, Christopher Jefferies, was equally bullish on the immersion.
“Having the opportunity, at the very beginning of the MBA program, to travel the world alongside my classmates while gaining valuable insights into how businesses operate was something that could not be matched.”
Alas, COVID-19 prevented the Class of 2022 from starting their Global Immersion last June. Come fall, they will be making up for lost time. According to Gabe Watson, the school’s brand manager, second-years will be heading to Washington, DC this fall to complete the first leg at the Brookings Institution. In the spring, they are scheduled to finish the immersion in Barcelona, Paris, and Lima, Peru. The incoming 2023 Class will also enjoy the full Global Immersion in the coming spring.
PREPARATION FOR THE CORE
So what can Olin MBAs expect from their Global Immersion? Zach Frantz, a 2021 grad who was part of the inaugural immersion, was stunned by how quickly he was able to internalize concepts by experiencing them. “The first time I looked at an income statement it was for a winery in Barcelona. The first time I learned about pricing is from our assignment for a company going to market in Shanghai. We did industry analysis and market and customer research and scouted out potential locations for the company. So there was another layer to all the decisions you had to make. The first time I learned operations was through an apparel company and a Nike fulfillment center in China. Even though I lived there, I had never been exposed to these more traditional business experiences.”
These experiences, emphasizes Dean Mark Taylor, accelerate student growth far sooner than sitting in a classroom. In a 2020 interview, he notes that one professor, who’d joined the first class for their immersion, had never seen students improve so fast. As a result, they were better prepared to absorb more complex concepts when they returned to St. Louis. That wasn’t the only side effect of MBAs constantly working and being together in unfamiliar terrain, adds Frantz.
“In a traditional campus setting, you see your classmates a couple of times a day for a class or you cross paths on a project or in a club,” he tells P&Q. “But it would take a much longer time to develop meaningful relationships. But creating those relationships was a byproduct of the fact that you eat three meals a day with the same people, you go to class all day, you are on ten-hour plane rides together, and you spend all of your time together over six weeks. People get tight really quick. That was probably the best aspect of the trip. We started our core classes on campus with six weeks of memories together that none of us will forget.”
A PLACE WHERE YOU’RE ALWAYS “SEEN”
And this only amplifies one of Olin’s greatest strengths. 2020 grad Rebecca Matey describes the MBA program as a place where you are “seen.” By that, she means it is a small program where students enjoy the space to get to know peers and faculty. This ability to know “everyone by name and story” is one reason why Nataly Garzon joined the Class of 2022. “With a class size of about 100 students, there is truly a cohort sense among each class. Professors genuinely want to engage with MBA candidates, and small class sizes allow for livelier intellectual conversations among peers.”
Garzon is just 1 of the 90 students who make up the Class of 2022. Growing up, Garzon worked alongside several New York City students to create short films and documentaries on the lives of immigrants. These efforts enabled her to become a Tribeca Film Fellow, with one of her films shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011. This commitment to the greater good carried over into Garzon’s career. In partnership with a foundation and media company, she created Blueprint4Careers in St. Louis, a career exploration website that has enabled over 1,700 young people learn about available apprenticeships and credentialing opportunities. At the same time, she has worked with the public sector to provide these young people with easier access to public transportation.
“This joint collaboration and my advocacy efforts led to half-fare public transportation pricing for young people in the St. Louis region over the past two years. As a result, low income young people were able to access career-building summer employment and internship opportunities.”
AN UNEXPECTED CAREER PATH
Garzon wasn’t alone in pursuing such ends among the Class of 2022. Njideka Okeke, an assistant manager at PwC, launched a consulting firm that targeted economically disadvantaged and women-owned businesses. By the same token, Bryanna Brown watched her first class from four years ago graduate from middle school. “It blew my mind watching the bright-eyed 10 year-olds—who really gave me a run for my money as a first-year teacher—celebrate moving into the next phase of their lives,” Brown writes. “The maturity and growth that has occurred over four years for my “babies” truly demonstrated how pouring into someone else can change their journey.”
Looking for a first-year who gets results? Check out Felipe J. Cuartas. A WashU undergrad, he saved his company 480,000 hours annually by automating a manual global sales funnel. In contrast, Minjy Koo became her company’s youngest-ever product manager – and proceeded to boost her category’s sales by 52%. That said, Ryan Rash never expected to spend nearly five years at Nordstrom. He started out as a temp just looking to earn a few extra bucks over the holidays. Soon enough, he became a department manager with a penchant for boosting year-over-year sales no matter what conditions he faced.
“I grew to love the emphasis on customer service at Nordstrom, and this fueled my push for three promotions in four years.”
LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Speaking of responsibilities, Rodrigo Rodriguez Delgado has already helped run four startups, either new ventures or new divisions within established firms. Beyond that, Joseph Waters, a Detachment Commander for the U.S. Army, was responsible for all shipments and delivery of supplies to the U.S. military bases in Qatar. Being accountable for this support, Waters experienced the significance of his decisions – and the importance of building relationships.
“I underwent some incredible character growth while living in a new culture where not everyone spoke my native tongue,” he admits. “In Qatar, relationships carry more weight than any law or regulation which is incredibly difficult to do without a common language. I spent many days drinking tea and sharing time with Qatari, Indian, Pakistani and Filipino administrators and workers. The payoff was less red tape, smoother operation, and a proactive approach to problem solving.”
Outside work, Christopher Jefferies officiates high school basketball games in four states. Minjy Koo’s blog posts have accumulated over a million views. “Iron Man” is Ryan Rash’s nickname – as he competes in triathlons…and has a metal rod inserted in his leg. Before teaching, Bryanna Brown performed in a professional ballet company. As a classically trained dancer, Brown has performed in everything from jazz to Lady Gaga! And how is this for deep thinking?
“I once wrote a philosophy paper analyzing an argument that time isn’t real,” says Felipe J. Cuartas.
THE TOP ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAM
By the numbers, the 90-member class – not including 24 deferments – brings a 687 average GMAT and 3.43 average undergraduate GPA (not to mention average 156 verbal and 155 quant scores on the GRE). Overall, women comprise 46% of the class, with international students and underrepresented minorities making up 36% and 28% shares. Academically, Natural and Social Sciences majors hold the majority of class seats at 46%. The class also boasts largest segments in Business and Economics (26%), Engineering (20%), and the Humanities (6%).
The Global Immersion positions Olin MBAs to capitalize on greater interconnectedness like no other. However, this global orientation may not be the program’s biggest draw. In 2020, P&Q named the Olin Business School as the best MBA program for entrepreneurship in the world for the second straight year. One reason: entrepreneurship is an integral part of Olin’s mission, alongside data analysis and experiential learning. The program’s curriculum is designed to support students looking to evaluate opportunities, develop plans, hone pitches, and scale operations. Here, the program lavishes resources while tapping into the region’s rich startup ecosystem.
How popular is entrepreneurship at Olin? From 2017-2019, 19.67% of Olin MBAs launched startups – the highest percentage of any Top 50 MBA program. Olin awarded $738,299 to MBA startups during the 2019-2020 school year, 3rd-best in the world. To put it another way, Olin doled out $38,000 more to MBA startups than Harvard Business School – which has 1,600 more students! Another 21% of Olin MBA courses focus on entrepreneurship – and the same is true of a third of the school’s clubs. While a quarter of the faculty teach entrepreneurship, the discipline is integrated across the program core curriculum and electives says Cliff Holekamp, who spent 11 years as the academic director for entrepreneurship at Olin and now heads a venture capital firm.
“Every course at Olin has to be accountable to entrepreneurship and innovation,” Holekamp told P&Q in a 2019 interview. “In every single course evaluation now, there is a question at the bottom that asks to what degree was entrepreneurship and innovation a part of the course. Every single course. That took entrepreneurship from being a really strong niche to something every Olin student is going to be exposed to.”
ST. LOUIS: AN UNDERRATED ASSET
That’s just the beginning at Olin, which also offers over 25,000 square feet of accelerator space for budding entrepreneurs. The Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship boasts programming that ranges from an online platform to get feedback and support from regional entrepreneurs to a program to run a campus business. It also serves as a hub to connect Washington University talent, says Derek Leiter, a 2021 grad who launched his pre-workout supplement pouch as a student.
“Since coming to this center, I’ve been able to find engineering students that are helping me with 3D printing,” he told P&Q in a 2019 interview. “I’ve been able to find professors who have backgrounds in what I’m doing, research-wise.”
Nearby, you’ll also find the Cortex District, home to over 350 businesses and a half dozen accelerators that have produced more than 4,500 jobs. Downtown, there is the famed T-Rex incubator, responsible for creating 4,400 jobs and $621 million dollars in economic output. And that doesn’t include plentiful funding sources like Arch Grants and Cultivation Capital.
In other words, there is plenty of space, financing, and expertise needed for Olin graduates to continue building their ventures in St. Louis. In fact, the Gateway City has chalked up recent startup successes like Varsity Tutors, which went public in January to the tune of $1.7 billion dollars. And Washington University is a big part of this growth, with Holekamp describing Washington University-St. Louis connection as a big fish in a mid-sized pond.
“St. Louis is big enough to matter,” Holekamp asserts. “It’s big enough to have resources, to have networks, to have capital, to build entrepreneurship communities. But it’s small enough that you can access it. And in St. Louis, all you need to do to make a connection with anyone in this town is say, I’m a WashU student.”
Next Page: 12 profiles of the Class of 2022
An interview with Dean Mark P. Taylor