The school’s full-time MBA program moved up seven places over five years in the U.S. News ranking.
Over that same period, it jumped a remarkable 39 spots on The Financial Times lists.
In three years, the MBA program climbed 22 spots, according to The Economist.
Oh, and they have held the #1 spot in P&Q’s Entrepreneurship ranking for four years running.
Welcome to the Olin Business School – the small-but-mighty rankings champion, a Midwest marvel that can compete with anyone. It is hardly coincidental that this surge began after Mark P. Taylor took the reins as dean in 2016. Since then, he has overhauled the curriculum, punctuated by the launch of a groundbreaking Global Immersion that led Olin to being named P&Q’s Program of the Year in 2019. Taylor pushed the MBA program to become more experiential and data-driven, while launching new degrees and making the program STEM-designated. He heavily invested in online learning and can boast one of the best virtual studios of any business school. His leadership even enabled the Olin MBA to earn accreditation by AACSB, AMBA and, EQUIS – the only Top 25 American MBA program to earn this triple honor.
An impressive run – and one that ended on July 1st, when Taylor stepped down as dean, replaced by Anjan V. Thakor in the interim. Don’t fret: Taylor will return to Olin in the fall to teach finance. Still, his departure begs the question: Can Olin maintain its momentum and innovative spirit without Taylor at the helm?
When leaders leave, they are often judged by how well they left an organization in comparison to when they started. By that measure, Taylor is already a legend. His legacy starts with the cornerstone of the Olin experience: the Global Immersion. On the surface, it resembles a normal international trek enjoyed by many MBAs. However, Olin’s immersion comes with a twist: it kicks off the program. Lasting 38 days, it starts in July, when MBAs head to Washington DC’s Brookings Institution, where they are steeped in international business practices. From there, MBAs head to locations like Barcelona, Paris, Lima, and Shanghai. In the process, students complete projects with business partners, meet with business and government leaders, and visit various company operations. In addition, first-years enjoy time to explore different cultures with classmates. On top of that, the costs of airfare, lodging, and food are wrapped into student tuition.
In other words, Olin first-years spend their first six weeks together, 24×7. These daily meals, sight-seeing ventures, and 10-hour flights help classmates bond sooner. Even more, it enables first-years to adapt quicker academically. That’s because they get exposed to many core concepts during immersion projects, explains Zach Frantz, a 2021 grad who was part of the inaugural immersion.
“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.”
Still, the Global Immersion remains a work-in-progress, with Olin recently approving several changes, says Lesley Liesman, the school’s brand manager, in a 2022 Q&A with P&Q. “With these changes, students will undertake three distinct immersions during the required first-year curriculum. Students will travel from St. Louis to Washington DC in the summer, then to Europe in the fall, and, finally, to Asia in the spring.”
The Global Immersion aligns with the goal to develop in students a global mindset, one of Olin’s Four Pillars codified during Taylor’s tenure. A second pillar is value-based and data-driven decision-making. By that, says Lesley Liesman, an Olin brand manager, Olin is teaching “how numbers and belief systems work together,” so students can achieve maximum impact in serving a community’s greater good. As part of this pillar, Olin incorporates the impact of technology across the curriculum to produce digitally-enabled leaders. This pillar now extends to the digital medium itself. In May, Olin announced that it would launch an online MBA program that focuses on digital leadership. An even split of live and pre-recorded classes, the program will cost roughly $79,000 and enroll 50 students to start. Intakes will be held in January and June.
“It is still grounded in the core MBA fundamentals but all of the courses will be framed through the lens of a digitally driven landscape,” Taylor told P&Q last May. “We have thought hard about what it means to be a digitally enabled leader going forward to bring this MBA online out. It isn’t just putting PDFs and video lectures online. It’s thinking about this new world of digital leadership and how you would use AI and big data and how you would think about remote management.”
Experiential Learning is the third pillar laid out by Taylor. The school maintains a Center for Experiential Learning offers programming such as Board Fellows, where students serve on nonprofit boards; a Community Consulting program that connects students with area nonprofits for a semester; and a CELect course that enables students to support a startup.
“Our Center for Experiential Learning draws upon and contributes to the St. Louis region by engaging our students with local community and business partners in team-based, action learning courses,” says Lesley Liesman “Through these courses, students work with, learn from and advise business and nonprofit organizations on a wide range of issues.”
Entrepreneurship is the final pillar – and an area where Olin MBAs thrive. When P&Q crunched business school startup data, it found that Olin ranked 2nd for the percentage of startups launched and 3rd for mentorship hours. And it finished among the ten-best for incubator and accelerator space and startup money awarded to student entrepreneurs. 100% of students are involved in a startup project and 85% take an entrepreneurship course (which makes up a quarter of Olin MBA electives). Nearly half belong to an entrepreneurship club as well. Faculty get into the act too: 57% are directly involved in a startup.
One reason for Olin’s success? Start with the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem in St. Louis, which has produced unicorns like Varsity Tutors (Nerdy) and Gainsight. You can trace such successes to public-private partnerships like the St. Louis Small Business Empowerment Center and Arch Grants that provide training and funding respectively. Entrepreneurs can also find space at T-Rex, Gateway City and the Cortex District – the latter featuring a half dozen accelerators that have created 15,000 jobs and $2 billion dollars in economic activity in the past two decades. That doesn’t count the deep Fortune 500 ties in the St. Louis region, including large operations from Fortune 500 firms like Emerson Electric, Edward Jones Investments, Monsanto, and Anheuser-Busch. In all, student entrepreneurs can tap into a supportive network, local expertise, and large-scale partners to build their ventures.
“The people in STL embrace their own like I’ve never seen and place you in a position to succeed, explains Lloyd Yates, a ’22 grad who started his venture at Olin.
The same can be said for faculty and staff at Olin. For nearly a quarter century, Olin has operated the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which provides technical and operational support to fledgling ventures while connecting them to the larger St. Louis community. The school is also renowned for its flagship course, The Hatchery, which helps students research their venture’s viability and get it off the ground. More recently, the school opened The League, an accelerator designed to help scale tech and business ideas. At the same time, Olin has been expanding its reach, so students can work with startups from San Francisco to Berlin. That said, Olin’s startup prowess extends beyond its resources. At the school, entrepreneurship is treated as a mindset as much as an outcome. And that is something nurtured by the larger university.
“Some B-schools feel very separate from their University—philosophically and geographically,” explains II Luscri, an entrepreneurship professor in a 2022 interview with P&Q. “Olin is located right on the main campus and there is an intentional approach between the leadership of Olin and the leadership of the university-wide Skandalaris Center to make sure collaborations and connections can not only happen but also thrive. Olin students can and do take advantage of the resources in WashU’s world-class schools and often find themselves on teams or in classes with students from medicine, law, engineering, etc. This doesn’t happen everywhere and really enhances our students’ startups and ideas.”
A global outlook. A digital drive. A hands-on approach. An entrepreneurial spirit. Sounds like the makings of an MBA program on the rise. Dean Mark Taylor lit the path. Let’s see how far Olin can go without him at the helm.
Next Page: Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business
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