Home Corporate Developing evidence-based solutions to key business challenges

Developing evidence-based solutions to key business challenges

Goizueta launches Corporate Think Tank

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Crossroads sign with two arrows, office building – problem and solution

Business schools provide businesses with talented and skilled human capital. But they can also do much more in the service of industry. They can be a source for data and research that can help corporations tackle thorny and difficult challenges. Business school faculty regularly publish that kind of research in peer-reviewed journals and share it with media, but much less often is it brought directly to corporate leaders for discussion and to generate solutions.

Goizueta’s new Corporate Think Tank is an important step in changing that.

“At Emory, we have enormous access–among our faculty and professional network–to talent that can be leveraged to address difficult issues raised by our corporate partners,” said George Easton, associate professor of information systems and operations management.

Easton is the co-author of a new white paper, “Academic Insights Relating to Managing Data Science Teams,” that he wrote in response to a request from Donald Comer, the vice president of operations analysis at FedEx. That white paper was the basis for the very first Corporate Think Tank convening at Goizueta earlier this year, “Improving the Effectiveness of Data Scientists & Business Analytics in a Non-Tech Company.”

Through Comer, FedEx has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with Goizueta, providing exciting opportunities for business school students. FedEx is a founding partner of the school’s MSBA program.

“I lead a lean team of talented decision scientists at FedEx,” said Comer. “I have my fixed set of internal resources, but I also have access to variable capacity, here at Emory, to help me find solutions to complex business challenges. We’re now in the third year of this effort and it’s been a tremendous benefit to FedEx, for both problem-solving and for developing a pipeline of talent that helps FedEx to maintain its competitive advantage.”

The think tank is intended to position Goizueta as a resource for industry that can provide research, data and experts to investigate and identify solutions to challenges corporations face.

The invitation-only convening included high level representatives from BlackRock; B/R Live, Turner Sports; Coca-Cola North America; Comcast; Crawford & Company; FedEx; Georgia Power; and International Paper. Among them were Comer, and two Goizueta alumni: Coleman Oglesbee 05MBA, the vice president of customer experience at Comcast, and Matthew McElroy 13MBA, senior director of business operations at B/R Live, Turner Sports.

At the full-day convening, participants from industry discussed their common challenges managing data science teams, the issues and findings highlighted in the white paper, and evidence-based solutions to those challenges. Among the topics of discussion were helping data scientists understand and embrace a business’ culture and priorities and ensuring data is accurately translated when it’s informing corporate decision-making.  

“It was an honor to be asked by the dean to attend this meeting, especially for a topic that I have a great deal of interest in,” said Oglesbee. “I thought hearing cross-industry and academic feedback on this issue would be interesting and it was also an opportunity to learn more about cutting-edge work being done in this space.”

During the convening, Easton gave an overview of his white paper, reviewing academic findings on the benefit of and issues associated with integrating data scientists into non-high-tech companies. Following his presentation, a handful of senior faculty moderated a lively discussion that elicited participants’ reactions to the findings and their own experiences and challenges.

“It’s not always obvious how in touch professors are with the real world,” said McElroy. “The research mentioned today was very applicable to my world. When trying to solve a problem, the challenge isn’t usually in finding the solution or in the execution, but in trying to get buy-in on the solution. Sometimes getting agreement on an approach is the hardest part. But it’s hard for someone to look at research data and dismiss it. That’s the benefit of drawing on research.”

Feedback on the meeting was extremely positive and the discussion will inform updates to the white paper before it is made public. Dean Erika James hopes this will be the first in a series of annual Corporate Think Tanks through which Goizueta faculty provide assistance to leading businesses by researching and identifying solutions to other complex challenges shared across a range of industries.

“Businesses are increasingly seeking coaching relationships to address important issues,” said Easton. “We realize that our faculty have the knowledge and expertise to serve as coaches, too. What we are doing through this effort is to develop a coaching relationship with an important corporate partner: FedEx. A lot of people in industry don’t see the full value of academic research. By addressing an issue FedEx is dealing with by developing a white paper summarizing related academic research, we are stimulating faculty to engage in relevant cross-functional research. We also expect that this relationship will increase our corporate partner’s interest in being a research site. If this works, it can be replicated with other companies and for other problems facing industry, thus leveraging our networks and enhancing academic research to find solutions to shared problems.”

To learn more about Goizueta’s corporate engagement efforts and how businesses can connect with the business school, please contact Rebecca Sandidge at rebecca.sandidge@emory.edu.

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