based on an original story by Rosalind Early (illustration by Monica Duwel/Washington University)
Glenn MacDonald had an idea.
In May 2020, a group of St. Louis business owners formed the STL Small Business Task Force to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small to mid-sized businesses. They invited MacDonald, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy at Olin Business School, to join.
MacDonald, who has extensive experience in business consulting, mentoring, and informal advising, got an idea: “I have these fantastic students, and many have lost their internships or summer employment…What an opportunity!”
“I have these fantastic students, and many have lost their internships or summer employment…What an opportunity!”
– Glenn MacDonald
MacDonald reached out to and about 300 of his former students: More than 50 of them, from first-year students to recent grads, volunteered to help seven local small-business clients identified by the task force.
Two of his teaching assistants, Alivia Kaplan, Class of 2022, and senior Valentina Pariente Monalli, Class of 2021, also joined the effort. Kaplan acted as project manager while Pariente Monalli helped the students with the consulting work and their client presentations.
The students made recommendations on what to do with spaces that were idle or in limited use; how best to get customers to social distance while enhancing the customer experience; how to deal with constantly changing government guidelines, many of which were not well-considered for particular businesses; and new product and marketing strategies to respond to the pandemic.
The Center for Research in Economics and Strategy, which MacDonald directs, partnered with the Koch Center for Family Business at Olin to offer participating students a small honorarium for their consulting work. There were also prizes for the top three presentations. But the primary reward for the students was the experience, while MacDonald saw it as an opportunity for the university to help the St. Louis small-business community.
“We’re not just occupying space in St. Louis,” MacDonald says. “We’re an important St. Louis institution. This is my way, on behalf of the university, to support the St. Louis small-business community during a difficult time.”