Knight class: Former Emerson head Knight brings high-profile CEOs to business course

Following the success of last spring’s Olin School of Business course taught by Charles F. “Chuck” Knight, former chairman and CEO of Emerson, in conjunction with Anjan V. Thakor, Ph.D., senior associate dean and the John E. Simon Professor of Finance, the school again is offering the class. As was so popular last year, “Creating Exceptional Value: Performance Without Compromise” will include a succession of high-profile CEO guest lecturers.

“There was a great deal of enthusiasm for the class last year among the students, alumni and other Washington University people who attended the lectures,” Thakor said.

The class has grown from about 75 students last year to 90 this year — with 30 on a waiting list.

This year’s offering has a few modifications. Previously, the class was open only to MBA students. Now, executive MBA and professional MBA students can participate in the two-credit-hour course, an increase from last year’s 1.5 credit hours.

Unchanged is the opportunity for members of the WUSTL community to attend a simulcast of the guest lectures in Simon Hall’s May Auditorium.

This year’s speakers include Andrew C. Taylor, chair and CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co.; Lord John Browne, CEO of BP Amoco PLC; Philip J. Purcell III, president of Continental Investors LLC; August A. Busch III, chairman emeritus of Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.; Arthur F. Golden, partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell; Edward E. Whitacre Jr., chair and CEO of AT&T Inc.; and numerous high-level executives at Emerson.

The course is organized around Knight’s 2005 book, “Performance Without Compromise: How Emerson Consistently Achieves Winning Results,” which focuses on Emerson’s process of transformation and success. The main focus in the book and the course is on leadership, processes and execution, with other themes such as innovation, growth and globalization, Thakor said.

Emerson executives will speak about decisions they made during times the company faced pressure and discuss the consequences of those choices. Guest speakers from other firms will discuss selected topics that fit within the overall themes of the course.

“Between the coursework and the speakers, students found the format incredibly useful,” Thakor said. “With most case studies, students know they can go to a Web site and find out what happened. You can’t do that for this class because there isn’t a solution. We’re looking more at the thought process.”

Last year’s guest speakers enjoyed the experience as much as the students did, Thakor said.

“Jack Welch [former CEO of General Electric Co.] sent an e-mail to Chuck Knight after he had spoken with the class,” Thakor said. “Welch said that he’d been to a dozen top business schools and that Olin’s students were as good a group of students as he’s ever seen. The class made a good impression on the CEOs.”

For more information on the simulcast lectures, call 935-6300.