Government regulations and policies impact business in many ways. According to a 2014 survey of 400 American CEOs, the regulatory environment was the single biggest issue impacting their businesses. Some 34% of the CEOs surveyed by Forbes Insights and KPMG, in fact, reported spending more time with government regulators.
“Really, every industry is regulated — whether you make cutting torches, or you sell hamburgers, or you’re in healthcare — every industry is regulated,” says Patricia Williams, the VP general counsel at Peabody Energy. And Williams — who recently completed her executive MBA from the Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School — would know. Peabody is a mining company, meaning it operates in one of the industries most impacted by government regulation.
An attorney who has been practicing for two decades, Williams decided to earn her EMBA after meeting with other attorneys who completed the program. “It was clear to me, there was a common theme,” she says. “These were all people I admired and respected.”
AN EMBA WITH A DASH OF PUBLIC POLICY
In earning her MBA from the Olin Business School, along the way Williams received a little extra public policy training by participating in the school’s Business of Policy residency in March 2016. Each EMBA must complete four week-long residencies. After launching in 2016, three cohorts have now completed the Business of Policy residency, a joint partnership between Olin and the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. The residency courses “are designed to educate business leaders on how policy is formed, how government officials think, and what levers are important to understand as business decisions are made,” according to a spokeswoman for the school.
When Williams learned of the residency during the admissions process at Olin, she says she didn’t expect it to be a high point of the EMBA program. After all, she reasoned, she’d already earned an undergraduate degree in political science. But she was pleasantly surprised.
“I had never had the opportunities to interact with the high-level experts from different institutions and agencies,” Williams says of the experience. “I would have never had access to them.”
NON-MARKET FORCES’ IMPACT ON PROFITABILITY
In addition to access, Williams says she “came to appreciate” the impact government and other non-market forces have on profitability. Direct impact on profitability from forces like public opinion, regulators, activists, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was eye-opening for Williams.
“I really came to an understanding of those forces and their impact on the profitability of the firm,” Williams explains. “We normally think our profitability is impacted by our supplies, our customers, our competitors, but the profitability of the firm is really impacted by those forces.
“It was really beneficial to learn that these aren’t just forces you have to navigate around, but they have a direct impact on your profitability.”
ROUNDING OUT THE SKILL SET
For Chris Hawkins, the Business of Policy residency changed his personal beliefs about policy and legislation. “It actually inspired me to get more involved,” says Hawkins, a member of the first cohort who is a vice president of operations at Multiply, a St. Louis, Missouri-based “fan engagement platform.” Learning more about the complexities and difficulties surrounding legislation, Hawkins says, he has started writing letters to his local lawmakers.
Like Williams, Hawkins also entered Olin’s EMBA program after learning many of his mentors also earned MBAs. With a background in accounting, Hawkins says he was intrigued in the policy program for the same reason he wanted to learn more about business basics like marketing — he was looking to fill a hole.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized whether you like politics or don’t like politics, whether you’re left, right, or something else, it will have an impact,” Hawkins reasons. “It really addressed a hole I had as it related to public policy.”
GOVERNMENT NEED FOR DIRECT ACCESS TO BUSINESSES
Williams says one of the biggest takeaways for many of her fellow participants was the importance and impact business leaders can have within society as a whole. She left feeling more optimistic about the interactions between business, society, and government.
“The real importance we saw when we met with members of the Council of Economic Advisers to the White House, and congressional staffers, and congressional members, it really impressed on me their need for input from industry,” Williams says. “They really do not understand, they don’t know how our companies operate.”
For both Hawkins and Williams, the direct access to higher-ups in government was invaluable.
“The initial impression was, this is not just some field trip,” Hawkins says. “There wasn’t any time where you thought, ‘OK, this is where I’m going to step outside and take this call for work.’ You felt like you couldn’t miss anything.”
Adds Williams: “It’s such a golden opportunity to have this direct access to these folks.”