For those who didn’t make it to the 5th Annual Iron Prof competition last week, Professor Barbara Kahn won. Of course. She’s amazing. No surprise. Except for the fact that she was competing with Professors Peter Fader, Zeke Emanuel, Ethan Mollick, and Vit Henisz. Some serious heavy hitters, right there.
So what was it about Kahn’s presentation that made her the one holding the trophy? I think it came down to one thing: applicability. Each presentation was certainly applicable to something. But what was its immediate application for those voting, Wharton students looking forward to Pub on a 10° F February day? Here, the highlights of each presentation, accompanied by their relative takeaways—and I’ll try to show what made Kahn’s the favorite.
Kahn: Perceptions Matter
For Kahn’s presentation, the title says it all. The manner in which options are presented to people/customers has more of an impact on their choices than one would think. Kahn shared examples of how different Halloween candy, restaurant menu, and product packaging layouts affected how each was used. For example, consumers ate more cookies out of the box when the picture on the outside made the cookie appear lighter (less mass) by placing it at the top of the package rather than toward the bottom.
Key Takeaway: “So wait, if I get a large cup at Pub and fill it with the same amount of beer I usually drink, I could drink more without feeling irresponsible? Awesome!”
Fader: How to Double the Value of Your Customer Base
Increasingly, companies are using “customer equity” (CE)—the total combined customer lifetime values (CLV) of all a company’s customers—to assess firm valuation. To derive CE, firms take averages across entire customer bases. Fader showed us that CFOs are leaving heaps of money on the table by not considering the heterogeneity of their customers. In fact, if companies would break up their analysis across segments, they could double their value. In sum, working with averages doesn’t optimize valuation.
Key Takeaway: For Wharton students feeling average for the first time ever, implications of their sub-optimal values didn’t jive.
Emanuel: How to Survive a (Character) Assassination Attempt
As one of the primary authors of PPACA (ObamaCare), Emanuel has a lot of fans—and a lot of haters. Rather than talk about his research, Emanuel shared the wisdom he has acquired after withstanding years of attacks from detractors: “Have a clear message, and data to support it. Unplug. Keep perspective. Get a Kevlar vest.” These and other nuggets might prove useful to Wharton students as they ascend to positions of leadership in business. After all, “leadership is a contact sport.”
Key Takeaway: A Kevlar vest is going to make me look 10 lbs. heavier.
Mollick: Lean In. Lean On
“Lean in” is a mantra signifying that in response to gender disparities in the business world, women (and men) shouldn’t shy back, but instead work harder. In the entrepreneurial world, the need to lean in is even greater. Start-ups founded or led by women have historically received only 3-5% of total VC investment dollars. Mollick showed that women entrepreneurs are leaning in, and also that they are effectively “leaning on” other women to address disparities. In the crowdfunding world, women are more prone to fund projects started and led by women than by men.
Key Takeaway: Might this presentation have highlighted the fact that Professor Kahn was the only woman in the competition? Just saying.
Henisz: Lessons from Corporate Diplomacy from a Political Mastermind
Frank Underwood from “House of Cards” isn’t a good role model in most regards, but when it comes to corporate diplomacy, he’s tough to beat. Henisz pointed out how effectively FU uses information, creates dependent networks, and identifies and exploits cross-cutting cleavages. For those who feel like this Friday is another Christmas all over again, Henisz’s presentation gives a new lens for watching FU in action.
Key Takeaway: “Great, now watching HoC will feel like a homework assignment.”
Who knows about my application theory. It could have actually been the varying microphone qualities or who used PowerPoint versus Keynote presentations that determined the winner. One thing’s for sure, Iron Prof was a great event.
Check out more from the Wharton Journal:
- How Wharton Entrepreneurs are Disrupting the Bar Experience
- David Fajgenbaum, “Leadership in Overdrive” Peer Perspectives On Leadership Talk
- One for the World: A Practical, Effective Approach to Meaningful Philanthropy