Prof. Richard Waterman on how executive MBA students can use regression analysis and predictive analysis to transform business decision-making.
After college, Prof. Richard Waterman spent several years working as a consultant in Zimbabwe, where he focused on environmental and ecological development projects for organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program. Earning a PhD in statistics, specializing in environmental statistics and statistical ecology, he then joined the Wharton faculty and later also started a consulting business. “I’ve spent a lot of time working in industry, but have taught at Wharton since 1993,” he said, noting that he teaches EMBA students on both the East and West Coast campuses. We asked him to tell us more about his EMBA classes and industry experience. Here is what he said:

What classes do you usually teach in the EMBA program?

I’ve always taught the core Regression Analysis for Management course, which is a foundational class that prepares students for other quantitative courses in finance, marketing, and operations. The class exposes them to ideas around data analytics because, even if they aren’t responsible for those areas, they need to interact with people in those areas with confidence and know the language.

I also teach an elective for second-year students called Predictive Analytics for Business, which focuses on all kinds of prediction methodologies, whether it is a return on a stock, predicting customer behavior, or estimating ROI from a marketing activity. I introduce students to a set of modern statistical data mining and analytics ideas, so they become very capable of performing those tasks by themselves. The students who take this course come from a diversity of professional backgrounds. For example, I had two surgeons in the class last summer who went on to do an independent study project with me, using ideas from the course on a project at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Is there anything that surprises students when learning about data analytics?

That it can be used to improve just about any type of business. Students from tech companies are usually already aware of its benefits, but data analytics is helpful for everyone. Instead of making decisions based on gut instinct, these are tools to make decision making more efficient through experiments and testing. There is usually an ‘aha’ moment when they understand what regression methodology can do for them with problems at work.

They are also sometimes surprised by the fact that there is a specific language used in this area. But once they learn it, they can join and contribute enormously to the conversation. It’s not uncommon for students to have people around them in their industry telling them how they should address a particular problem. After taking this class, they have the structure and foundation to look at the problem from a new angle and know if that was good or bad advice.
That is empowering.

What do you like about teaching EMBA students?

These are very engaged students because of their maturity. They have years of work experience and can relate to what you are talking about in class, which is helpful because they can contribute their insights and experiences. They also can immediately apply what they learn, so when they come back to class in two weeks, they talk about how they implemented that knowledge at work. The greatest form of flattery is implementation and there is a fast potential turnaround from the ideas being presented in class to their implementation in the student’s place of work.

What motivates you to commute from Philadelphia to teach EMBA students at Wharton San Francisco?

I enjoy teaching at our West Coast campus. I’ve always had a strong interest in technology, so it’s nice to be in the Bay Area, which has that focus. I also enjoy how there is more time to interact with students when I’m in San Francisco. We eat meals together on campus and stay at the same hotel, so I often join them for dinners or social events. And I go running with a group of students in the mornings – it’s easy to say let’s meet in the lobby at 6:30 am for a run. My three grown children all live in California, so that is an additional bonus.

What projects are you working on these days?

As a practice professor, my focus is on taking academic ideas and implementing them in the real world. I take a multidisciplinary approach and collaborate with people around the university, such as the departments of sociology, psychology, and epidemiology. I enjoy taking statistical ideas and employing them in new areas. That is a nice benefit of working at Wharton, as it is part of the University of Pennsylvania. There are many smart people here doing very interesting things.

An example of a recent project that bridges academia and industry is the application of a new form of targeting (to find customers) that I developed with a colleague at Harvard. We introduced novel statistical methodologies to marketing to improve targeting, and implemented it at a large pharmaceutical company.

I also still consult with a focus on litigation related to intellectual property and copyright law. I work with the Motion Picture Association and the recording industry on cases related to infringement. My special skill is doing analytics for internet piracy cases.

Posted: March 26, 2018

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