The course, led by Wharton Management Professor Mauro Guillen, will teach students about the effects of events like coronavirus (COVID-19) on businesses and economies.

The coronavirus outbreak is claiming lives and having a devastating impact on economies and health care systems. While much is still uncertain, eventually the outbreak will slow down and the world will rebuild in its aftermath. So, what can we learn from a global crisis of this magnitude?

A new online course spearheaded by Wharton Management Prof. Mauro Guillén will attempt to answer those questions. “Epidemics, National Disasters, and Geopolitics: Managing Global Business and Financial Uncertainty” was developed to give students the opportunity to learn, in real time, from the current crisis and how to prepare for the next one. Prof. Guillén joined Wharton Business Daily host Dan Loney to discuss the details. 

Interview Highlights

Why is this class needed?

“This was a class that was proposed by the Dean’s office at Wharton a week ago. They contacted me asking, ‘Will you do this again?’ Because I had launched a similar class 12 years ago in 2008, just after Lehman Brothers. It’s very important for the School to do something like this. First, to be responsive to worldwide events. Second, to offer students a chance [to learn] about the topic. Third and quite importantly, it’s also to show the breadth of expertise that the Wharton School has. Every day of class, we’re going to have two different Wharton professors teaching. They are going to tell us from their perspective, how business needs to be prepared and what’s the likely impact of this going to be.” 

Which faculty members are participating and what topics will they cover?

  • Wharton Dean Geoff Garrett on how leaders should make decisions in emergency situations
  • Health Care Management Prof. Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel on the nature of this pandemic and how far it may be spreading around the world
  • Finance Prof. Jeremy Siegel on reaction by the markets 
  • Lauder Prof. Martine Haas on telecommuting and teleworking
  • Management Prof. Sigal Barsade on emotional contagion in the context of a global public health crisis
  • Operations, Information and Decisions Prof. Katy Milkman on what kinds of incentives you can introduce to elicit the right kind of behavior to avoid taking unnecessary risks
  • Penn Law Prof. Beth Simmons on how coronavirus may change the meaning of borders in the world
  • Other sessions will include the topics of crisis management, the disruption of supply chains, the management of surprise, and lessons from climate law.

Is this a teachable moment and are there similarities to different types of events that have occurred before, such as the recession and 9/11?

“Yes, I say this is, unfortunately, a teachable moment. We are increasingly, or more frequently, getting into these sorts of troubles. If they are becoming the new normal — meaning if every two or three years we’re going to go into a crisis such as this for one reason or another— we then have to be prepared as a nation, as organizations. And we have to prepare our students. That’s our role as educators. I want my students to be able to ‘download,’ so to speak, a frame of mind whenever this happens. I want them to acquire those kinds of skills while they are at Wharton.”

The course will be open to the entire University of Pennsylvania, including students who are not on campus.

“Correct. We are admitting as many students who wish to join us. We’re going to have an online component to the class. We have 450 right now, and they come from all corners of the university. We have Wharton students, we have non-Wharton students, undergraduates, graduates, everybody.”

Is it important for universities to offer these types of learning opportunities moving forward?

“I think (universities) need to become more nimble and more flexible. We need to have a protocol in place for responding to situations such as this. So yes, we’ve had 9/11. We’ve had the global financial crisis. We’ve had other epidemics like SARS or MERS. But (the coronavirus) is striking at the very heart of what we do. It’s a very mysterious illness. And it’s already a pandemic, over 100 countries have had reported cases. It imposes on us, I think, an even greater measure of flexibility in order for us to respond effectively as an educational institution.”

Emily O’Donnell

Posted: March 23, 2020

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