June 7, 2007
Vol. 26 No. 18

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    2007 Emory Williams Award for Teaching Excellence in the GSB: James Schrager

    By Jessamine Chan
    Graduate School of Business

    James Schrager
    (Photo by Beth Rooney)

    James Schrager, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management in the Graduate School of Business, has received the Emory Williams Award for Teaching Excellence for the third time, having previously received the award in 1996 and 2001.

    “Instructors work mostly in the dark, and other than the quarterly student reviews, it’s hard to know how well we are doing,” said Schrager. “Receiving this award is an unexpected and wonderful honor. The GSB and the University of Chicago at large have such outstanding integrity that it is a pleasure to be a member of the faculty.”

    Schrager describes his course New Venture Strategy as addressing the question: “Is this business idea a good idea?” Every student enters the course with business ideas and needs a way to select the worthy ones. While all strategy courses are about the future, in corporate strategy, the future is charted based on the current operations of the firm. In New Venture Strategy, this task is much harder since students are thinking about a new firm and have no existing data with which to guide strategy.

    The centerpiece of Schrager’s course is a series of strategy models tailored to new ventures that have been abstracted from previous classes over the past 25 years. His students are allowed no shortcuts, which for Schrager means no PowerPoint presentations, class notes or printed case solutions.

    Schrager describes his teaching style as classic, to the point of being Socratic—asking obvious questions that students may not be able to answer. Within a few weeks of starting his course, Schrager’s students face ever more complex business issues and are expected to reach his standards.

    “My goal is to impart something of worth beyond final exam week,” said Schrager. “I strive for a series of ‘A-ha!’ moments, where a student discovers something new, wonderful and useful. The goal is not to memorize a case solution, but rather to develop a process for problem-solving that they can use outside the GSB.”

    The Emory Williams Award is given annually to a faculty member at the GSB in recognition of accessibility, enthusiasm and innovation in teaching. Nominations for this award were submitted by students from the school’s full-time and part-time M.B.A. programs.

    Schrager’s research focuses on the use of strategy to predict outcomes, boards of directors, and analysis of venture capital success and failure ratios.

    “My research is about watching strategists at work,” said Schrager. “I’m more interested in what successful strategists do than in what they tell me they did.”

    Schrager is the founding editor of The Journal of Private Equity and an editor of Turnaround Management Journal. As president of the Great Lakes Group, he is a consultant to boards and CEOs on strategy. He earned a B.A. in economics from Oakland University in 1971, an M.B.A. in Accounting from the University of Colorado in 1975, a J.D. from DePaul College of Law in 1979, and a Ph.D. in behavioral science and policy from Chicago’s GSB in 1993. He is also a C.P.A. in the state of Illinois.

    Emory Williams, a former chairman and chief executive officer of the Sears Bank & Trust Company and the Chicago Milwaukee Corp. established the award in 1984.