On top of advising governments on public policy issues around the world and writing numerous opinion pieces for The Huffington Post, Business Insider and Salon, visiting professor Steven Strauss played a key role in the growth of New York City's technology and entrepreneurship scene.
“I’m pleased with the work I’ve done. I like to think I helped society and made the world a better place," he said, adding that he looks forward to imparting his knowledge to his students.
Strauss will begin his third year as a visiting lecturer and one of the Wilson School’s John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs visiting professors next September. Individuals who have held this position in the past include former New Jersey governor and ex officio University Trustee Jon Corzine and former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten ’76.
Strauss was formerly the founding managing director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is the official chamber of commerce for New York City.
He was elected to the Silicon Alley 100 in 2012. The list recognizes the top 100 people in New York City who are working to promote technology and entrepreneurship.
Dean of the Wilson School Cecilia Rouse said Strauss has been a great asset for the students.
“We love having someone who has worked in the private and public sector to implement policy and who has that real world experience,” she said.
Former Chief Operating Officer of the World Economic Forum Kevin Steinberg said that Strauss’s background is perfect for an academic setting.
“He’s always had a very interesting interdisciplinary perspective, since he is able to straddle thinking and leadership in the private and public sector. I think a role in academia is well suited to him,” Steinberg said.
Strauss graduated from New York University in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and computer science. He said computer science at the time was a very different field than it is today.
“This was the dark ages, back when people were still programming with punch cards,” he said.
After graduating, he worked for 16 years at various investment banking firms in New York City. He started out as a computer programmer and left the banking industry in 1996 as a managing director.
Strauss obtained a master’s degree in executive education from the London Business School in 1995, and enrolled in Yale University to pursue a Ph.D. in 1996. While at Yale, he served as a teaching fellow for two years and helped to design Yale’s first course on internet marketing and strategy.
Before completing graduate school, he said he knew he wanted to pursue a career that merged the public and private sectors.
“I had always been interested in the public sector and public policy issues,” Strauss said.
Strauss graduated from Yale in 2002 with a Ph.D. in management, focusing on marketing, microeconomics and industrial organization. He then landed a job with the consulting firm McKinsey and was based in the London office until 2006. While at McKinsey, Strauss worked on health systems reform for Europe.
“This was the period when people were moving from a block-grant system to an actual internal market where prices were assigned to healthcare activities,”Strauss said.
At McKinsey,Strauss did some economic development work in the Middle East and regulatory work for the United States. While remaining employed at the organization, hejoined the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a director on loan, a temporary position.
At the World Economic Forum, Strauss attended the annual meetings between CEOs from around the world in Davos, Switzerland and helped to prepare and facilitate discussions. He served as an internal consultant and helped the Forum think about long-term strategies.
Steinberg said that Strauss’s most interesting contribution was the production of the forum’s first financial development index, which looked at how capital markets and financial opportunities were evolving around the world.
“Strauss did a lot of the early work on that project, thinking about how it would come together and how it could be valuable for all parties,” Steinberg said.
That project led to the first annual financial development report, which provided a comprehensive overview of global financial systems. Strauss also produced a report about capital markets and the insurance industry coming together.
Steinberg said that Strauss’s personality enabled him to succeed at the Forum.
“I always saw him as a very thoughtful leader and a strong strategic thinker,” Steinberg said.“He was able to drive intellectual agenda and add a lot of value.”
After leaving the World Economic Forum in 2008, Strauss joined the NYCEDC as a senior vice president and a manager for New York City’s business development efforts. He said that he was recruited by the NYCEDC to look at three big-picture questions for New York City: what the city's current financial situation was, what the city's long-term trends were and what the city should go and do.
Strauss became the founding managing director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the NYCEDC in 2010. The purpose of the center was to promote entrepreneurship and economic diversification across the city.
Former President of the NYCEDC Seth Pinsky said that the Center for Economic Transformation served as a model for long-term business growth in New York City.
“We wanted to take economic development to a more strategic level and focus on developing a specific plan to overcome obstacles to growth and take advantage of opportunities,” Pinsky said. “Steve came to the NYCEDC and created the model for this, which became extremely successful.”
Strauss led the center for one year and during that time helped to launch more than 40 initiatives designed to spur economic growth. Working alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Strauss designed programs to support entrepreneurship across industries like fashion, technology, biosciences and media.
“Probably the biggest most notable thing that came out of this was the recommendation to pivot New York City towards tech,” Strauss said.
He launched several programs to help transition industries like fashion, media, financial services and education technology to use a 21st century business model by 2020.
Based on Strauss’s recommendation, Bloomberg agreed to focus on growing knowledge-based industries. Strauss and Pinsky said the most prominent initiative was the Applied Sciences NYC project, which resulted in Cornell University launching the two billion-dollar NYC Cornell-Technion campus on Roosevelt Island and New York University launching the Center for Urban Science and Progress.
“Steve was the genesis of the project and oversaw much of the background research that gave us the idea of going forward with the initiative,” Pinsky noted.
The General Assembly initiative resulted in an innovation campus, meaning a space for people to take courses in coding and product management, in the Flatiron District. Other notable initiatives included the NYC NextIdea Business Plan Competition and NYC BigApps, which was an open data program
Overall, Strauss said that the NYCEDC impacted New York City by encouraging economic growth in the technology sector.
Pinsky noted that Strauss excelled at the NYCEDC because he was an organized thinker and was able to analyze and sort through data.
“He was able to read through the noise and find the nuggets of information that allow you to want to diagnose what the challenges are,” he said.
Strauss left the NYCEDC in 2011 and became an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University. One of his projects dealt with how technology could be used to solve several problems associated with aging. Strauss noted that this is an extremely pressing problem, since the population of people over 85 has been growing rapidly.
“If you look at the U.S. and the European countries, the population pyramid has shifted dramatically, and as a society we are going to age a lot,” Strauss said.
Strauss’s research looked at how technology could help the elderly lead more independent lives. He noted that the inherent problem lies with the target population of current technological products, explaining that current technologies are in many ways designed for 25-year-olds and are not straightforward to the elderly.
Strauss was encouraged to join the University after another faculty member at the Wilson School suggested he apply to be a visiting professor.
He is currently teaching a graduate-level course dealing with urban economic development around the world. Several of the issues Strauss is teaching directly reflect the issues he worked on at the NYCEDC, he said.
“Last week we talked about a large infrastructure project in London called CrossRail,” he said, referring to an underground railway line. “We focused on why the government did it and the development benefits they were hoping to get.”
He will offer a new graduate-level course on managing and leading in the digital age in the spring. Strauss noted that the topic is relevant given that the U.S. is arguably going through a second industrial age, and that he plans to talk about the public policy implications of social media, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.
Rouse said that she is very excited to see Strauss launch his spring course.
“I’m looking forward to increasing our offerings in technology policy for our students, and I know that the students love interacting with Professor Strauss,” she said.
Strauss said he is excited to continue teaching at the University.
“I like that the class sizes tend to be smaller, so there’s more of a chance to get to know the students,” Strauss said. “I have really enjoyed interacting with the faculty here, and I’m very grateful to be coming back next year."