A McKinsey Man Moves Into The Dean’s Office

Scott Beardsley, a former McKinsey partner takes over the dean's office at the Darden School of Business

Scott Beardsley, a former McKinsey partner, takes over the dean’s office at the Darden School of Business

The walls are still empty, waiting for inspiring images of an eclectic group of people from Albert Einstein and Mohammad Ali to Roberto Clemente and Roger Federer. A little over three weeks into a new job, the new resident in the dean’s office at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business hasn’t yet recorded a voicemail greeting.

But after a 26-year career with McKinsey & Co., the prestigious global consulting firm, and a 24-year stint abroad, Scott Beardsley has completely upended his life. He has shed his consulting persona for that of a business school dean, and with his wife, Claire Dufournet, and their golden retriever, Java, Beardsley has moved from Brussels to Charlottesville, Va., into one of the ten Pavilions on the Lawn, the grassy symbolic center of the university.

If he feels slightly out of place, he’s not showing it. “I don’t feel like a fish out of water,” insists the sandy-haired Beardsley. “Perhaps that is because I come from a place that has a similar governance structure. One of the former managing directors of McKinsey has said that the best way to understand the firm is to think of it as a university. Knowledge is our prime currency. It runs on a shared governance process. You can’t tell anyone what to do. It’s collaborative and consultative, and that is true of Darden. ”

‘THIS IS MY LAST CHANCE AT REDEMPTION’

And then, there is the fact that so many in Beardsley’s family have a connection to the academy. “I come from a family of educators,” he explains. “My brother and sister are both educators. My grandmother was a teacher. My uncle was a college president, and both my parents worked at different universities and colleges. So I feel very comfortable in an intellectual environment.” If anything, quips Beardsley, who will also be hanging photos of his brother and grandmother on his office wall, “I was the black sheep of the family who went to the dark side of business. This is my last chance for redemption.”

Redemption, however, won’t come easy, not when you’re following in the footsteps of Bob Bruner, the amiable finance professor who successfully led Darden for the past ten years. Beardsley inherits a school in very good shape. Darden has the best MBA teaching faculty in the world, even better than Harvard. The case study school just did a curriculum refresh, adding a required experiential course and a weekly faculty-guided session on topical issues. The new course, dubbed  “Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship In Action” (IDEA), will require student teams to work on challenges sponsored by corporations, government agencies or nonprofit organizations in the fourth and final quarter of their first year. And earlier this year, Darden jumped back into the Top Ten of U.S. MBA programs, moving up one place to 10th from 11th a year earlier.

Not quite a full month into the job, he is already getting a few initiatives rolling. He formed a task force to see how First Coffee could be made better (his personal preference for expresso and cappuccino may be a clue). The school has added a San Francisco residency to its Global Executive MBA program, and he has announced a new Thomas Jefferson Medal for Innovation, the first of what is hoped to be an annual award for an outstanding individual in innovation. The debut recognition will occur this April. Beardsley says he is very focused on interaction with the students, having challenged them to a tennis tournament against faculty and spouses for this fall. He also has created a seminar room for students in his new home. It’s also worth noting that Darden’s top employer of graduating MBAs this year was McKinsey which hired a record 14 members of the Class of 2015.

FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS: ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS WITH EVERY FACULTY MEMBER

Beardsley has just greeted the 334 incoming MBA students in what he considers to be among the best classes in Darden’s history. The new class has exactly the same average GMAT of 706 and average GPA of 3.5 as last year’s group. But a record 35% are women, up from 32% a year earlier, and a record 38% are international, representing 37 countries, up two points from 36% last year (see table below). “It was a good year,” he says, “one of our strongest classes ever. There was no trending down in terms of the quality of the pool.”

But if anyone could bring UVA’s business school to yet another level of success, it could well be this 52-year-old former consultant whose life’s goal is, in his own words, “to help outstanding people achieve their full potential.” For someone who spent his life dispensing advice to clients, Beardsley quickly found himself receiving lots of counsel from friends and colleagues as soon as it was announced in January that he had won the deanship over three other final candidates. The best advice he has received? “To get to know the faculty and the culture of the school, to understand its history and what has made it what it is today,” responds Beardsley.

So the new dean immediately turned to Darden’s faculty, interviewing every one of the school’s 70 teachers in one-on-one sessions that lasted between one and four hours each. “I wanted to get their advice and to learn about them and what they saw as the strengths and the challenges of the school,” he says. “I became a lot more excited about what I am doing because of it. Everyone had told me that the faculty would be so difficult, so divided, all kinds of negative things, not particular to Darden but in general. My sense is that we have an amazing group here. They really care about the students and the school, and they really care about teaching in the classroom.”

  • aguirrestom@aol.com

    I completely agree with John, if there is one issue no one can negate, it is the fact that Dean Bruner was/is a brilliant leader. This was not an impromptu choice (or abrupt departure of a previous dean), and I could not imagine Dean Bruner would have left the helm of the Darden school in the hands of anyone who was not fully capable of carrying on with the legacy he left. While people may be skeptical of a new face at Darden, they cannot question Dean Bruner’s ability to lead. Ergo, Dean Bruner’s selection of Dean Beardsley’s as Darden’s new leader must have been throughly reviewed and scrutinized. I doubt any of us here on this thread are privy to the entirety of issues and reasons behind Dean Beardsley’s appointment. Also, I have spoken to the new dean, and it is remarkable how much he cares for the Darden students. Also, it is quite noticeable he is loving his new career–and I honestly expect to see great things during his leadership 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  • Skkye

    This is an interesting conversation.
    My $0.02 – I believe management consulting is now a sunset industry. I work at a lean mean tech start up as a data scientist and 6 of our 35 people are ex MBB.
    The work they have done at MBB is interesting and gives them great insight into the politics of large companies,a decent network and great powerpoint skills 🙂
    We work across the board in a very similar fashion to MBB , with clients from all industries – Finance, Oil and Gas, Power and Utilities, Retail.
    We deal with large data and deep – data driven insights powered by our cognitive algorithms.
    I can assure you- and not just as a data scientist but as someone who works 24 7 with ex MBB consultants(mostly MandB – no bainies at ours)- machine learning and data driven insights are the next frontier.
    Now people will draw out the big MC swords. I agree- MBB consulting as of now rool the roost – but the decline has begun. They have been at it for 30 years, so they do have a bit of a headstart.
    Anyway- no industry, no kingdom, no company – nothing lasts forever. There is an end of curve to everything.

  • avivalasvegas

    I’m always gobsmacked when consultants’ single best argument in favor of their profession is centered around when they leave it.

    Be that as it may, the biggest flaw in your arguement is the belief that spending 3 months helping a toothpaste company sell more makes you an expert in the dental hygiene profession. There is a real danger is learning so little about so much Matt.

    Moreover, I do not agree with your average tenure argument. The data I have says that around 40% of the class of 2014 McK hires have or will have left by completion of their first year. 2 years looks to be pushing it. Do I think the consulting life will have helped the poor souls who chose that path? Mostly, yes. They now know that their future lies elsewhere and have mean powerpoint and presentation “skills”.

    Do I think they have added value to the world to the extent claimed by them and some on this forum? Absolutely not.

  • halo

    The reason why almost no one makes it to the partner level is because they can’t sell, not because “they don’t want to”.

  • MBA-aspirant

    Prof, you have been at Harvard and Emory, is the difference between their MBA programs significant? academically speaking, not brand or networking?

  • Matt

    MC offers the single best exit opportunities, I would guess the average tenure of an MBB consultant is about 2-4 years before moving on to a corporate/entrepreneurship role. The point of MC careers is not to move up the ladder to manager/partner and eventually be evaluated on business development, rather its to gain a broad set of skills transferable to multiple industries and provide the best chance for people to explore multiple fields. There’s a reason McKinsey asks what you want to do after McKinsey bc its expected for people to leave. You clearly don’t have a handle on the purpose of this career field despite these “face to face debates” if you think people enter it wanting to make partner and start fixing on BD. This is pretty exclusive to MBB, not sure Deloitte/ATK/Accenture can offer the same pitch.

  • Jad Saleh

    Hi John. I have a question regarding an article you posted on Poets&Quants titled “Best & Worse 2013 MBA Placement for International Schools”: HKUST is listed with a 72% placement rate 3 months after graduation. However, when i look at their brochure from 2014 and 2015 (can’t find the one from 2013), they mention a 90%+ placement rate. I am wondering how come the 2013 rate was so low? Sorry if this comment is not related to the current topic. Would appreciate a reply.

  • halo

    **”That is naïve”

  • halo

    Professor,
    I’m not sure what is so complicated about my argument. I agree with you that the MCs add value. I do, however, think that it isn’t in “solving our clients foremost complex problems”. I think in that sense, that is a naïve. Cheers.

  • Jake

    The fact that consulting exists shows that it provides value to someone, but that someone might or might not be the shareholders. Incentives for boards are also imperfect (as for executives), so their interests will never be perfectly aligned with those of shareholders – otherwise, we wouldn’t have shareholder lawsuits against boards. Plus, in the case of consulting, it’s very hard to determine the realized value to see if it’s above fees. And if we look at the bigger picture, consulting costs are negligible compared to the total costs that a company incurs, so they might not be as closely scrutinized by the board.
    So given all that – valuation difficulties, low share of costs, and misaligned incentives – we can’t take the mere existence of consulting as proof that it provides value to shareholders.
    Please note that I’m not saying that it doesn’t provide value either.

  • avivalasvegas

    My butt’s fine, thanks! How’s yours? Lets just say that I’m quite familiar with consulting on a professional level and have done my best to illustrate that.

  • Matt

    Butthurt much? Clearly someone hasn’t made the MBB cut and you can save the “I wouldn’t work there anyways” bc no one would believe it. I won’t entertain your generalizations about an industry you clearly haven’t been involved w/bc you are missing the biggest point of consulting.

  • avivalasvegas

    Oh I haven’t surrendered Patrick. Here’s 2 quick reasons why:

    1) Your argument that the profession has existed and therefore adds substantial value is flawed. It exists because of two reasons:

    a) It serves a particular function that is required, one that most people, including those who attend business schools are completely mistaken about. Unlike tax or audit functions though, strategy consultants don’t add the value that you clearly believe they do. They present powerpoint decks to their clients who are often left to implement on their own or present to their own leadership (e.g. a board) to “validate” internally. You could argue that McK now has an implementation arm and that Deloitte always sells its tech practice in its effort to bundle service, but BcG and Bain don’t have such offerings.

    b) It attracts the ambitious yet risk averse MBA student, those who are smart but not sure about their career choice or calling. It promises them a life of “solving complex business problems” and “top level management exposure”, loads of travel and money. In the end though, it’s almost always a horrible nightmare come true for most. Just look like the attrition rates after year one…just in time for the fresh recruits. A truly well oiled machine, I’ll give you that.

    2) Your argument that the consulting profession is thriving is also flawed. Indeed, management consultant partners like Scott will concede that their industry’s biggest threat comes from clients that are building internal operations that specialize in their own industry but are nimble enough to serve various divisions within their setup, challenging the decades old generalist model you praise so highly. Perhaps this is why the past couple years has seen so much consolidation in the industry? Booz, Monitor etc.

    Empirical enough? Obviously I know your answer already. The thing is, I’ve never educated an educator before. It feels awkward, so I’ll let you have any residual satisfaction from here.

  • Patrick S. Noonan

    You’re not making any sense to me, halo. My point was precisely that consulting is NOT an empty well, as avivalasvegas was asserting and you seemed to be supporting (with your comment about being naive). How could it be with (depending on how one counts the start of the modern era of MC) 50 years of enormous revenue growth and decades of continued engagement by corporate clients? We all know of examples (many of them, for sure) where things went wrong and where the consultants made mistakes (not always the same thing), and we all know consultants who are/were self-serving bozos. But that’s not a sustainable racket. It’s hard to conclude that it’s entirely a house of cards based on the anecdotes of some unnamed skeptic.

  • Patrick S. Noonan

    So you’ve given up on engaging on substance; I accept your surrender. The continued success of the profession is ample evidence that SOMEbody is creating value, so asserting otherwise is a lot like Yogi Berra’s lament about a NYC nightclub: “Nobody goes there anymore – it’s too crowded!” And you’ve got nothing at all specific about Scott Beardsley, I guess. Hey, a *free* consultation for you: It’s a good idea to do some homework before you double down on an assertion that someone challenges. The Internet can be a source of continuing education, because not everybody is just some guy with an opinion and an attitude (but not quite enough confidence to use his/her real name).

  • avivalasvegas

    I’m not sure whether to address you as Obi-Wan or some sort of faculty Sith Lord. Regardless, if you don’t want to listen to the views of actual management consultants who are telling you that your understanding is dead wrong, then I can only say may some sort of force be with you (and that I’m really glad I never sat in your class room).

  • Patrick S. Noonan

    The empirical evidence I refer to is the persistent existence of consulting as a business. (Not the 6000 MBAs I have taught at HBS, Duke and Emory, or my former partners and clients at McKinsey and my own boutique firm.) Consultants have clients. Who pay a lot of money. For what you assert is worthless, based on your “personal experience.” Sorry, but it’s hard to reconcile reality with your personal experience, padawan.

  • avivalasvegas

    What I find ironic is that you are asking for empirical evidence, referencing empirical evidence and yet you quote only your hundreds of personal connections (you must be quite the popular guy Patrick), your meeting with Scott Beardsley and your personal impression of him.

    My broad brush skepticism comes from personal experience. Halo (who’s comments counter yours) isn’t the only management consultant to, admirably, admit the sales org. nature of the business here.

    I’m afraid, Patrick, you appear to fall into the group of naive professionals who may just end paying through your nose for the perception of quality vs. the reality of it.

  • halo

    It isn’t an empty well. Management Consultants have their purpose in the corporate arena. I should know, I’m one of them. But, MC companies are sales organizations, and we are often hired for purposes that are polar opposites of what general public thinks we do. If I, who make such a good living off the racket am willing to admit that, why won’t you?

  • Patrick S. Noonan

    No disagreement that “it’s not unheard of.” There are all sorts of failures in consulting that we could point to. But isn’t the persistence – for many decades – and global growth of consulting some pretty strong empirical evidence that the vast majority of the work creates value above fees? Wouldn’t boards and management committees that are responsive to shareholders eventually catch on if it were such a scam?

  • Patrick S. Noonan

    Again, you’re asking us to trust your beliefs over the overwhelming empirical evidence that consultants offer value. I for one have seen the training materials of all the major firms over many years, and I personally know many hundreds of consultants and partners across all the firms, so I’m pretty confident you don’t know what you’re talking about. (Back to the main point – I also happen to have met Scott Beardsley, the subject of this article, and he’s an extremely thoughtful, principled, strategic person. Unless you’ve got evidence to the contrary, why would you want to paint him with this broad brush skepticism about consulting you like to wield?)

  • Patrick S. Noonan

    Where’s your counterargument? Why would almost every major company in the world spend so much, for so many decades, if the product were consistently worthless? Why should anyone believe your judgment (or the original snarkmeister’s posts) over that of the many thousands of clients who KEEP coming back to what you’re saying is an empty well?

  • halo

    You can’t possibly be this naïve, could you?

  • avivalasvegas

    I am saying that C-Suite occupants often spend tons of senseless $ on consulting services more for external 3rd party verifications of their internal decision making vs. on any value addition. Essentially, paying obscene $ for a worthless ppt.

    Yes, I believe that consultants are trained to focus purely on billing their clients and finding the best way to keep billing their clients. Don’t believe me? Find someone at MBB to send you their training materials from their first month.

  • Jake

    C-suite occupants don’t spend their own money. It’s not unheard of them to squander shareholder resources in order to further their personal agendas.

  • Patrick S. Noonan

    So wait, that means that the C-Suite occupants who collectively spend many billions of dollars each year for consulting services are less astute judges of their value than you are? And are you also saying that there are no consultants who put their clients’ interests above their billing? Where’s the evidence?

  • bwanamia

    John rightfully worships at the altar of HBS because HBS has produced more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than any other b-school. There’s no comparison. In fact, McKinsey has produced more F500 CEOs than HBS, although there’s significant overlap.

    You have no argument apart from your dislike of consultants.

  • avivalasvegas

    While I respect your impression of him John, my generalization is based on the convincing, brilliant sounding and ultimately hollow pitch that consulting partners spew out, no matter who they speak to. It’s second nature for them and their business model relies on it.

    As you are more than aware, Academia is a different business model, where success and recognition are based on making hard decisions that put the interests of the clients aka students above all else, decisions consultants never make in their careers. For consultants and especially their partners, it’s all about the billable hours. Look at Betsy Ziegler at Kellogg, another partner turned Academic Dean. Outside of being a front for Sally Blount, while Sally’s out there fundraising, what exactly has she accomplished for the school?

  • JohnAByrne

    I doubt it. This guy is super competitive and very analytical. My gut tells me he will manage every aspect of the school, including how it deals with rankings.

  • avivalasvegas

    A consultant at Darden?!? Kiss the rankings race goodbye!