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.”