Dean of the Year: Darden’s Robert Bruner

When he is not on campus, attending First Coffee with students and staff every morning in Saunders Hall, he is on the road as a tireless proselytizer for the school. Bruner travels 150 days a year to meet with alumni, donors, and recruiting partners. Shortly after becoming dean, Bruner made one of his annual trips to Asia, visiting with 40 different companies in Korea and China. The result of his measured salesmanship: Three-quarters of the companies have since come to Charlottesville to interview Darden students for internships and jobs, while at least half have hired the school’s MBAs, including Samsung, which alone made nine offers to the Class of 2012, says Jack Oates, director of career development.

Wherever he is, Bruner doesn’t miss a chance to teach or mentor. A few years ago, on a recruiting trip to Dallas, he wanted to get Oates to begin using social media to more effectively reach key stakeholders who recruit Darden students. Oates recalls the conversation this way:

“’Jack,’” asked Bruner, “’are you on LinkedIn?’”

“No Bob, not yet,””

“Are you on Facebook?”

“No.”

“Jack, are you blogging? Are you tweeting?”

Oates could never say yes to any of these questions because he wasn’t doing any social media at the time.

“Jack,” added Bruner, “get with social media. It’s important. This is your dean talking.”

‘WAKE UP EACH DAY AND WORRY ABOUT HOW GLOBAL THE SCHOOL ISN’T’

He had a similar message for Peter Rodriguez, who teaches the first-year Global Economies and Markets course and is a senior associate dean for degree programs. Bruner’s marching orders to Rodriguez, who is helping to lead the globalization efforts at the school: “I want you to wake up each day and worry about how global the school isn’t and needs to be.” Adds the professor, “I do.”

The strategy is to move from making students merely “globally aware,” which is where Darden was when Bruner became dean, to preparing students to be “globally ready.” Being globally aware might allow a graduate to engage in intelligent cocktail conversation but it wouldn’t give them the skills and capabilities to succeed in different cultures and countries.

The highest level of teaching globalization would be to make students “globally fluent,” requiring MBAs to learn multiple languages and insuring that applicants from any one country are restricted to a certain percentage. INSEAD and the Thunderbird School of Management fall into this more specialized category. Darden wants to globalize while preserving its distinctive culture with its emphasis on superior teaching, case study instruction, inculcating an enterprise perspective in students, and keeping the MBA program relatively intimate and highly collaborative.

Bruner describes his time as chairman of the AACSB task force on globalization as a “transformational experience.” There were vigorous debates among the deans about what it means to be global. “You talk to a European and he will say, ‘I can’t do business without thinking about differences in culture and language and administrative laws.’ Here in the United States if we ship something from Virginia to California we take a lot for granted, and it’s that that we are trying to broaden. For Americans it can be more of a stretch. That’s why we want international students at Darden, because they get it. They’ve wrestled with those dilemmas.”