Darden: Where Great Teachers Are Gods

MBA students on the grounds at the Darden School

‘TEACHING HERE IS A PUBLIC GOOD. WE CARE ABOUT IT DEEPLY.’

“The biggest difference is that the social good at Darden is teaching,” says James R. Freeland, senior associate dean for faculty and research. “When you walk down the halls and see the faculty talking, there’s a good chance they’re talking about teaching. At most other schools, the social good is about research. So if you walk down the halls there, you’ll see faculty talking about their research. Teaching here is a public good. We care about it deeply.”

It’s telling that on his CV, Allayannis lists his teaching credits and honors—mostly for exceptional teaching—before his journal articles. It is a long list. He is a four-time winner of Darden’s Outstanding Faculty Award given by students. Five graduating classes have elected him Faculty Marshall, a prestigious honor given to only two extraordinary professors a year. Allayannis won the distinction of leading the graduating students in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2009, and 2010. And last year, Darden’s Alumni Association recognized him as a master teacher who “excels in the classroom, shows unusual concern for students, and makes significant contributions to the life of the university.”

“Yiorgos is considered a ‘rock star’ in teaching among students at Darden,” says Robert Bruner, dean of the business school. “His classes are always oversubscribed, and each one is memorable. His style is upbeat and purposeful and always engages students and holds them accountable. He makes an indelible impression with the students as he inspires them and forms a warm, lasting bond with them.”

ALLAYANNIS ROUTINELY GETS STUDENT EVALUATIONS THAT AVERAGE 4.8 ON A 5.0 SCALE

As good as he is in the classroom—and his student evaluations average 4.8 on a 5.0 scale—Allayannis takes nothing for granted. Although this is the sixth time he has taught the Lehman case in the past three years and it’s one of 11 of 15 cases for the course he has written, Allayannis awoke early on Sunday to review it.  He spent at least two hours working on all the key points over his morning coffee in his favorite chair in the corner of the sun room of his home, his feet plopped atop a ottoman.

His wife, Sarah Corcoran, was still asleep. Good thing. Even she wonders why he works so hard—typically four hours of preparation per case—when he already is intimately familiar with the details. During the early years, Allayannis could invest three or four days to prepare for a case. Now it can vary between two hours or an entire day.

“Haven’t you taught this case before?” his wife will often ask.

Allayannis response: “If you have someone who is a very good athlete, do you know how often they must train? You have to train the muscle. If you want to be good, you’ve got to work at it. The people who are very good at what they do work extremely hard, and preparation is everything. It is hard to cut corners and I don’t want to. Every time I walk into the classroom I need to feel the best I can be.”

A DARK ROAST COFFEE AND A MUFFIN OR SCONE STARTS THE DAY

On his teaching days, Allayannis follows a comforting routine. Before arriving at his Darden office, a ten-minute drive from his home in Charlottesville, Va., he stops at Greenberry’s for a small dark roast coffee and a cranberry/orange muffin or a scone. It’s a quick detour so that he arrives on campus at 8:15 a.m. where he’ll spend the next hour and one-half reading a hard copy of The Financial Times, scanning the headlines on Bloomberg.com and TA NAE, a news website in his home land of Greece, before rushing over to his first class of the day.

Ten minutes before the 10 a.m. class, he walks into the pale blue, windowless room and carefully lays out a dozen yellow legal pad pages on a desk. The papers are covered with his hand-written notes that map out the proposed journey of this day’s class. Though he will rarely refer to them, the notes remind Allayannis of what he wants to cover, the sequence of questions he wants to ask, and how much time he plans to devote to each crucial point in the case.

He is partial to white shirts and conservative suits, and today he is wearing a light gray pinstripe model, with a freshly laundered white shirt and a bright yellow tie. By the time his class is done, there is chalk dust all over his suit jacket, evidence of the frenetic scribbling he does on one of the pull-down blackboards at the front of the room.

  • Sloanie,

    No argument from me. We called her out in a feature on the 40 best professors under 40 when she was at Harvard Business School and also profiled her here. I consider Harvard’s decisions to let her go a huge mistake.

  • Sloanie

    Someone should profile Zeynep Ton at MIT. She is the best teacher I have ever had at any level. By far. She makes a normally tough topic to teach, operations, seem fascinating and integrates all aspects of business in doing so.

  • Great article! I fondly remember Yiorgos running around the classroom yelling “more hands! more hands! new hands!”

  • Constantinos Aritzis

    Great article on a subject that often doesn’t get the credit it deserves both from students and MBA programs. It took me back to my Chicago Booth days (back then it was simply GSB) and I remember opting out from a class taught by a Nobel Prize winner because he simply didn’t put enough into teaching. At the same time I had some great transforming teaching experiences that I still remember fondly. Congratulations to Yiorgos and Darden (just wish we had more Allayiannis in Greek Universities).

  • srini

    It’s fantastic to read a story like this. I wanted to jump right into my laptop screen and land in Prof. Yiorgos’ class and listen to the discussion about the Wall Street bailouts. What a great story…I hope the students in his class truly appreciate the opportunity that they have.

  • Kendall Jennings

    Great article. Thank you, Mr. Byrne. I’m so glad to see Darden, and our teachers, get the praise they deserve. Being part of this community is one of the greatest honors I have had in my life.

  • Peter,

    Right you are. I debated bringing that up, but ultimately decided this story was long enough! But it is a very big and important deal.

  • Peter Rabover

    Great write up about Yiorgos! He deserves all the praise he gets.

    I am surprised the article failed to mention (or maybe I missed it) his significant presence as the head of Darden Capital Management, an intense process where Yiorgos devotes a significant amount of his time and impacted a tremendous number of students over the years. DCM is a two year process of managing a portion of Darden endowment via five portfolios and 23 student portfolio managers which requires careful student selection and significant Board responsibility. Its a 4.5 credit class and he does an outstanding job with it. Congratulations again on all your honors Yiorgos.