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.