Darden: Where Great Teachers Are Gods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dean Robert Bruner has mentored many of his Darden professors on teaching

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO ONE IN HIS FAMILY WAS A TEACHER

Allayannis was not born into the profession. His father ran a lumber business in Greece started by his grandfather. His mother, who died the year he came to Darden in 1996, was a housewife. Jokes Allayannis: “The first generation builds the company. The second grows it and the third one destroys it. And now you know why I am here teaching.”

The first sign that he was destined to teach occurred while he was earning his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in Greece at the National Technical University of Athens. He found he very much enjoyed tutoring students in different subjects and had a knack for it.

Soon after graduating in 1988, Allayannis came to the U.S. for his MBA at the University of Massachusetts. Instead of landing a typical MBA job in consulting or investment banking, however, he decided to pursue his PhD in finance at New York University’s Stern School.

‘TEACHING IS AN HONOR AND A PRIVILEGE TO SHAPE YOUNG PEOPLE’S MINDS. INDIRECTLY, YOU CAN SHAPE A NATION AND A WORLD’

The first time he walked into a classroom to teach was in 1995 as a PhD student for an undergraduate class in finance.  He was a natural at it, winning the award for outstanding teaching from Stern students within a year. “I enjoyed that very much and the experience solidified it for me,” he says. “I love teaching. It’s really my passion. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It is an honor and a privilege to shape young people’s minds. Indirectly, you can shape a nation and a world.”

Armed with his PhD in finance, he joined the Darden School in 1996. With the exception of a two-year stint as an investment banker at Citibank in New York, from 2005 to 2007, he has taught at Darden now for 13 years. When he started at Darden, Allayannis often was observed by Robert Bruner, then a professor who has a reputation for being one of the world’s best case study teachers in finance.

Allayannis was teaching the first-year core course in finance, and Bruner strolled in and sat in the back of the classroom. “Bob wrote all the questions I asked the students in the case,” recalls Allayannis., who says he spent many hours in Bruner classes watching him teach. “Not only that, he even saw whether I was going more to the left or the right when I was pacing.

SOME IMPORTANT ADVICE ON TEACHING FROM AN IMPORTANT MENTOR

“The biggest piece of advice I received was when he showed me all the questions I had asked in the class. ‘You see these questions,’ he said. ‘You asked what, what, what and what. Your first how question was asked almost an hour into the case.’ This was like my tenth case at Darden. It was tremendous feedback. It took three years, I would say, to get to a level where I felt things were clicking. I was never a dud. But I wasn’t where I wanted to be.”

Years later, he takes great pride in returning that favor. “We try to coach and guide and share wisdom with our younger colleagues. I tell them if you mess up the first class don’t think, ‘Oh my God. Think about what you are going to do to fix this without dragging yourself down too much. Just move on.’” Of a young professor he is currently mentoring, Allayannis says, “I am so proud of him. It’s great to see him grow.”

“We have first year teaching meetings where every professor goes over his or her plan: ‘Here’s the key points, here’s the most important questions I’m going to ask.’ It’s impressive. You don’t just walk in and teach here. Senior colleagues are helping to guide you with the sequence of questions and how the problems arrive.”

MENTORING, FACULTY AND STUDENT EVALUATIONS, NUMEROUS AWARDS AND A CULTURE THAT MAKES TEACHING CRITICAL

How does Darden do it? First off, exceptional teaching is highly valued and highly rewarded. Young instructors are routinely mentored in teaching by more senior professors. First-year teaching meetings are held at which instructors go over their approach to a specific case, including what key points they intend to make and what questions they will ask the students.

  • 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.