The University of Virginia turned to a senior partner of McKinsey & Co. to be the new dean of the Darden School of Business. The university announced today (Jan. 8) that Scott C. Beardsley, who leads learning and leadership development at the prestigious management consulting firm, will succeed the highly successful Robert F. Bruner on Aug. 1.
Beardsley, who has an MBA from MIT Sloan, is an unusual choice to head a top business school, though he is not the first McKinsey partner to assume a B-school deanship. Typically, these jobs go to academics who have served several administrative roles at a school. Bruner, who is completing his 10th year as Darden’s dean, took leadership of the school after teaching MBA students finance for many years.
He also will have very big shoes to fill in taking over the school from Bruner, who is also widely considered a thought leader in graduate education. Bruner’s insights on his blog and via Twitter have positioned him as an erudite spokesperson for higher education and the value of the MBA degree. His leadership in the field, as well as his performance as dean of the Darden School, led Poets&Quants to name him the first recipient of its Dean of the Year Award in 2011.
AN IMMEDIATE TASK: GETTING DARDEN RANKED HIGHER BY BUSINESSWEEK
During his deanship, Bruner and his team raised $150 million, led the introduction of massive open online courses in 2013, and the school’s collaboration with Amazon to model e-readers in 2009. He also launched the MBA for Executives and the Global MBA for Executives — which allow executives to pursue a degree in segments while sustaining full time positions. Most importantly, he maintained the school’s superb reputation for its emphasis on the highest standards of teaching.
Darden, currently ranked by Poets&Quants as having the 13th best MBA program in the U.S., is ranked as high as third by The Economist and as low as 20th ion the recent Bloomberg Businessweek list. Even though the school’s low ranking by Businessweek is widely considered an anomaly due to flaws in a newly revamped methodology, one of Beardsley’s most important immediate tasks will be to move Darden back into Businessweek’s Top Ten where it had been until this year. No school in the Top 25 fell further than Darden which lost 10 places in BW’s 2014 survey.
He could also steer more McKinsey partners to Darden students. Consulting takes the largest single contingent of Darden MBAs, some 28% of the Class of 2014, and McKinsey is among its top recruiters, having hired 13 MBAs from Darden last year–the same number as Amazon and Boston Consulting Group.
MCKINSEY AS A BREEDING GROUND FOR B-SCHOOL DEANS
Beardsley’s practical bent at the world’s leading recruiter of MBA talent will serve him well. Darden, like Harvard Business School, is the predominant case study school with the best MBA teaching faculty in the world. A McKinseyite would be far more protective of that differentiation than a typical academic who would be tempted to steer the school into the direction of the mainstream where scholarly research–usually detached from practice–is the norm.
Beardsley joins several other former McKinseyites who have become business school deans, including Hugh Courtney, dean of Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and Bernard Ferrari, dean of the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins University. From 1986 to 1997, McKinsey partner Robert S. Parker led Georgetown University’s business school into the top 25 and raised more than $100 million for the school, opening new centers and establishing an international EMBA program.
But this is the first time a very senior McKinsey leader has become dean of a highly ranked business school. Beardsley leads learning and leadership development for all McKinsey professionals and serves as a top adviser to some of the world’s leading companies. An elected member of McKinsey’s global board of directors from 2011 to 2014, he has been based for most of his 26-year career with the leading management consulting firm in its Brussels, Belgium office.
BEARDSLEY WAS AMONG FOUR FINAL CANDIDATES SENT TO THE PROVOST FOR CONSIDERATION
Kenneth M. Eades, a Darden finance professor who led the search committee, said that Beardsley was among four final candidates who came to campus to interview with the panel and to meet faculty, staff, and alumni. The committee did not recommend any of the four candidates, all of whom were presented to the university provost with pros and cons. “We had a significant number of viable candidates and a strong number of highly qualified candidates,” Eades told Poets&Quants. “This position drew a lot of interest internationally, from academia, non-profits and the business community.”
The search, assisted by the search firm Korn/Ferry International and the university’s internal executive search group, began last spring with the bulk of interviewing occurring in the fall. “We got a good head start on this because we knew for some time that this was Bob Burner’s last year,” added Eades. “There are a number of very pressing challenges in business education, but at Darden everything is working so well. It’s just a question of which direction do you decide to make the school noticeably better.”
Eades seemed delighted that the university was able to get Beardsley. “Scott is nothing short of an absolutely amazing person,” he said. “We are looking forward to what he is going to bring to the school. He has a global perspective that is unique and a very strong affinity for education. We got a great catch here.”